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Small-Business Hiring: What the Big Deal?

By Nancy Ansteth


How can I be sure I need to hire someone?

What exactly does this “someone’ need to do?

Where do I start looking?

How do I know what to ask in an interview?

What other options are available?

These and many more questions may be swimming around in your head as a small-business owner thinking about hiring. It seems like such a simple task, yet it can be overwhelming.

Hiring the right person/people can become a daunting task if you’re not prepared. Let’s start at the beginning.

How do you as a small-business owner know when, or if, it is time to bring someone else into fold? Often, when you’re not looking, the need will sneak up on you; you realize you just cannot do everything required to deliver your product or service in a timely manner. This is the stuff of panic attacks. Deadlines, quality, customer interaction, growth potential, etc.

Hopefully, you had developed a business plan prior to opening your doors and had, at least, addressed this situation as an eventuality. We call it being “proactive.”

Before you become overwhelmed, start thinking about those tasks you could/would entrust to someone else. Make a list: “If someone else could do A, B, and C then I’d have more time to do this — fill in the blank.” Does the list make sense as you peruse it? Are you willing to let go of the items on it?

Now, turn that list into a job description. This is critical because as you advertise to hire someone, it is imperative that you are clear about exactly what this person will be doing. You want only people interested in performing the tasks described to apply. This should help eliminate the “tire kickers.” Included in the description will be objectives of the job as related to your business, the actual work to be performed, responsibilities, working conditions, relationship to other employees and positions in the business.

A huge consideration in making the right hire is attitude. How does the prospective employee approach the opportunity and everything you have told him/her about it? Let the interviewee know you expect a full-time mental commitment even if interviewing for a part-time job.

Hand-in-hand with the job description is a job analysis. Review your task list carefully and determine the qualifications needed for each item. Ask yourself how you were able to perform those tasks; were there some that only took common knowledge? Others that relied on previous experience and/or education? These areas of questioning could help eliminate unqualified candidates. Do not overlook the disadvantaged or disabled person wherever possible. Ensure that you have accurately assessed the physical requirements for each area of the job.

Where is this pool of candidates from which you will select the most promising? Not in just one place, rest assured.

Where do you find the greatest number of people looking for jobs? The first place most job seekers go is the Department of Labor (DOL) — Unemployment Division. They register their status according to job codes most closely related to their employment experience. You can register and post your hiring needs at the DOL; base your postings on the job description and qualifications you have already created.

Don’t stop here. Use Facebook, LinkedIn, and several other social-media outlets that you’re probably already on. What great sources of communication you have at arm’s length. And, don’t rule out that old standby, word-of-mouth. Let your business contacts know you are looking for qualified assistance in the business. Word will get around.

And, yes, there are other avenues open to you as you begin hiring. Just remember, you are a small business and the less you have to invest in employment searches, the more you gain.

When it comes to interviewing several promising candidates, stick to the KISS principle: “Keep It Seriously Simple.” Look at your job description and the list of qualifications and determine what you truly need to know about this candidate relative to those items. Ask the simple question and listen to the response. You either hear the words you need to hear or, you don’t. Probing questions should be asked with a desired response in mind. Ask the DOL for a booklet on legal interview question. Don’t get caught up in discussions that could be turned against you.

So, at the seeming end of this process, you have the ideal employee. Be it part-time or full-time, you are extending your vision for this business. This is not just someone to do whatever you do not want to do; this is a representative of the company who knows specifically what is expected of him/her.

So, now you’re good to go, right? Hardly. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Knowing what is ultimately expected is not the same as knowing exactly how it must be done. Remember you are the one who relinquished the tasks your new hire will be performing. So, who’s the likely person to train this newbie to perform this job the way you want and need it? It is, indeed, the face in the mirror. This is the time for you to realize you have chosen a qualified person, not a puppet. Are you willing to let him/her take ownership of the process?

As George S. Patton stated, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

How this will be accomplished is a huge consideration in view of the other demands on your time. Be proactive — design a training schedule that you will be able to manage and maximize. Engage your new hire in the integration of his/her skills with the routine of the business.

Above all, keep in mind that you, as the business owner, become the focal point for the new employee. Your lead is the biggest influence on his/her initial performance. You must make your employees feel they are an integral part of the entire program. And, you need their complete buy-in to successfully complete the circuit of your vision.

“Leadership is the transference of vision.”

Nancy Ansteth is a New York State-certified business advisor at the Onondaga Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at OCC. Contact her at or (315) 498-6072

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