Hiring Your First Employee

Your First Employee

Would you be surprised if I said that I think experience is highly overrated when it comes to hiring? For most small business, there are other things – some obvious and other less so – that are far more important in the hiring equation.

Example: Back in the day when I was still practicing law (I came to my senses long ago, thank you very much) I had a very nice guy come into my office. A Romanian immigrant who escaped the Iron Curtain, his was, up until then, an American success story. He had landed in California, gotten married and had kids, bought a big house, started his own construction business and had become a prime contractor for the state.

He was in my office that day because he needed to file bankruptcy. It turns out that his bookkeeper had embezzled over $100,000. My client eventually lost his business and his house. Why? Because he hired someone who had experience, but no integrity.

What is it you want from an employee? As I mentioned, there are a few non-negotiable things, and then, I suggest, a few traits that are not so obvious but are no less important.

First the deal-breakers:

Honesty: Whether your staff member works with money or not, it is absolutely essential that he or she be honest. The good news is that this is one of those things that can be pretty easily discovered by calling a few listed references. Done deal.

Intelligence: Employees are your channel to both customers and the world at large and as such, you need your staff to be able to represent your business in the best light possible.

Hiring for smarts is smart.

Reliability: Do they show up when they are supposed to or do they call in sick? Absenteeism costs American businesses billions in lost productivity every year and it can cripple an individual business. A great employee is, among other things, a reliable employee.

The above traits may seem self-evident, but because they are, it is also easy to overlook some of them. Don’t.

Now, what about those other, not so obvious traits that we would want in an employee? There are a few. Consider:

Coachability: This is a vital trait that sets the great employee apart from the merely good one. Sure, he may be sharp and a hard worker, but if he isn’t coachable he probably won’t pan out. Great employees can be trained to do things the way the boss wants them done.

Independence: By the same token, the best employees are those who have the ability to work on their own without always having to be managed. And no, being independent is not mutually exclusive from being coachable. The ideal employee will be open to doing things your way, and then will do that without having to be supervised.

Synergy: What I mean by this is that great employees click. They fit in. They play nicely with others. They are good teammates and make the team better. People in small businesses spend a lot of time together and it is vital that everyone gets along, and that ,in fact, you like working with one another.

When you find an employee who has the traits above and is someone with whom people like to work, you have a keeper on your hands.

© 2017, The Strauss Group, Inc.


Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is the senior small business columnist at USA TODAY, the Editor-in-Chief here at Small Business Connection, a speaker and spokesperson. He can be reached at

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