Alex Lawrance: What to look for in your very first recruit and mistakes to avoid

Hiring the first person for your business is an exciting step.

Maybe you were involved in recruiting at a past job, or maybe this will be your first experience. Either way, hiring the first person for your own business is hugely different to hiring someone to be “one of many” in a larger organisation.

When you make the right hire, entrepreneur’s invariably say they “wish they had hired them ages ago” as a huge amount of work and stress is suddenly being looked after by your new best friend!  But a poor recruit adds to your problems, and in the worst cases acts as a huge millstone that makes work a nightmare!

But hiring people is unavoidable if you are to grow your business, and the expression about marriage also very much applies: marry in haste, regret at your leisure.  So, you should do things correctly right from the start to maximise your chances of always selecting great candidates.  And for the time being, none will be so important as your first recruit.

Step 1 – Getting the characteristics right

 You are a busy entrepreneur with so much to do, but don’t hire “on the fly”.  Sit down and carefully think about the job the person will be doing.  What experience will they need, where will you be providing training, how much work will be unsupervised.

You may have a long list, in which case differentiate essential from desirable because the more you gold plate the requirements the harder it will be to find the right person for the job.

More importantly, think about how they will work with you.  Are you a delegator, a micromanager, a nurturer perhaps?  Think about the person as well as the skills as the two of you are likely going to be spending a lot of time working together.  Typically, you spend more time at work than with your family (!) so being compatible is critical.

The reality in a small business is there isn’t the same support available as in bigger firms.  In a small business you have to sort out problems yourself, whether the internet is down, the printer is busted, or a new chair is needed.  In bigger firms there is someone else to do this.  Can your person work in such an environment where they must be self-sufficient?  Many can’t make the transition!

Step 2 – Avoiding the number one recruiting mistake

 The biggest hiring mistake is to appoint someone “who is the best of a bad bunch”.  Everyone makes this mistake at some point, thinking there is so much work you need to get someone (anyone!) to take the strain off you.  It always backfires!

How do you avoid this?  The same as the way you get the best candidates, by having plenty of choice.

How do you get plenty of choice?

Firstly, by making the job sound as attractive as possible.  Often businesses make jobs sound really off-putting or samey.  Don’t be one of them.  There are plenty of benefits a small business can offer that will be really attractive to the right person.  Maybe it is responsibility, maybe it is training, maybe it is flexibility for people with childcare or other commitments.  Pay is important, but for many people there are other things will make you stand out.

Secondly, by promoting your job as widely as possible.  A couple of social media posts and one online ad is not enough.  There are hundreds of online recruitment sites ( deals with over 1,200 for instance!), while many suitable candidates won’t be actively looking so you need to be reaching them too.

Step 3 – Assess thoroughly

Don’t appoint based on a warm chat.  Put the person to the test with some practical exercises, question them thoroughly about their experience, what they have done and how they would handle particular situations.  Consider a trial day, and why not invite a trusted person (spouse, mentor, another business owner) to sit in on the second interview to give you a second perspective.  Follow up references by phone as people are more candid.

Step 4 – Making it work

Even the best recruit will flounder without support and direction.  Too often entrepreneurs are so busy they don’t spend the time onboarding and instructing their new recruits.   Have clear expectations about what the recruit will do, communicate those expectations and make sure you play your role by inducting and mentoring the person thoroughly and regularly (not all at once) so they can meet your expectations.

Alex Lawrance
Alex Lawrance

Hiring is an art as well as a science, and even the best firms let in poor candidates occasionally, but following these steps so you invest the necessary time will maximise your chances of getting a great recruit who frees up your time and grows your business, not a poor employee who you can’t wait to see the back of!


Alex Lawrance

Alex Lawrance is Head of Recruitment Advertising and Head of Sales at (


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