4 min read

Hiring: hard lessons learnt

Hiring for your own business is not easy. Here are the mistakes I've made so you don't have to make them too.
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on facebook

A close friend (and straight talker) Brett Putter from Culture Gene once told me that “Recruiters are bad at hiring for their own businesses”, and in my case he’s not been entirely wrong. Thankfully I’ve learnt quickly and now have an excellent team but it’s been tough to get there.

I started this CEO journey back in 2017 and made a number of hiring and management mistakes (and will continue to do so). I cringe to think back now but as hiring and managing remain constant and critical parts of my role, I have to acknowledge the mistakes and learn from them. I hope this list proves useful and helps others to avoid similar mistakes (although as we all know, there’s no substitute for making your own mistakes!)

Are You Aware of Your own Bias?

Crucially, are you aware of them before the hiring process has begun? In my case I’m not as rigorous about interviewing women. I don’t scrutinise them deeply and tend to do the opposite of what historically most interviewers have done with woman! This means I’ve consequently hired some real duds and good talkers before realising that someone else should take the lead in the interview process. I continue to make the decision but the data gathered through the process is led by someone with less of a blind spot.

Another bias of mine (hangover from agency recruitment) was to hire from Oxbridge. I will almost certainly, in the future, hire again from these prestigious Universities and will not actively veer away from them, but giving people a free pass because I thought their IQ was high was (and remains) a mistake. It stopped me from properly interviewing for resilience, passion, drive as mentioned in my previous blog.

How Many People Are You Screening?

I have a history of helping businesses successfully hire that person who changes their business for the better, which means unfortunately I became lazy when hiring for my own business, believing I had an edge in spotting the winner. Time is such a constraint in this role and therefore if I was enthusiastic about one person, tended to jump on the process with them and close rather than being thorough and seeing lots of people.

I’m a lot better at this now and a firm believer in healthy pipeline of people (the more the merrier!), if nothing else it changes the psychology of how you handle the front runner – you put them through their paces much more and it leads to a better outcome all round.

Do You Value Creativity?

I used to think creativity was just another attribute. This was a giant mistake that I’ve been quick to correct, I think largely for selfish reasons – I don’t want to work with uncreative people. If a role is largely analytical or process driven, what’s the reason for needing creativity? Well, everything. Creative people look at the world differently, they make up solutions when none exist and well, they’re fun to work with. These are critical components for an early stage startup and the 1-2 hires made who lacked a creative sparkle not only prevent evolution, but put increased pressure on the other members of staff to find new solutions.

Should References Carry Any Weight?

I’ve taken referencing far more seriously in later hires, and universally the hires that haven’t worked out are those where I didn’t bother, didn’t do it properly, or didn’t want to hear the answer. I knew the previous Founder for one of our early key hires and he told me everything about the new joiner, from a slightly lax work ethic, to lack of commerciality. I just saw someone who was going to solve all of my problems, I personally connected to, and a role that was, and is, notoriously difficult to fill.

One of the issues with references is we take them far far too late in the process. Hires that have worked out well, I’ve tended to do digging much earlier but have only been able to do that by deepening and widening a network, ensuring I have more trusted people to connect to for sensitive information.
… and the things I do that continue to work well:

Own the recruitment. It’s tedious, soul destroying even, but a little like fundraising – you can’t outsource it and the more involved you are, the faster it will run and more likely you will secure the best person.

Make two offers: higher salary / lower equity and vice versa. Don’t get too offended when they choose the former as a lot of professionals in Europe haven’t seen the true benefit of shares… yet.

Talk through what share options mean, honestly, in detail and specifically how that relates to your strategy. The upside is incredibly exciting and time spent on doing this is valued by most people.

Be nice to Recruiters. There I said it! Do you think your role will be prioritised if you’re being a d*ck? No, it won’t.

Say no quickly (not too quickly and probably not in the room itself). Wait a day or two and make the offer of a call to discuss. No particular “brand” reason behind this – it’s just the right thing to do.

Low ball on salary. This doesn’t apply for any startup beyond Series-A or any company that isn’t a fast growth startup. You need to pay a salary that means they’re not constantly looking elsewhere but your best hires have skin in the game too.

Do the values checklist. If you haven’t rolled out your company one’s yet, dig deep and think about your own. Interview heavily against these.

Don’t make excuses and aim for excellence. This one takes a little time to sink in but I think it’s the most important. If someone hasn’t signed up to use Juggle before the interview – I won’t waste time anymore. If I didn’t learn something new from spending time with them – they’re not right. We’re trying to do something completely new so need people who are curious, driven and innovative thinkers.

Romanie Thomas on LinkedinRomanie Thomas on Twitter
Romanie Thomas

Get Modern Leadership delivered

Practical insights into careers and the future of work