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One of the biggest responsibilities small and medium enterprise (SME) owners are faced with, is hiring their first employee and building their first team. It can be a daunting task. But if tackled with solid research, clear communication and a dash of human intuition, it can be the most fundamental step you, as a small business owner, take towards achieving your business vision.

Here are three tips you may not yet have considered when hiring your first recruits.

1) Don’t skimp on the job description

For many small businesses, especially at startup stage, employees are required to wear many different hats in order to make a long-lasting and meaningful impact on the company. On the other hand, some small businesses at growth stage, will consider hiring specialists in their field to help build or develop a specific part of the business. What is crucial for SMEs is that roles and responsibilities need to be laid out from the outset.

As an SME owner, you need to consider aspects such as whether the person you’re hiring needs to be a generalist or whether they will be expected to bring expert knowledge and leadership skills to the team. When these questions are answered, this needs to be outlined in a clear job description that should be communicated to recruits during the interview process. Doing this will ensure that your expectations as the employer and the expectations of the successful candidate are aligned. This due diligence will go a long way in creating an environment governed by clear communication and measurable objectives.

2) Add a “small business shadow” component to your screening process

“Job shadowing,” or the process whereby an aspiring employee closely observes someone in their prospective field for a period of time, is usually something that is associated with individuals of school-going age. But what about taking a highly pragmatic approach and implementing a “day in the life” kind of programme as part of the screening process?

This component could take the place of a screening test and would involve candidates “shadowing” you as the SME owner and completing a few tasks that are associated with their prospective role. You could then ask them to report back on their experience – what they enjoyed, proactive suggestions on what they might change and how they feel they could contribute to developing the particular role. Doing this is a great way of assessing whether a candidate is a good culture fit for your SME and whether they have accurate expectations of what the positions entails.

3) Be aware of your unconscious biases

One of the most challenging tasks you will tackle when hiring your first recruits and building your first team as an SME owner, is identifying and challenging your unconscious biases. These are the stereotypical beliefs you may hold about certain groups of people that exist outside of your conscious awareness. Unlike blatant discrimination, unconscious biases are implicit – they exist at a level that we are not aware of. Essentially, they are formed when stereotypes become deep-seated beliefs that disguise themselves as being intuitively correct.

The recruitment and hiring process can bring out the best and the worst in people. This is where, for SME owners, self-awareness is key. As a small business owner, these biases can be extremely influential. They can extend to issues such as the gender pay gap or something as insidious as the assumption that people who smoke cigarettes are timewasters.

You have a responsibility as the person who is vetting candidates to challenge these beliefs, hold yourself accountable and ultimately, make sure that you don’t miss out on great talent because of generalisations and stereotypes.


About the Author: Ben Bierman

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Ben Bierman has been our Managing Director since 2015. He joined our company in 1990 and has risen through the ranks occupying various positions ranging from being a management accountant, Head of Information Technology and Chief Financial Officer. Ben is an avid reader, enjoys classical music and being in the outdoors including for hunting trips. He is our go-to-spokesperson for our SME Confidence Index, SME sector policy and trend matters, and business leadership articles.