Effective recruitment – a DIY guide for small business

Everywhere I go I find small business proprietors reluctant to hire staff, even when they need someone. Working long hours, they hold back their business’s growth because they’re scared of making a mistake.

Either they’ve been there before, or they know someone else who has. They know the price of training someone who doesn’t work out, and how you can’t terminate someone without a legal battle. The system, it seems, is against them, making it easier to have a bad performer than to terminate and start again! Most of all, they think it’s easier to wait until the perfect person happens along, an easy choice if you’re that lucky!

Well guess what? They’re wrong. What is missing from their small business world is some good practice in hiring, inducting, training, motivating, performance management, recognition and re-ward.

You can’t remove all risk, but you can reduce it, without costly HR consultants.

Let’s start at the start: the decision to hire. Be sure you want someone, you know what you want them to do, and that you are able to delegate to someone else. It won’t work unless you can let something go and trust the employee.

Once you are clear, document the job. Be clear about specific duties, but importantly find measurable outcomes and document those too. In other words: determine how you will know if this person is any good? Be clear about reporting lines and limits of authority.

If you advertise a job be clear about what the job is; stress the most appealing aspects; be clear about the qualities, competencies, experience and qualifications; spell out “what’s in it for them” - prospects, pay etc; and, finally, be clear about how to apply.

Take the phone calls, receive the applications but don’t waste time interviewing everyone. Ask ‘filtering’ questions to avoid wasting time on the phone. People appreciate a straight answer, they are often applying for other jobs. When the bulk of the calls and written applications are in, review your notes and thoughts to highlight probables. Be tough with yourself but move quickly to interview the best applicants - before they get jobs elsewhere. Time is the big enemy.

Now to the interviews. Look at basics like appearance, speech, manners, confidence and attitude. Do they seem to want the job? Yes or no answers tell you nothing about an individual, so ask open questions, so they can talk about how they work, make decisions and react to things. Be sure to make time to answer their questions. Tell them you’ll make a quick decision. If you really like someone ask them if you can do reference checks before they leave.

Make sure you do reference checks. Treat it like a second interview. Probe a bit, find out how they behaved on the job, how good their decisions were, how they responded to problems, and why they left. If the referee is a ‘set-up’ they often give it away under such scrutiny.

Make the offer and set a start date. New employees should have a letter of offer clearly stating terms and conditions, expected outcomes, reporting relationships, any probationary period (a good idea!) and an attached Job Description. Get them to give you a signed acceptance.

Day one. Be ready to induct your new employee. Ensure they have what they need for the job (including business cards, if required). Show them around, introduce them to the staff and ensure someone takes them under their wing for the first week or so. They need to feel comfortable about the office culture, and being able to make a few small mistakes.

Ensure training is provided straight away, monitor progress, note good work, and use mistakes as training opportunities. Make your business a pleasant place to work. When problems do arise communicate, face the issues and suggest a solution.

What if it goes wrong? If you have hired and managed the employee in line with the advice above, then take a deep breath and plan your strategy.

Document the reasons clearly, give the employee a chance to respond, and be ready to discharge all administrative matters on the spot, including termination pay, collection of keys, ID cards etc.

Document all meetings (including date, time and place), note their reactions and defence they have.

If you know you’re heading for difficult times, have a witness present, especially at the time of termination.

Always sign your notes. Keep your meetings formal, free of anger or remorse, remain neutral. Don’t use public places for such meetings.

Don’t forget you do have the right to terminate someone who fails to meet the expectations of the position, or who has committed a misdemeanour. You simply must give the employee natural justice. Be clear about your expectations from the beginning, and demonstrate that every effort was made to give them the best chance to do the job well through induction, training, reviews, and warnings.

Follow these simple steps, put that extra bit of time and effort into hiring, and you’ll minimise the risks of failure and the need for dismissal. You’ll also increase the chances of keeping your good employees.

Remember that good workers like to use their initiative, to be recognised, to be trusted, and to have an employer they can respect.

* Richard Hazlewood is a director of Pty Ltd. He can be contacted on 9284 1495 or

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