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6 Do's and Don'ts of Hiring Your First Employee

. / Credit: Hiring Image via Shutterstock

Hiring that first employee is an exciting and important milestone for any new business owner. Whether it happens immediately following your launch or after you've been in business a few months, the ability to add someone to your staff means you're on the right track for growth. But in the chaos of trying to scale up, you may rush the process and hire someone who isn't quite right for the job.

"There's usually a sense of urgency that comes with hiring, so you might be tempted to hire someone as quickly as possible to relieve some stress," said Joshua Reeves, CEO and co-founder of payroll services provider ZenPayroll. "However, remember [that] you're trying to hire the right person, not just any person.Your first hire will set the tone for the rest of your team."

"Building a great team is essential to having a great business," added Michael Alter, CEO and president of SurePayroll. "Small business owners [are] eager and may jump to make a quick hire. Yet it's critical to consider the true cost of turnover, including the time it takes to hire, possible reputational damage if an employee deals with customers, and the burden of having to repeat the process."

Taking your time with early stage hiring may not always be possible, so how can you be sure that your first employees are the right fit? Here are a few basic rules for making your first hire. [What You Need to Know Before Hiring Your First Employee]


Make your expectations clear. If you want to find a candidate who truly fits the bill for your company's opening, the first step is to be crystal clear about the skills and responsibilities required for the job. Ideally, you'll do this up front in the job listing to weed out unqualified candidates, but bringing the requirements up again in the interview will confirm whether a potential employee is right for the job.

"Be very clear on your expectations for the position, and don't necessarily hire people who [just] present themselves well," said David Johnson, owner of a Pirtek hydraulic hose replacement service franchise. "Write a clear description and list of duties, and make sure [the candidate's] skill set matches up with exactly what you want."

Robert Piazza, master franchise owner of Anago Cleaning Systems in Dallas, said that when hiring, he looks for a concise, to-the-point résumé that hits on all the reasons a person is qualified for the position. The only way you can get these kinds of applications is by providing a thorough initial job description.

Consider a candidate's cultural fit. Although a candidate's skill set and prior experience are extremely important, your first hire also helps to form the basis of your company's culture and work environment. For this reason, you need to be sure that the candidate's personality type meshes well with yours and the other founding team members', if applicable.

"If you expect your first employee to help build a foundation for your company, he or she must bring more to the table than just technical aptitude or a proven track record," Reeves said. "Find someone who's both excited about your mission and aligned with your values." 

Reach out to your network for referrals. Many seasoned entrepreneurs warn against hiring close friends and family members, to avoid personal relationships getting in the way of business. And this is generally good advice. However, your network of professional contacts could be a great resource for finding qualified candidates.

"I had to hire five people from the get-go," Johnson said. "I had a lot of good résumés [because] I networked with B2B [contacts] and told them I was looking for people."

This can be especially helpful if you're looking for a highly specific skill set and don't know where to begin your candidate search.


Skip the reference check. You may have a great gut feeling about a candidate, but that doesn't mean he or she is perfect. Reeves reminded new business owners to conduct reference checks on any potential hire, even if you're sure about offering the person a job.

"Reference calls can be hard because some people don't reveal the candidate's weaknesses," Reeves told Business News Daily. "Try to ask this question to get to the heart of things: 'Everyone has areas of strength and areas for improvement, and we truly believe that John is exceptional. What do you think are some areas he can improve in?'"

Alter agreed, noting that behavior assessments and screening services can give you even greater insight into a candidate's background and history. 

Offer someone the job on the spot. As Reeves said, there's often a sense of urgency during early stage hiring for a startup or small business. As tempting as it may be to hire the first qualified candidate you meet, interviewing other candidates will give you a more well-rounded sense of what's out there.

"Try to stay patient," Reeves said. "A good rule of thumb is to thoroughly interview at least three promising candidates before you make the hire."

You shouldn't make a job offer after a single interview, either. Piazza advised following a multi-step hiring process that includes a résumé review, two rounds of interviews, background and reference checks, and a probationary period to test the employee out.

Forget about the future. A fast-growing company has a lot of immediate needs, but you also have to think about your future growth goals and where the company is headed when hiring your first employees. These early team members need to share your vision and should want to work toward those objectives.

"Balance today's needs with tomorrow's goals," Alter said. "Target well-rounded candidates and assess applicants' adaptability."

Reeves agreed that companies should consider the future. "First hires should share your founding team's values and beliefs and be a 'cultural' leader," Reeves said. "You should be able to imagine that person saying, 'I'm the first hire,' and you should feel proud hearing that."

Additional reporting by Dave Mielach, Business News Daily Social Media Specialist

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily on Aug. 22, 2013. Updated Sept. 23, 2014.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.