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7 Characteristics of a New Employee for SMEs

Hiring your first member of staff? Or expanding your team?
Don’t know where to start? Worried about getting it wrong?

Every time you hire, start with these seven core questions.

As the business owner, can you afford to get it wrong when hiring for the first time or adding to your small team? 

You’d like to think these 7 core questions would be used every time any business owner, team leader or established corporate hire new staff but as a company gets bigger, the risk of a poor hire is less stressful (you can always hide a poor hire, or if they leave, it doesn’t create as much of a gap).

Anyone you bring into your business, in any capacity (virtual, permanent/PAYE, contractor, freelance), must all of these seven core characteristics:

They must buy into you as the business owner and your company’s vision.

They’ve got to be passionate.

Show passion about what you’re doing, and how you plan to do it. 

They need to really believe in your abilities to do what you’re doing for your customers.

It is vital to realise and appreciate that they may never be as passionate as you (it’s your business, after all) but they still need to buy into your drive and ambition and be excited by what you’re doing.

They must buy into your company vision.

They need to believe in your products and service offering. 

They have got to firmly believe that what you’re offering your customers is providing value for money as well as solving a problem. 

You can’t expect to get 100% out of a new team member if they don’t honestly feel your tea bags are rather special/different/good quality/value for money (delete as appropriate).

They have to be like-minded.

They won’t be like you in every way because if they were, they’d have their own business. However, they have to feel and be capable of sharing in what they’re doing.

Do not mistake this characteristic for needing to find another ‘you’ when you first hire a member of staff or even as you grow. Your company needs a mix of skills and personalities, not five of you!

The hiring of a mini-me rarely works unless your company is at a size where the two of you do similar things in different revenue generation activities.

They have to be able to be clear in what your role is.

If you’re hiring for the first time, this is an absolutely crucial characteristic. 

Just because they’re the first person to join your company, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be a director or senior leader in the future. There is still a hierarchy, even if it’s nearly flat. It’s your business, after all, even if they’re there to develop cool sales and marketing strategies or transform the customer journey.  

Plus, please don’t think that those who are first into your business are going to be the ones who can help you after the first 2-3 years. Different personalities are needed at different times, and I’ve found those who are excited throughout the start-up phase*, are usually not those who are excited by the mid-growth phase.

* Start-up phase being used here to illustrate the point at which you hire your first new staff, even if you’ve been running a successful sideline or company for years. It signifies a phase of your business, and once you hire staff, the vibe can feel like a start-up.

You and they must be clear on what their role is.

Unless you both know what is expected of them in their role, you risk them drifting. It’s a fool’s game to hire someone without defining precisely what you need them to deliver and by when.

They need a good understanding of how important it is for you to have them on board and they have a job to do today. Yes, their role may change, and they may take on more responsibilities such as people management, but for now, if they have to clean the toilet and answer the phone, then that’s what they need to do.

This is one of the most important characteristics of a small but growing team. Everyone makes the tea. Everyone empties the bins. Everyone does what it takes. This is part of everyone’s role. Do what it takes to make the business work well and do more for your customers.

Most small companies don’t have a daily cleaner, so it’s everyone’s responsibility to wash up. Ensure you test this characteristic at the job interview by asking what they feel is one of the most critical aspects of a small team and getting the most out of everyone.

They must be able to roll up their sleeves.

They have to be able to get down and dirty. 

Anyone you bring in as your first employee or expanding your team must be able to do just about everything that they need to do to make your life easier. That’s the key thing with these first few people you bring into your business. By the tenth person on board, this is not as important, but that first, second, third employee on board needs to be able to roll up their sleeves and do anything.

They must have the intention and willingness to be able to do anything it takes. They will be well aware that regardless of their job title, they will step up and help every single time their assistance is needed, as that is their natural way.

They have to buy into the fact that they know if there’s a deadline for 5pm not to be clock watching and then garbing their coat to leave just as the clock ticks over at 4.59.59. This characteristic can be shown by those who ask ‘how can I help’ or ‘shall I do that for you’?

They have to feel they’re improving the current team dynamic with new and varied skills.

Your new team member has to be capable of knowing that what they’re doing is so vital to you that, without them there, your business would still be surviving but it may not be growing. 

They need to understand their importance and get off on that, that has to excite them. It’s vital to know that this is not an ego thing.

This is a vital characteristic for team members you hire whether you have two staff or 202. They all need to be aware that they are a significant part of the machine which helps push your business on towards your vision. It doesn’t matter if it’s a receptionist or admin role or a sales director role.

This characteristic is all about knowing within themselves that what they bring to your business is gratefully received and as a result, the team, the department, the company, and ultimately your customers, are better for it.

Those are the seven essential characteristics that I would say your first employee into your business must have.

You must have a tick against every single one of these seven characteristics. Indeed, it is safe to say that all ten to twenty of your first employees need to have all seven of these characteristics also. Life changes slightly once you hit twenty staff or more, as there is a little more wiggle room for personalities. 

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