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Question: I’m a first time entrepreneur and I’m planning on making my first executive-level hire to help oversee finance and operations so that I can focus on what I do best (product and marketing).  This is a really important hire and I want to get it right.  Can you share some tips for ways I can set up a successful hiring process?

Congrats on preparing to hire your first executive-level employee!  Bringing in talent to help manage the business so that you can focus in on the areas you add most value to us a smart move!  Who you decide to fill the roll with will shape the future of your company, and it’s essential to get it right. Here are some of my tips to ensure you land a successful hire:

1. Understand Your Needs

Before you start your search, have a clear understanding of what you’re looking for in an executive. Knowing your specific needs will help refine your search. Is it someone who has really strong supply chain experience, someone with who’s helped build out a strong operational organization beneath them, or perhaps a person who has expertise optimizing gross margin? Is it all of these things, some of these things or none of these things? The more clear you can be with your vision, the higher the likelihood you’ll be able to identify when you’ve found the right person. 

2. Cultural Fit Matters

It’s tempting to hire the person with the most impressive resume. However, if they don’t align with your company’s values and culture, conflicts may arise. Ensure that your prospective hire not only has the skills but also aligns with your company’s ethos and vision.

3.  Tap Into Your Network

Tapping into your professional network can be invaluable. Rather than relying solely on job listings or recruiting agencies (which can be quite costly!), reach out to trusted people in your network for recommendations. They may know someone perfect for your role that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

4. Look for Adaptability

Startups and young companies are dynamic. The person you hire should be adaptable and flexible, ready to wear many hats and change directions as the company evolves.  Sometimes people think this type of of environment is exciting and what they want.  But unless a candidate has worked in a startup environment before, the reality of what it entails can sometimes come as an eye-opening surprise and ultimately not be the right fit.

5. Check References

Always, always check references. Past performance can be a strong indicator of future behavior. When you speak with references, ask specific questions about the candidate’s strengths, areas for improvement, and their ability to work within a team and manage people.  Also, if you have mutual connections with a candidate that may not have been listed as a reference, see if you can get feedback about their experience working with the candidate.  Sometimes unsolicited references give broader insights into a candidate that perhaps a solicited reference may not always give.

6. Ensure Candidate is Clear

My first tip was to ensure you’re clear on the vision of the role.  That’s as equally as important as making sure the candidate is crystal clear on the vision for the role.  Clearly define the executive’s role and responsibilities with the candidate from the start. This clarity will prevent overlaps, underlaps, and conflicts down the line.

7. Trust Your Instincts

After all the interviews, reference checks, and discussions, trust your gut. Your intuition, combined with due diligence, will help guide you to the right decision.

Hiring your first executive management employee is a major step in your entrepreneurial journey. It’s a testament to the growth and potential of your venture. I hope these tips are helpful in equipping you to bring on board someone who not only has the skills and experience but also shares your passion and vision for the company’s future.