Hiring your first employee and building your first team

By Jerome Forde

There is an exciting point when every new business when outsourcing isn’t enough and it’s time to hire in order to grow. Hiring that first employee is often a hurdle financially and emotionally because you will be responsible for someone’s income and well-being. It’s a difficult decision, after all, you’ve built this business from scratch and now you’ll have to hand over a degree of responsibility to someone else.

These factors aside, hiring your first employee is a challenge practically. The reality is, you will likely be competing against bigger, more established companies for the same candidates. Good candidates my end up with several offers you need to make sure that they pick you.

However, there are some basic ideas that you can follow to keep you on the right path when it comes to building your first team:

Advertising the role

When making your first hire you’re probably not planning to engage recruitment agencies just yet. Referrals can be a great way to build the initial members of your first team. Reach out to your network with an idea of the type of person you are looking for as well as the skill set you think they will need to possess (initially, versus what you can teach them). Start-ups regularly find their initial employees through their networks, reducing much of the screening process and often, a lot of the risk.

However, if your network has been exhausted or you simply want to throw the rope out wider, then you will look to advertise your opportunity. This needs to be managed so that you don’t end up inundated with generic applications. A good way around this is to look to more niche job websites or trade magazines who will often have recruitment sections for advertising roles.

In this digital age, another good strategy is to look to industry blogs, Facebook or Linked-In groups, and social media influencers and industry leaders. Asking them to announce an opening for you provides shareable content for their channels while also spreading your message of business growth (a little added PR for your efforts).

Attracting the best talent

While you may be about to start a process of scrutinising potential job candidates, know that job candidates will likewise be scrutinising you. Not only you personally, but your business. So, an often overlooked – but vital – step in the successful building of your first team is to take a good look at how you will market yourself as an employer. This will range from branding and outward-facing communication such as the website and social media accounts, to the more concrete elements employees look for; benefits. And this doesn’t just mean salary.

The package and benefits

Competing on salary isn’t always an option, however, there are ways you can offer value that are relatively inexpensive. It’s a good idea to take some time to decide what you want to offer as a package of benefits to your first hires. If you are able to offer flexibility in days/hours or working from home then this will certainly broaden the pool of talent available to you. Sometimes fun elements such as “Pizza Fridays” or “bring your dog to work” days can take little investment but show potential employees that you will provide them with a fun, friendly environment in which to spend their working lives.

Talent also values the wider benefits you may offer as an employer, such as access to training or the opportunity to take on more responsibility. The great thing about joining a small team is that there will be greater opportunity to be noticed and rewarded, meanwhile receiving more focused development. Leverage this in your pitch. Highlight the level of your attention they will receive in role and the training they can expect.

Sharing the vision

As a small business, you are likely entrepreneurial and ambitious by default. Hiring likeminded people will be key to your success. With this in mind, the way you word your written communication during the hiring process can also have an impact on attracting talent who will fit your ethos. Promote the business goals and ambitions with a practical view of how you plan to achieve the vision. If you can sell in the ambition and exciting plans for the future, then you will attract ambitious candidates who see the potential for growth. Similarly, if you speak about your team as a family unit, then you will attract team players whose personal values match yours.

Shortlisting applicants

Remember, you want quality applicants, not the headache of sifting through countless generic applications. While you could just request CVs, you may want to add an element of uniformity with an application form that requires the applicant to answer a few initial questions to garner crucial information about skills or experience. Alternatively, your business may require a better understanding of their creativity or problem-solving, so you could think of posing a challenge or a practical entry of some kind.

This process should result in fewer CVs to review saving you time. The next stage is where you will really want to maximise the time you have with each person to ascertain who is the best fit for your organisation.


The interview content depends on the level at which you are hiring. As this is your first hire, this assumes your looking to hire an exec or graduate to assist you. Interviews can be awkward for everyone involved, but they need not be. Ultimately, you want to see the very best from your prospective hires at this stage, so give them every chance to succeed.

The chances are, your prospects may not be able to draw on too much professional experience, but what you really want to glean from the interview is the candidate’s potential and willingness to develop.

Remember this golden rule: Hire for attitude, train for skill

Broadly speaking, you can teach people anything, but you can’t teach someone to have a good attitude. You could benefit from replacing competency questions with those that really get to the nature of a person and their own goals for the future. Think about questions such as what they want in their career at this next stage, why they think they would fit in your team and what motivates them personally. Once you’ve presented your business vision, ask how they feel they could best contribute to the business. Your small team will be close-knit so these types of questions help to build a team who share similar passions – professionally and personally.

Learning from the process

As well as finding the best person for the job, don’t forget that the application and interview stages are a great opportunity for you to find out what worked – and what didn’t – in this, your first hiring process. So, ask each person how they heard about the role. Don’t be embarrassed to ask what they knew about the company, what they thought of the branding, etc. This makes for a revealing process, about both the candidates and your own company. At the very least, you’ll find out if they did any research before applying.

Expanding the team

Once you have your first employee/s on board, the job of building the team becomes a little easier. The culture you are growing in your business starts to really take shape and will inform what is missing from your team – be it in skills, experience or personality.

It’s at this stage that you must consider the wider implications of each candidate and hire those who compliment the exiting team. For instance, hire too many overly ambitious people, and you build a culture of one-upmanship, hire too many specialists and you may stunt collaboration.

Ultimately, surrounding yourself with a team of people who are working with you towards your same goals is a rewarding feeling. For all the challenges, take a moment to appreciate the success of expansion and focus on where you are going as a business and what you want to achieve. This positive attitude and attention to a longer term strategy will serve you well in hiring your first employee and building that initial team.

Jerome Forde, pictured above, is a HR and employee relations specialist and founder of FordeCloud.