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What’s Your #1 Hiring Rule? Small Business Owners Weigh In

What’s Your #1 Hiring Rule? Small Business Owners Weigh In

While I’m a one-person show as a freelance writer, I have been involved in the hiring process a few different places and appreciate how difficult finding the right employee can be. Someone who looks good on paper isn’t always the best in person and vice versa. So how can you be sure to pick the best person for the job?

To answer that question, I reached out to other small business owners and asked them what their #1 hiring rule was. And here’s what they told me.

Hire Slowwwly

Karen Young, founder and president of HR Resolutions says that her number one rule is to “hire slow. Take your time and hire based upon fit.” Young elaborates by saying that, while you can teach someone how to perform a duty or function, you can’t teach them “that HR is fun or that paying out community rent isn’t considered work.” And you’ll be able to see these types of things more clearly if you take your time during the hiring process.

Paul Ruedi, CEO of Ruedi Wealth Management, Inc. agrees and says that this rule is his as well because, when employees don’t work out, it is “very painful experience.” He also adds that this rule has served him well over his years in business as he’s had “very little turnover, virtually none.”

Of course, sometimes you have a position that you want to fill quickly. However, Simon Slade, CEO and co-founder of SaleHoo, says simply, “Be patient. It can be easy to feel pressure if you need to fill a certain position and you or your team is having to pick up some slack, but one of the worst decisions you can make as a leader is hiring someone who isn’t a good fit. It’s like taking one step forward and two steps back. Instead, I always remind myself to be patient in a search and keep looking for the best person for the job. They’re out there – it’s just a matter of finding them, and sometimes that takes time.”

Have They Visited Your Website?

Marc Prosser, co-founder and managing partner of Fit Small Business, has a different rule and it’s one that involves his company. “When people come for an interview, I always ask, ‘Have you been to our company website?’ If they say no, it’s pretty clear they’re not interested in the job or not someone who has strong work ethic. If they say yes, I ask them to tell me what the company does and why other companies should do business with us. This tells me if they thought about the company and digested the material or if they’re lying. If they can’t be bothered to visit our website and do research, then that are not someone good for our company. If someone hasn’t visited the site or can’t explain what the company does, the interview will be very short.”

Pay Attention to How They Approach the Interview

Alex Barshai, owner of Third Temple Digital, says that he won’t give a job to someone who disrespects the interview process. “I can never trust somebody to deliver a task in a professional manner if he or she can’t show a minimal respect of arriving to the interview on time.” Barshai goes on to say, “I believe that well organized people are organized in all aspects of their life. It starts with clean clothes and shoes and ends with their jobs. There is a strong correlation between how you look and what you do. Every rule has an exception but, in general, it helps to filter out a bad tomato.”

Pass on “Glacial” Prospects

Dennis Theodorou, vice president of JMJ Phillip Executive Search says that his top hiring rule is, “If they look, act, walk, and talk with low energy, I am going to pass. I have interviewed and hired over 700 people across several sectors and multiple wage tiers and it never seems to fail. If they look low energy, they will be low energy. In today’s fast-paced world where technology is changing daily, you must be constantly learning new things just to keep up, let alone get ahead with customers demanding everything right now. No business has room for someone that wants to move at a glacial pace.”

Pick an Applicant with Passion

Andrew Reeves, CEO and founder of Luxe Translation Services, says that he developed his #1 hiring rule of picking applicants with passion after taking an acting class. “I took an acting class in university and I noticed there are two kinds of people in the class: Those who are there to meet the arts requirement, and those who are there because they have a passion for acting. The ones who were there for the arts requirements either didn’t show up to scene practice sessions or they showed up but didn’t have their lines memorized. The ones who had a passion showed up with their lines memorized. That’s how I discovered the importance of having passion.”

How has this served him in his business? Reeves says, “In my experience, those who enjoy the job the most are the most likely to excel at it. Those who have passion for our industry are the ones who will stay at our firm for a long time and move up the corporate ladder. They have a passion for language and want to take their careers to the next level. That’s what I like to see.”

Look for People Who Can Share Their Creativity

Heather Heuman, founder of Sweet Tea Social Marketing says that creativity is her top applicant quality. “I look for people to express themselves in a way that creatively shares great information, yet weaves into their messaging their personality and style in business. People connect with people so it is crucial to smart hiring in business. When I’ve posted previously that I was hiring and included exactly what was needed and that applicants could think outside of the box also, I paid special attention to those that send me custom videos. Why? Because it took extra time, it showed they weren’t afraid to put themselves out there and it allowed me to get an even better view of their creativity.”

Choose Interviewees Who Will Tell You What They Really Think

Sean Higgins, founder of ilos, puts his applicants through a sort of honesty test. “I have a bowl of candy in our interview room. It’s candy from overseas and is an acquired taste. Everyone here hates them. When I do an interview I ask the candidate if they’d like a candy. For the folks who accept, you can see the look of disgust on their faces after they try a piece. Naturally, I ask them how they like it. Most people say it tastes great, despite the look on their face.”

So why does Higgins put applicants through this taste bud torture? He explains that “the reason why that question is so important is because we have a candid culture. As a small team we need to know the state of the business (cash in, cash out, runway). When you bring someone in to that kind of environment, they need to be able to tell you what they actually think.”

Sam Williamson, Owner of Guardian Moving & Storage Ltd, has a similar approach, but one that is harder on the ears. “A recurring joke in the office is that my jokes are seriously bad (mainly because they are). So, when hiring new staff, I want to make sure that the applicants shared the same opinion about my jokes as the other staff in the office. Throughout each interview, I crack a few cringe-worthy jokes just to test the water with the applicants, and take note if they laugh. To my surprise, almost all of them laugh! This trick actually turned out to be far more insightful than I was expecting, as I found that the applicants who laughed were trying to suck up to me – a characteristic that I don’t want in my staff!” Being honest helped one of Williamson’s applicants get the job as he shares that he “ended up hiring the one applicant who told me that they’d heard my joke before from their dad!”

Ensure That Your Applicant’s Vision Matches Yours

Felipe Bernardes, administrative executive at lemoney, says, “Our #1 rule is understanding whether the professional’s career anchors match the company’s values. We are a start-up, so we need deep commitment, engagement, and partnership vision. The reason why it is our #1 rule is because we have a big dream and potential, but a short budget and lots of work to do. The candidate must understand that and still be committed.”

How has this rule worked out for Bernardes and his fellow employees? “This rule has made us build a small but strong team,” he says. “Our company is six months old now and our turnover is zero so far. It makes us think less of retention and more of our core business.”

Keep Your Emotions Out of It

Lee Schwartz, founder of Schwartz Profitability Group, says that his primary hiring rule is to not hire based on emotion. “Over the course of my career, I made several decisions to hire someone because I thought we had a chemistry, a synergy between us, only to find out that, once hired, they weren’t qualified for the position. I allowed my emotions to cloud my judgment. It came back to burn me to the point of having to terminate the new hire. Since realizing this reality, it’s served me and my clients well as we haven’t made the same mistake again.”

Be Willing to Pay for Good Talent (That You Don’t Know)

Mary McAuley, founder of Ripe Life Wines, says, “As a start-up, you’re forced to squeeze a nickel out of every penny. Hiring friends (or, sometimes out of desperation, whomever is available) might sink your ship—fast. While they may be a cheaper option in the short run, they may not be the most qualified to help you grow and thrive. A tenacious new entrepreneur is often likely to pick up the slack from a fellow employee before dolling out constructive feedback or letting someone go. It’s worthwhile to spend a little extra time, energy, and money on hiring the best candidates available, whom you can really trust to get the job done. While talent like this often comes with a price, I’ve found the return on investment is tenfold.”

Go For Experience Over Education

Eric Brantner, founder of says, “I’ve learned a lot about hiring over the years, and have a number of lessons and tips that now serve me well. If I had to narrow it down to my #1 hiring rule, it would be to trust someone’s real world experience over their education. So many times, companies get hung up on requiring job candidates have a specific level of education or a certain degree, but in my experience, what really matters is the person’s true on-the-job experience…the real results they’ve achieved. I’ll take someone who has actually achieved the kind of results I’m looking for out of my employee, even if they don’t have a degree, over somebody with education and no practical experience.”

Brantner goes on to say, “There have been far too many instances where I’ve hired people who had a resume that looked impressive with a great education but they don’t have actual workplace skills — taking direction, handling unexpected problems, etc. At first, following this rule of hiring based more on real world experience versus education raised some eyebrows with my business partners, but as they’ve seen the quality of my team improve, they’re all for it.”

Ask Yourself: Can I Work With This Person?

Zaki Usman, CEO of InterQ, says, “My hiring rule is to ask myself: ‘Can I work with this candidate?’ I use this rule because it encompasses so much. When I ask myself this, I’m thinking: Can I build a relationship with this candidate? Can this candidate grow with the company? Will this candidate treat the company like it’s their own? This rule has been invaluable, and while it narrows the playing field, it produces the best results.”

Pick Positive Applicants (with Talent)

Alex Reichmann, CEO of iTestCash, says, “I think a good attitude along with talent is a recipe for success so I always try to hire people who have a positive attitude and are talented at what they do. As a brand, I always want to be performing at the top in my industry so I only want to hire talented people so we can do that. I also believe a positive attitude goes a long way. It has served me well so far.”

They Must Be Able to Follow Instructions

Emily LaRusch, CEO of Back Office Betties, says, “Working as a virtual receptionist means our receptionists need to excel at following instructions and paying attention to details. They are answering calls for many different clients and missing one detail can make the difference between a flawless call and a major mistake. All of my job postings include 2-3 specific instructions on how to apply. If any of the steps are missed the applicant is immediately passed over. Only those who take the time to follow instructions are considered which greatly reduces the number of people we have to interview.”

No Follow Up, No Job

John Kinskey, founder of AccessDirect, says, “If a candidate does not follow up after the interview, then they are eliminated. I have found that candidates who follow up have developed some basic life skills and business etiquette that is indicative of being more responsible, aware, and mature and they will use those same skills on the job. And, it’s usually no surprise which candidates follow up as they are also the ones that had a well written and formatted resume, can write well without typos, and communicated in a timely and effective manner leading up to the interview. And, they are interested in the job. This rule has served me well.”

Any rules you’d like to add? Feel free to do so below!

I’m always interested in learning other small business owners’ thoughts on relevant topics and issues, so if you have a unique article idea, feel free to contact me at [email protected] (put “Businessing Magazine” in the subject line, please). If I use it, it’s a free link to your website!


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by Christina DeBusk // Freelance writer, author, and small business consultant committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve higher levels of success.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.