How to Make Fast-Growth Hires That Stick

Don't make the wrong fast-growth hires out of desperation. Here are 5 tips from small businesses that have hired--and retained--valuable employees.
November 04, 2015

Small-business owners who have ridden the roller coaster of fast growth know that the excitement comes with a few scary moments. Sure, it may be fun to ramp up those thrilling climbs and surprise turns, but the unexpected dips can be terrifying.

Hiring can be a particularly squishy management challenge even in the best of times, and during the pressures of fast growth, it may be tempting to dispense with rounds of interviews or placement tests and simply plug any qualified applicants into the many waiting slots.

That would be a mistake, according to companies that have taken the fast-growth ride and emerged with skilled teams, strong corporate culture and low turnover. For long-term success, you should wait for the qualified candidate who also fits the company culture. Taking shortcuts may solve the problem in the short term, but you risk building a shaky company riddled with unhappy employees.

We talked to successful small-business owners and hiring managers to find five tips for making sure fast-growth hires translate into a long-term solution.

Take More Responsibility for Fit

Atlanta-based analytics company eVestment hired over 100 people last year, capping a growth trend they’ve been riding for the past three years. These new hires skew toward millennials, so recruiting leader Barbara Marks has adapted to take more responsibility for overall fit.

“Especially for more recent college graduates, they honestly don’t know a lot about what’s a good fit for them so, it’s up to us to determine what kind of work environments are right,” Marks says.

Marks and her team help candidates assess fit by asking them open-ended questions about school projects and part-time jobs, and going into detail about the eVestment workplace. “We don’t just say ‘it’s a fast-paced environment,’” she says. “Instead we explain what ‘fast paced’ means here.”

The tactic seems to be working—eVestment’s overall employee turnover rate is 10 percent compared to a 2013 average turnover rate for all industries of 15.1 percent, according to research from Compensation Force.

Prioritize Employee Passion

BetterWorks, a software firm in Palo Alto, California, grew to 70 employees last year, with a 98 percent retention rate—strong in today’s uber-competitive high-tech industry. When hiring, vice president of people operations Tamara Cooksey asks candidates for a final “homework assignment” requiring research and an on-site presentation.

“One thing we really look for is, are they passionate about what they do?” Cooksey says. “They don’t have to be outgoing, but they have to be excited. It shows up in the homework exercise—how much time did they spend on it? Did they go above and beyond? How excited do they get when they are talking about the topic; do you hear the uplift in their voice and see a sparkle in their eye?”

In fact, “sparkle,” or passion, is one of BetterWorks’ core values, and focusing on that during hiring ensures a strong culture fit for new hires.

Do the First Interview

You may think you’re too busy running your company to bother with anything but last-round interviews, but ExecuSource CEO Frank Green calls each new candidate himself, before handing them off to the HR team. Green has learned from hiring both for clients and also for himself—his Atlanta-based company has doubled its staff each of the past three years.

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“I made the same mistakes my clients make,” Green says. “We didn’t really have a defined culture. We were hiring for skills but not for cultural match. It blew up on us; we had a lot of turnover.”

Now Green sets aside his mornings, lunch hour and late afternoons to personally call each candidate for a relaxed “get to know you” introductory conversation. “People are always shocked it’s me,” Green says. “They think it’s going to be some HR person or recruiter. But I’m the owner, and I want to set the tone.”

Green claims focusing on culture over skills has made a big difference: “We have hired people who didn’t have any skills in the market but had the right personality, and they are doing exceptionally well.”

Broaden Your Internship Program

Modernizing Medicine has doubled employee numbers at its Boca Raton offices every year over the past five years. Diane Dagher, director of talent acquisition and engagement, claims finding the right fit means hiring for collaboration and communication skills. “A lot happens here at the coffeemaker or in the cafeteria,” she says.

The company often finds the best candidates through its robust internship program, which has rotated about 40 interns through various positions over the past four years. “That has helped us scale,” Dagher says. “We have a good conversion rate with the interns; about 30 percent have become employees.”

Dagher believes that number would be higher if fewer of their interns were still in school. “If you give people an opportunity to show what they can do, especially when they are still in that learning mode coming out of school, they are eager to do it.”

The company’s resulting 2 to 10 percent turnover rate is particularly low for the high-tech industry. “My software developers are getting calls every day soliciting them for other positions,” Dagher says.

Find a Job for the Right Person

When you do find a great potential employee, hang on to them even if you don’t yet have the right job. That’s what Jonathan Wasserstrum did when he ran across a talented candidate who was a good fit for his commercial real estate firm. The Square Foot, based in New York City, started in 2011 and has grown from six to 16 employees in the past year, with plans to add 10 more this year.

Wasserstrum placed a promising employee in a flexible role at the business earlier this year. “We saw great potential and wanted her involved with the company,” he says. “But you can’t do that too often, because you can’t really have a whole lot of utility players.” After filling various marketing and technology roles, the employee settled into a full-time brokerage position that opened after the firm grew.

If he doesn’t have a utility slot open, Wasserstrum sends compelling candidates to other firms in his business community. “It creates a virtuous cycle,” he says. “We pass them to another company, and that karma comes back to you in spades when you can help others.”

Read more articles about hiring.

Photos: iStock; Courtesy of ExecuSource, Modernizing Medicine