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OPEN for Discussion: How Do You Find Great Employees?

We asked three small-business owners how they built their team of rockstars. Here, they reveal the tactics they use to find great employees.
May 29, 2015

The price of hiring the wrong person to join your company is great. Not only can it be a big headache to replace that productivity-dragging employee—it can leave a big hole in your pocketbook. (One study based on California's workforce quoted the price of replacing an employee to the tune of $4,000 on average across all occupations, and $7,000 on average for "professional and managerial employees.")

That's why it's important to think beyond the resume and job posting when you're building your dream team. We asked Sarah Kauss, founder and CEO of S'well, a sustainable, reusable stainless steel water bottle manufacturing company; Cory Charlupski, president of The Babysitting Company, a boutique child-care agency; and Nick Herinckx, CEO of Obility, a company that helps B2B companies with online marketing, to tell us the unique and savvy ways they've built their teams of rockstar employees.

Tell us one of your favorite hire stories.

Sarah Kauss: I actually found my first employee through my business school network. One of my good friends called me and said, "We had this intern last summer who's just getting ready to graduate from college. She would be a great person for you to hire." I had a phone call with her while she was still in college, and I made her a job offer over the phone. She's really developed into such a terrific young woman [and is] still with me today [as] our director of marketing and partnerships. 

Nick Herinckx: With this last full round of hires, we switched things up a bit. Rather than posting the job, we just went in and manually reached out to people based on their LinkedIn profile. We were able to filter through profiles on LinkedIn [and] reached out directly to set up some lunches to talk to them about future opportunities. We were able to fill more positions that way, and the hires have been phenomenal. We had a really great round that we did without even posting the job.

What gave you that idea, Nick?

Herinckx: We would post jobs for certain positions and we wouldn't get very many applicants or the applicants who would apply were just not qualified. [We thought,] "We know these people are out there, we know that they would love this opportunity, but how do we get in front of them?" We realized we had to just take a more proactive approach.

How did you all go about building your teams?

Kauss: We typically have been very lucky in that our current employees have been great sources for finding the future employees. We usually start with word of mouth, advertising any open positions with the current team. We ask our employees if they can share open positions on LinkedIn or on their social media.

We [also] find that customers become great employees. We post the jobs on our jobs page—someone that's already passionate and interested in the product [will] dig a little deeper and see there's a job opening. A number of employees have come to us that way. We've never used a recruiter before, but we have done some paid searches on LinkedIn or Indeed or those types of websites.

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Sarah Kauss, founder and CEO of  S'well

Cory Charlupski: We're a pretty small business. It's the two of us—my business partner and sister, Rachel Charlupski—and we have one full-time employee. We're a babysitting service—we send babysitters across the country—so our database of babysitters is pretty vast. Because we're dealing with people's children, we have to be extra, extra careful with who we hire and how we train them. Rachel personally interviews every person, regardless of what city they service. I think that level of personal interaction is the first step to finding really great people.

For our full-time employee, because it's an administrative position, we got tons of resumes. On the resume, the biggest thing I looked for was versatility. The second thing I did after I narrowed down the resumes was I created a 20- to 25-question survey using SurveyMonkey. [The survey had] some day-to-day tasks the person would be doing, mock emails they might be sending or phone calls they might be making. [I wanted to] see how people write and how they react in certain situations. We're a customer service business—we're dealing with people's children—[make] one mistake or say the wrong thing, and it becomes a much bigger deal than it might otherwise be. 

Herinckx: [Using LinkedIn] was a recent development just within the last three out of four hires. [With] the previous hires, it was much more traditional. We posted the job in multiple areas, did the interviews. We also did get referrals from existing employees, which also proved to be very successful. We found some great employees at industry associations. One of the big software [companies] in our space, Marketo, has a user group that's very relevant to what we do. I really like meeting potential team members at the local meetup, because I find they're very passionate. If they're taking time outside of work to further self-educate, they're usually pretty driven.

What are some important things you should have in place when trying to recruit quality employees?

Kauss: Having a really positive team culture. Part of the reason we've been able to attract such great candidates is because they feel the energy when they're interviewing or the momentum of what's happening within the growth of the company, [and appreciate] the fact that we provide free gym memberships and have happy hours on Fridays. We have great job descriptions and people know they're going to be growing their career [here]. All of that adds to a really strong culture, [which] is a real benefit to attracting the best candidates.

Charlupski: We've grown through word of mouth. We even offer bonuses to our babysitters for recruiting other sitters, so we use our team as our best source of growing. Personal recommendations to us are the best. 

Herinckx: The number-one thing is selling your own company proactively. [It's] how we've been able to compete against and recruit from these larger companies; often the employees who are already there are happy so they're not looking.

How we actually do it, though, is each department lead maintains an Excel spreadsheet on potential future team members that's public to everybody. It's their responsibility to maintain regular lunch or coffee dates with individuals on the list maybe once a quarter—not super often, but enough to establish a relationship. We've found that if we take that time upfront to establish relationships, once the job becomes available, there's already that relationship. We've already vetted them through this process and know they would be a good fit.

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Nick Herinckx, CEO of Obility

What are some things—good or bad—to look for during the resume and interview process?

Kauss: I like someone who has been promoted from within or stayed in a place for a while. One of the red flags I've seen when I look at resumes is people who have jumped around in their careers. I would like to find people who are looking for a home, to stay for a number of years to help grow the company, and also grow themselves in their role. They're not just coming for the employee benefits [or] the title—they're coming for a career and the momentum that comes with a career.

You [also] have to be a little bit scrappy to be at S'well. Now that we're hiring more senior people, we've had some people come in and say they don't want to do the grunt work and they only travel first class. I don't even travel first class, and I'm the CEO of the company! They have to fit in with the culture of being a bit nimble.

Charlupski: One of my biggest pet peeves either in the survey or the resume was misspelling. There's no coming back from that. We need someone who is ultimately incredibly organized. And that goes all the way down to the way the resume looks. When I look at it, [is it] something I want to read? Just the way something looks on paper is going to put some positive or negative thoughts in your mind.

Herinckx: There are certain things you can teach and certain things you just can't. The biggest one [is] passion and drive. You really do know it when you see it. It comes out just in how the resume is written. It's focused less on what they did and more on results, because they're proud and excited and driven to get results. I've found that for candidates, you either have it or you don't, and I definitely made mistakes early on. You look at the resume, go through the interview process, and it seems like they can do the job. But once they get on the team, they often fight change and don't have that internal drive.

Another red flag I look for is ego. What people put forward in an interview—I've learned the hard way—is a tempered version of themselves. If they have an ego or an attitude in the interview, it's [possible] that the ego will be even higher.

Is there anything small-business owners should do before the interview process to ensure the people they're interviewing are more likely to be the type of people they want?

Kauss: I find often when I get pulled into an interview, I've just had 10 meetings before that and I haven't really had time to think about it. It's a waste of my time and the [candidate]'s time if I haven't prepared and made sure I'm asking the right questions to get a person who is going to excel in that type of a role. I like a lot of people, and I like the interview process, but it's not about liking the person. It's knowing they're going to do a great job for the company. 

The more time you can spend before the interview thinking about your organization, [the better]. What are the core competencies of success within the company? Take the time before the interview to review those competencies and think very purposefully about how you're going to define success in this role.

Charlupski: Google. When I narrow down the list of resumes, I just put names in Google, and Facebook or LinkedIn profiles come up. I got some profiles on just Facebook that I said, "If somebody sees this person's signature and they Google them, will I want them to see what comes up on Google as a representation of my company?" And people were eliminated that way.

Herinckx: It's okay to start the interview in the cover letter. We will ask people to include in the cover letter instructions so we don't get a generic one. We've asked that people outline their greatest career success related to this job. We've asked a few tactical questions or questions digging into their experience. It's a good tip for increasing the quality of the phone and in-person interviews. You'd be surprised how many people just don't follow instructions, and you learn a lot more that way.

Read more articles to help you find great employees.

Photos (from top): Getty Images; Courtesy of S'well, Obility