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How to make your first HR hire: 6 tips every small business must know

We get a lot of great questions from business leaders who want more information on how to make their first HR hire.  How many employees do they need in order to hire an HR person? What’s the profile of a good first small business HR hire? How much should they pay them? What skills and experience should they have? What should the HR person outsource vs. what should they do themselves?  We provide some guidance here on these questions based on the success and failures that we’ve seen in other companies.  Here are actionable tips that should help you when making your first HR hire.  

Tip #1: Look for a complementary personality to your leadership team

Personality type:  we recommend finding someone who will complement their supervisors skill set. Is the supervisor revisionary with great ideas? The HR person should be able to plan and execute. You should also find someone who is interested in all facets of HR. The first small business HR person in the company should have broad generalist experience and/or interest.  You also want someone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and spend the extra time to figure things out. They are often operating without a playbook, and they have to build the airplane while it’s flying. Doing this requires a certain degree of flexibility, ingenuity, and grit. 

Tip #2: Find someone serious about HR

HR is a real function:  One of the most common pitfalls we see is business leaders not taking the HR role seriously.  This may involve placing a spouse, sibling, or friend in the role – either full-time or part-time in order to tackle the myriad issues that fall under HR.  Other times business leaders will “slot in” someone from another department or team within the organization to run HR.  The results from the former scenario are typically disastrous.  The results from the latter scenario are 50/50. 

The recommendation we give to business leaders is that they treat the placement of the HR role the same way they’d treat the placement of an engineering role or a marketing role.  When hiring for your first HR hire, try to find someone who has a credential like a PHR, SPHR, SRHM-CP, or SHRM-SCP.  While this doesn’t guarantee success, it acts as an indicator that the individual takes the HR profession seriously.  

Tip #3: You need a problem-solver with a network

Tools and Resources: hiring an HR person without giving them the tools and resources that they need to succeed is a recipe for disaster. This doesn’t mean that your first HR person needs a team right out of the gate (that’s really the case unless you are experiencing explosive growth or have raised a significant amount of money). But instead, your HR person should have outside consultants to talk to, systems that they can set up. They should even have outside vendors like benefits consultants who are employment attorneys who can assist them. 

Some work, like payroll, benefits, and compliance, can be outsourced relatively easily. While other work like HR strategy and management interaction should be done in-house.  We suggest giving your candidate a sample problem and ask how they would solve it. Tell them that there’s no correct answer, but instead you were looking to see how they talk through solving a problem. 

Tip #4: There are Yins and there are Yangs

The Yin and The Yang: When it comes to hiring your first small business HR person, their duties and responsibilities are often broad and scattered. However, there is art and science to human resources. The art side of the field includes talent management, employee relations, recruitment, and people operations. The science side of the field includes benefits, compensation, payroll, and tax issues. While it is difficult to find individuals with experience in both of these areas, it’s important to find someone who is willing to take a crack at whatever area they are less comfortable with. Find out if the candidate lands more on the art side or the science side. Ask them how they would specifically address their weaker side if they were in the role.

Tip #5: Find someone who works well with goals

Goals: it’s important to provide your new HR person with goals. Oftentimes it is hard to establish metrics for an HR person who is the first HR person in the company. However, some goals may be to modernize systems, processes, and practices. It could also be to implement new systems and or processes under a certain cost threshold, or it could be to address and eliminate issues or concerns within the organization. We suggest asking each candidate to come up with three goals for the position – and ask them why they selected those goals.

Tip #6: Get someone who knows their strengths and weaknesses

Recruitment: when talking to candidates for the position, try and get an understanding of what they like doing, what they don’t like doing, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they consider their strongest personality traits, etc. You should also consider asking them about their career goals. See what they find interesting about the organization, the industry, and the job itself.  Business Leaders should also be candid with these individuals and let them know if they intend to hire a more senior HR person over them in the future, if they intend to hire a team to support the HR person, etc. We recommend you provide candidates with a list of the big five personality traits and ask them to rank them based on what they think is most important to least important. 

Making your first small business HR hire is a big deal. Pat yourself on the back, because your business has gotten to the point where you need real HR support in order to address real HR issues within your organization.  Follow our guidance above prior to making your first HR hire, and reach out to the team at Suitless if you have any questions about this important step in your small business HR journey. 

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