Beyond the Pitch
Tips from a Startup Pro: Avoid Making Costly Hiring Mistakes
And these impacts are even tougher on startup companies.
For startups, the whammy can be up to $190,000 according to a report by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (just the name is enough to make your blood run cold).
We asked Sonita Uijt de Haag, Director of Operations at Ecolibrium Solar to share tips on how to hire the right people at the right time.
Building Good Hiring Habits from Day 1
“For starters, startups aren’t for everyone,” Sonita said. “There are no systems in place; employees have no idea what they are going to walk into each day. You are better to find someone with at par skills who has the ability to teach themselves to do new things with the right attitude than a rock star from a big company.”
Ecolibrium Solar knows all about excelling at new things. The company reinvented the mounting system for solar panels, making installation simpler and faster. This improves the solar value equation for residential and commercial customers and the bottom line for installers, contractors, and architects.
“We run this business like a business, not a renewable trend,” Sonita said. “From 2013 to 2015, we grew from $2.8MM to more than $20MM in sales.” We hired 20 people in 2014; in 2015, another 10. We now have 38.”
As a business mentor and now director, Sonita has been responsible for the bulk of Ecolibrium Solar’s recruiting efforts. She offers these 5 Tips that any startup and every entrepreneur can use to hire right the first time and every time.
- Define the company’s cultural values up front. It’s up to the CEO to set the vision; then involve every employee. “We interviewed everyone,” Sonita said. “We asked them to write down what our culture was and what they’d like it to be. We support each other by being respectful and open-minded,” Sonita said. “We hire for that.”
- Spec your interviewing process and stick with it. Ecolibrium Solar spends two to three hours with each applicant. “We bring them in for our Star Panel review and ask about everything they’ve done,” said Sonita. “We really get down in the weeds. After an hour-and-a-half, they start showing their true colors.
- Hire continual learners. “People look good on paper, but skills only take you so far in a startup,” Sonita said, “if you aren’t able to teach yourself new things.” With accelerated growth, startup positions can outgrow the people. It happened at Ecolibrium Solar. “The true continual learners, we didn’t lose them,” Sonita said. “They kept an open style and checked their egos at the door. Good ideas come from anywhere. If you are a person who likes to build and see something go from inception to completion, you’ll be happy here.”
- Don’t Overlook Stay-At-Home Parents. Stay-at-home parents are a top resource. “I found our HR manager on a park bench on a playdate,” Sonita said. “It was a spontaneous interview. She used to manage a 450-person call center in Orlando, was in charge of metrics, and was a 6-sigma green belt. She’d been home for seven years and was ready to come back and work part-time. She’d worked her way from temp to managing 400, so we knew she could scale.”
Sonita says that the brilliant thing about parents who are moving back to working outside the home is the part-time transitioning. “During a three to 12-month transition, you can figure out if they fit,” she said, “and they get the chance to use skills that they haven’t been using for a while.”
- Millennials don’t do well with micro-managing, but they do want real feedback. “Millennials will run themselves ragged if they believe in their cause,” said Sonita. “Come at them from the heart. What drives them is being part of something bigger, yet having ownership of their own part. Tell them here’s what I want you to do. Now come back and tell me your plan, and you can own it.”
“Diversity counts,” Sonita said. “We have that kind of culture. There are a lot of characters here. You don’t have to be fake in the environment we’ve set. We’re a genuine team of individuals who can be comfortable being themselves.”
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