Written by: Daryl Ching
The ideal skill set for a small business at an early stage is materially different from a large one. I have seen small businesses hire people with multiple designations and large business experience thinking they will fit into the small business culture. This could not be further from the truth. As a CFO, I have hired many junior analysts, controllers and managers in accounting. Almost universally, the individuals who received top grades and worked in large businesses did not work out. They had trouble adjusting to a chaotic business environment with a lack of structure. If you interview one of these candidates, you need to ensure they are mentally prepared for this change and manage expectations accordingly.
The best hires I have made have generally been individuals who were B students in college and had to fight a little harder to prove themselves in the interview. The most desirable attributes for a small business hire are generally the following:
Extremely appreciative of being hired – They have likely been turned down by all the large firms as they did not make the top 10% percentile in their class and appreciate you taking a chance on them.
Puts experience and learning ahead of money – They recognize that the company is making an investment in them with training requirements. These individuals will burn the midnight oil and do research on their own time to get up to speed as quickly as possible. I am very impressed when an individual does not know something, and then returns the next day fully knowledgeable on the topic.
Comes up with well thought out alternative solutions to their problems. Most people go to managers with problems and ask for a solution.
Willing to do any job – A phrase I can’t stand in a small business is “Well, that’s not my job.” In a small business, you want individuals that are prepared to wear every hat.
Thrives in an unstructured environment – This person is proactive and figures out how to help the company - the opposite of an individual who needs a detailed job description, task list and wants to understand exactly what they will be doing each day.
Most importantly – GET SHIT DONE!!! This is the most important trait of all. There are two types of people. One type seems to start and stop several tasks but never actually completes any of them. Ironically, these individuals may even work late and always seem busy, fooling managers. When you follow up, they provide excuses as to why tasks are not complete and blame other factors – the most common one being, “I didn’t get a response from so and so. I emailed them twice.” They do not ask for more work if they have completed all their tasks. Then there is the individual that gets shit done – follows up, walks over to people to get answers they need, and goes above and beyond their job description to complete their tasks. They are always asking for more work to keep their plate full. They take initiative and come up with tasks of their own to help the company. These are the individuals you want to hire to drive progress.
Especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic, with people working from home, it is now more important that ever to hire self-starters. People are working unsupervised, so it is very easy for unmotivated individuals to do the bare minimum required, not ask for more work and enjoy plenty of personal time. Individuals who communicate priorities, completion of work, and ask for more work are truly an asset during this unprecedented period. Especially considering that working from home may become the new normal for businesses going forward.
Without the luxury of being in an office, we lose a lot of interaction. It is more difficult to provide face to face training, call team members together to work on a project and quickly ask others about the status of their tasks. It is more important now than ever before to have employees that are proactive in seeking the training required to improve at their jobs, communicate when they need help and collaborate with others to ensure tasks get completed in a timely manner.
Many of my interview questions are centered around fit in order to determine these attributes. There are non-verbal cues you can look for to assess these traits. This brings me to a story when I was CFO of a technology company, I was hiring a financial analyst and put an ad on Indeed.ca. I picked the top resumes and started scheduling onsite interviews. One day, the receptionist walked by and said “Daryl, I have someone here to see you. She said she saw the ad for the financial analyst position and did not get called for an interview. She is wondering if you have any time for a quick chat today and is willing to wait.”
I loved it. She didn’t get a call back, but she showed up anyway. That takes courage. I gave her the interview and ended up hiring her. Some other cues I look for include passion when they respond to questions, evidence they have completed their own due diligence on the company and my LinkedIn profile, some well thought out questions, and following up with a well thought out thank you response reiterating their interest in the position and why, asking for a timeline for a response.
Unfortunately for small businesses, they do not have the same luxury of checking boxes like larger organizations do. The process to hire the right people is far more complex and assessing the right characteristics is vital to success.
Daryl Ching is the CFA of Vistance Capital Advisory. Vistance Capital Advisory has its origins in the 2008 financial crisis when business owners and executives were demanding transparency from financial institutions. Since then the company has taken on roles in various industries including auto finance, technology, consulting, hedge funds and medical clinics to help businesses reach their next level of success.