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HR for Small IT Businesses: Look for Values, Not Just Skills

HR for Small IT Businesses: Look for Values, Not Just Skills

To find the best employee for an open position, IT business owners should look for shared values rather than just excellent skills.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014/Categories: hiring-and-human-resources

This is a guest post by Marc Prine, an industrial organizational psychologist who helps companies solve problems in performance management, human resources, strategy, leadership development, assessment, and selection.

When you’re running a one-person IT business, things can change in an instant. Overnight, you might go from having barely enough work to stay afloat to having more than you can handle. When that happens, it’s time to look for outside help.

But the tables can turn again just as quickly, so most IT startups don’t want to hire someone full-time right away. This makes sense from an HR perspective, too – by hiring someone for a single project, you can get a feel for how capable they are of doing the work and how they’d be as an employee.

In fact, considering those two things in tandem is one of the most important things IT professionals can do as they start to grow their businesses.

Finding the Right Employee for the Job AND the Business

If you’re like a lot of IT folks, you tend to focus on solving problems. If you need someone to help with programming work, your first instinct is to search for a talented developer. But what happens when that highly capable programmer replies rudely to client emails or puts things off until the last minute, forcing you to scramble on your end?

You end up stressed out and your business suffers.

To avoid problems like this, it’s important to consider your business values from the beginning, before you’re ready to solicit outside help. To figure out what you want and how you can find people who have those qualities, answer these four questions:

  • Where do you want your business to be in a year? In five years? If you haven’t yet given this much thought, now’s the time. The people you choose to help you grow will have a tremendous impact on the future of your business. Rather than passively letting that future happen, develop a strategy and determine what knowledge / skills / abilities you need from other people in order to make that strategy successful.
  • What values and behaviors from you and your employees are necessary to achieve that vision? Do you need people who are flexible? Creative? Hard-working? Able to accept constructive criticism? Pleasant to work with? Comfortable talking with clients? Able to wear lots of hats? Maybe you need someone who can counterbalance your weaknesses. Make a list of the traits your dream employee would bring to the table, and start looking for someone who has both technical expertise and those qualities.
  • How can you test for those values and behaviors in the interview process? It’s fairly easy to test for technical competence when you know what you’re looking for. Other tests require some creativity. If you need someone who can adapt quickly, give an assignment in the interview process and change the specs halfway through. If you need someone who can lend a hand with sales, have candidates pitch your own services to you. Hearing someone say, “I value teamwork,” in an interview is very different from seeing how they work with you on a test project.
  • What will the job really look like? We’ve all seen job postings that brag about the snacks in the fridge and the masseuse who comes in once a week. It’s great to mention perks when you’re looking for talent, but it’s more effective in the long term to create an RJP, or realistic job preview. Sketch out what the worker can expect from a normal workweek (or from the project you need help on), and you’ll end up with more satisfied workers. People aren’t opposed to doing hard work – they just like to know what they’re getting into.

Obviously, answering these questions and finding workers who share your values takes some time. If time is something you absolutely can’t spare, it may be worthwhile to contract with an HR professional who can take over the hiring process for you.

When it’s Time to Contract with an HR Pro

If you’re reading this and wondering when exactly you’re supposed to have time to answer all these questions when the new project starts next week, you’re not alone. Sometimes, you have to find a contractor fast to avoid losing a client. That’s okay. But be sure to pay attention to how you work with that contractor: is this someone you’d like to work with in the future? If so, figure out why. If not, figure out why not (once your workflow has slowed down a bit).

Answering these questions will prepare you for the next time you need to bring on extra help.

And if you find yourself in a place where workflow and revenue are steadily more than you can handle alone, look for an HR consultant who can do the grunt work of screening and conducting first-round interviews. The benefits of finding the right person easily are almost always worth the fee you’ll pay the contractor.

For more information on human resources and hiring for very small businesses, contact Marc Prine: marc[dot]prine[at]gmail[dot]com.

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