There might be an assumption that as a recruiter who has filled thousands of roles over 17 years, that I’d get it right every time when it came to my own business.
Even recruiters make hiring mistakes. As a founder, I fell into some common traps and learnt some valuable lessons.
Tired of the traditional recruitment companies and knowing there was a better way, combined with wanting to help fast growing companies hire great people, I created Affix in 2015.
Three years in, with annual revenues over $4 million, a growing team in Melbourne, with plans to launch a Brisbane office, business was good. However, that third year also presented me with several challenges.
Firstly, when it came to my own hiring, I realised that many candidates, like myself, had worked in traditional recruitment companies. And they wanted more of the same. They didn’t want to change things up. They wanted the familiarity of how they’d been working before. The old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ anyone? But that was the problem. I thought the model was broken and needed fixing. Fast.
At Affix I wanted to disrupt the traditional recruitment model where the clients pay the full fee upfront when a candidate starts.
There wasn’t any incentive for the recruiter to find someone who would stay in role long term, the length of tenure wasn’t rewarded. This behaviour is also incredibly prohibitive to startups, who can’t afford to pay large fees up front to then have that candidate leave them after six months.
We wanted to change that. We work with most of our clients over the long-term and charge them on a subscription basis. This means we are motivated to find the right candidate for the role, and we have deeper relationships with our customers, because we understand their business.
While I’d always appreciated the importance of having a good culture and the ‘no dickheads rule’, I overlooked how important it was to hire people with passion who genuinely wanted to create partnerships with our customers and share the risk.
To succeed, we had to take a long-term view of the placement and really find the right person for the job.
Where I went wrong
A bad hire didn’t always mean a bad person – with the benefit of hindsight, I hired some great people. The trouble was, that they the wrong people for the wrong roles. And like many other founders I didn’t always listen to my gut instinct. There were cases when I could sense something wasn’t quite right but went ahead and in these instances the hires always failed.
I also fell into the trap of hiring for today. There were a couple of times when I hired someone without thinking what the progression needed to be. As a growing business, job roles change all the time, and I hired people who struggled with the ambiguity of potential change.
Despite being committed to doing everything I could to provide support and buddy up new hires with a mentor, in one instance nothing worked, and I had to make the difficult decision to let the person go. This team member found it hard to cope with feedback or do things differently.
Where I got it right
Despite this, I’ve also, with the help of my team, made some fantastic hires. They know the value they bring to us and the value we bring to them now and in the future.
One process that has served me well is reference checking at the beginning, not the end when I’d become emotionally invested in the outcome.
On the occasions where a credible reference gave me the full story and vouched for the person, I got the decision right.
We implement this approach every time now for ourselves and our clients and it allows us to confidently say yes to great people and no to the wrong people.
What I’ve learnt
After 17 years hiring and four of those running my own business, I’d encourage others to trust your instincts, especially when it comes to important hiring decisions. The wrong hire can really damage a business, especially a young, less established business.
A great hire can really make all the difference. So yes, qualifications, skills and experience are important, but when it comes down to hiring, always trust your instincts.
“Is this person going to work well in my team?”
“Can this person handle change?”
Hire on attitude, potential and motivation and invest actively in developing your own people.
Focus on the now, but don’t overlook the future even though you can’t look too far ahead. If you want people to grow with your business, the path must be right for them.
- Jarrad Skeen is the founder of Affix