What to know when recruiting your first employee

Ian Cowley, managing director of cartridgesave.co.uk, discusses everything you need to know when taking on your first staff members.

As a start-up, the biggest and often scariest decision is when to make that giant leap into recruiting a team.

When you are first starting out, and it is just you, it is much easier to make those slightly risky business decisions – it’s your business and you have the gut instinct of what will pay off – the sleepless nights truly begin when you know that somebody else’s financial stability lies in your hands.

In every business – ours included – you need to know that the full team is working towards the right goal, everybody needs to be able to stand up and pull their own weight. As any business, we have learnt from past mistakes with recruiting and find that following a few golden rules always helps.


Approach recruitment with caution – each and every employee is as important as the next. We introduced temp-to-perm for a number of reasons and have found that this works well for the business as a whole.

Starting out by offering a temporary contract gives both parties the chance to check each other out and for those hungry to go the extra mile, it’s a chance for them to really stand apart from the crowd and shine, driven by the ultimate goal of a full-time role.

Test candidates properly

The level of testing for each position should reflect the position involved, however, don’t neglect the basics and always include tests for maths, English, and problem solving. Don’t be bamboozled into hiring a charismatic interviewee only to find out they can’t perform basic tasks on the job!

Related: The importance of obtaining references when recruiting

Probationary periods

The likelihood is that you will employ somebody that is an enthusiastic team member, but make sure that all new employees arrive with a probationary period written into their contract. This means that if the relationship isn’t working, you are able to let them go with little impact on the business, or hefty cost. If you do have to let somebody go at the end of the probationary period, hold an exit interview where you can discuss what went wrong. Don’t let the interview be clouded by emotion, especially if poor behaviour is involved.

Finding people

Working with graduates straight from university is great and if your small business has the time to dedicate to training and development, then you will find that you will be able to mould them to your business requirements before they are influenced by bad habits from other companies. Treat them well and you will have a hungry, talented employee, dedicated to the success of your company.

If you simply don’t have time to invest in staff development, and let’s face it finding the right people really does takes time, then look for an agency that understands what you need.

We use agencies now for 80 per cent of our workforce positions. It saves us much-needed time issuing ads, rifling through CVs, setting up first interviews, being stood up at first interviews, organising the second, it goes on and on… A good agency with a clear brief will know what you want and find you a shortlist of candidates. Yes, they take a commission on all employees, but if this means that you are free to concentrate on your business, then that is money well spent.

Put them to the test

Take the emotion out of recruitment. A gut-instinct is important; we all know it’s the guiding principle for entrepreneurs – or else we’d still be working unhappily for someone else. But you also need someone who is smart.

As a result we always test our candidates. The depth of testing is proportional to the position but always includes maths, English and problem solving. I’ve been bowled over in the past by an amazing interview, only to find out by day two that the candidate can’t read, write or follow a process. Let your head ultimately rule your heart and only make an offer once you’re happy with the black-and-white results of a test designed by you to identify the skills you need.

Bring in new blood

When you get to the stage of taking on senior management staff, look outside the business rather than promote from within. It’s important to breathe fresh life into your business with an experienced recruit who offers a different way of looking at your company. It will mean paying market rates but their insight will make it worth it.

Recruitment is a huge step. You need to know basic HR principles to navigate it all successfully. But most importantly you have to keep focused on what’s right for you and what’s right for your business.  No matter how busy you are, you must retain the single-minded end-goal-in-sight attitude you’ve applied to your business, to recruitment. Don’t settle, look at the employment options available and choose carefully. Good luck and happy employing!

Further reading on employing staff

Ian Cowley

Ian Cowley

Ian Cowley is managing director of cartridgesave.co.uk

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