Business Basics: What you need to know before hiring your first employee

Business Basics offers a helping hand to UK SMEs, bringing the latest insights, knowledge and expertise which could help your business grow.

24 April 2018

In this month’s edition, we talk to Lee Biggins, founder and managing director of CV-Library, about the ins and outs of hiring your first employee – a major turning point for many small businesses. With his experience in managing the UK’s third largest online job site, Lee understands how important it is for businesses to attract and retain the right talent, and is well placed to offer guidance on the process of making that all-important first hire.

Hiring your first employee can be daunting, as you’re effectively entrusting a portion of your business to an unknown entity. Getting it right requires a robust and patient recruitment process, as well as a proactive approach to retaining and nurturing the right talent.

lee biggins cv library md

Here, we chat to Lee about the different stages of making your first hire, from setting a salary and drawing up a comprehensive job specification, to easing the successful candidate into their new role. Read the full Business Basics Q&A below.

Hello Lee, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. As a new business, people will likely be unfamiliar with its requirements and ethos. How do you approach candidates and convince them your team is worth joining?

While your business may not be as well-known as your larger counterparts, it is important to note that more and more candidates are seeking work in smaller organisations, which offer exciting career opportunities. In your job description, you need to outline the benefits of working for your company, so try to pick out key points that will make you stand out – including things like training and progression, noteworthy on-site facilities, and staff bonuses and incentives, such as free soft drinks or team-building days out.

As well as listing your company’s work incentives, it might be that you have a relaxed working environment where there is room for flexibility in working hours. Alternatively, you may be able to offer someone a lot more responsibility than they would have somewhere else.

business owner meeting employee

What does a small business need to take into account when setting a salary for its first employee? Are there other expenses that factor into reaching a decision?

It’s always best to do a search, and see what other companies are offering for similar positions. Try to focus on the smaller companies here; it’s likely that you won’t be able to compete with the large corporates just yet. Of course, the salary will be very dependent on the level of person you’re hiring, so it’s not just a case of plucking a number out of thin air. If you’re financially stable and have money to throw at finding the right talent, offering a slightly higher salary could attract the right candidate.

Remember, when setting a salary, it’s really important to do your research and make sure you’re in a ballpark range which matches the job specification and your expectations.

business owner seeking out candidates 

What can a business do to make sure it is adequately insured before successfully making that first hire?

If your business employs one or more members of staff, you must ensure you have employers’ liability insurance in place. This is a legal requirement and protects you against the cost of compensation claims should an employee suffer from an illness or injury in your workplace, or because of their employment with you. Seek professional advice here – there are a range of providers out there, so it’s important to find the right deal for you.

training for first day on the job 

Since the role will be an untested one, what should businesses do to ensure a strong shortlist of candidates when recruiting?

Ensure you have a clear job description laid out, which outlines the key skills required for the role. This makes it easier when you are sifting through applications and CVs. Simply keep an eye out for matching skills, experience and knowledge, and you will have a better idea of whether they’re the right person for the job.

Alongside this, it also means that only the most relevant candidates will apply for your vacancies, so you won’t waste time trawling through CVs from applicants who lack the experience you’re looking for. A clear and comprehensive job description, which outlines your expectations of the candidate, will help bring in a strong pool of talent.

sme owner reviewing performance 

How important is a candidate’s work experience compared to their potential? Do technical skills outweigh soft skills that fall in line with a business’ ethos?

There is much debate nowadays around whether you should judge a candidate on their potential or their experience. Personally, we’ve made some great hires into our business based on potential and it’s certainly a strategy that can pay off, if you find the right people. However, be aware that this will require more investment on your part in terms of training and development – though it will be worth its weight in gold when they have everything under control. Giving someone a chance and providing them with relevant industry training can help nurture a loyal and dedicated workforce, increasing your long-term staff retention. 

Once you’ve found the right person, what can you do to ease the successful candidate into their new role?

Onboarding is extremely important. From the get-go, you need to make it clear what the employee’s roles and responsibilities are and introduce them to the people within the business that are going to be able to support them with this. Alongside this, it’s important to spend time training them up and catching up with them on a weekly basis to ensure they’re getting on OK. Implement both formal and informal 1-2-1 performance appraisal sessions to make sure they’re happy in the role, and that there are no niggling issues which could lead to more serious problems in the future.

store owner training first employee 

For new businesses, would you recommend a trial run to see if long-term employment is right for the employee?

I would recommend implementing a probationary period – usually around three months. This is a two-way street; you can evaluate their performance and how well they’re fitting in (which is often difficult to judge in an interview), and they can see how the role matches their abilities. If it isn’t working out for either party, they can then easily leave with little disruption or administration.


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Have you found the guidance and advice in this article useful? Below, we’ve listed several related Business Basics Q&As you may be interested in:

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