IN PRACTICE: How To Hire Great Staff
Two Melbourne-based small business owners who have successfully been able to hire – and importantly retain – great staff (if we do say so ourselves!) is our own founder, Lucy Feagins and Paris Thomson, founder of SIRAP – who we have had the pleasure of working with multiple times over the past decade. We asked Lucy and Paris for their top tips on finding, and keeping, great staff.
What’s been the process of hiring at your small business? How has this changed since you first began?
LUCY: Initially, when my business was in the early stages, my first few hires came through word of mouth and recommendations from other small business owners within my network. For instance, Lisa Marie Corso, who was my first full-time employee and my right-hand-woman for five years, connected via a mutual friend, and we met for coffee… and a casual job quickly become a full-time hire. It was at a time when my business was so small and so unstructured, I didn’t really know what I needed – I just knew I needed help! Lisa quickly made herself invaluable and was a huge part of the early growth of TDF.
These days, my business is a little bigger and the hiring process more structured. When hiring I advertise on our social media channels, and on LinkedIn.. and sometimes on The Loop. It’s a fine balance – you want to reach the best possible candidate, but you don’t want to cast the net so wide that you’re wading through 100’s of applications.
A big part of ensuring the right people apply, is being really clear in the job description about what the role entails and what you’re looking for.
PARIS: For me, hiring staff is the most challenging aspect of running a business. In our line of work (film production) it’s so important that our team represent the SIRAP brand, and with that comes the eye and the skillset, but also the presentation, the ability to professionally liaise with clients on set and also play well with the rest of the team. When I started the business almost six years ago I had freelanced for a few years before, and the only staff member was myself! I’ve been fortunate to have organically grown the business over the years and through that, hired a team who I’ve had the luxury of working with on a freelance basis before offering them a full-time position. Now, the business has other demands which require a faster approach to recruitment, which means that we don’t often have the ability to have a freelance arrangement with prospective staff before hiring them – it’s a much more structured approach.
After posting the job on creative recruitment sites like The Loop, across our social channels and spreading the news via word of mouth, we request a CV and reel on application. We shortlist and invite successful candidates in for a panel interview with myself and some of the team to ensure we can bounce thoughts and opinions between each other, making notes along the way. We look for presentation, attitude and communication skills. From there successful candidates will be invited to participate in a small practical assignment such as producing a short piece of film content with our team, to get an understanding of how they approach a job, how our personalities play together, and how they work ‘on the tools’. We narrow down to 2-3 candidates, speak to their references and either make a final decision or if we have any questions, have one last meeting or phone conversation together to discuss any other elements around the role, experience or approach.
The offer is then made and the deal is done!
What has been the biggest lesson you have had to learn when it comes to hiring great staff?
PARIS: Make notes straight after the interview, don’t schedule too many interviews back to back in one session, and trust your gut on your first interaction with the candidate – this will be indicative of the first impression that your clients will likely experience with that person, too, and this will reflect your brand.
What advice would you give to small business owners looking to hire (non-virtual) staff for the first time? In your experience, is it better to look for skills match or personality fit?
LUCY: I’ve always been a believer that personality fit is as important as skill set. Because people can be trained and learn a lot on the job, but if someone doesn’t fit in personality-wise, that will always be a challenge.
I would say when hiring for the first time, hone your job description; make sure it really accurately reflects the role and the workplace. Then, advertise the position, give 2-3 weeks for people to apply, and give yourself time to go through every application and respond to people personally.
If it’s a role with specific skills required, consider having shortlisted applicants perform a ‘test’ before the interview stage. If it’s a writing role, I give them a little assignment to see how they respond. You want to have a final shortlist of no more than about 5-6 people for the interview stage.
I interview in a very casual way, it’s more of a chat. A lot of it is intuitive; I just know when I meet them if they have the right ‘vibe’! The main questions I ask myself are: Do I think this person can do the job that’s on offer? And, will they fit in with the team? I realise that sounds a bit wishy-washy, but I would say I’ve been super happy with every single hire I’ve ever made, and I have never had to fire anyone! If anything, often people I hire for casual or part-time roles are so amazing that I end up finding a way to make them full-time!
PARIS: If your first hire is the first person (apart from yourself) joining the business, you will likely work closely with them; personality is important but you need to focus on what skills and value they are bringing to your business too, and how these will help you reach that next milestone.
If hiring for a business that already has an existing team, skills are important but ensuring the person is a team player and that their attitude will work well with the others, is really important. Remember – a candidate’s personality is about working well together, not partying well together!
SIRAP are looking to hire a Senior Videographer/Director. Find out more here.