Your number one job: Hiring
Published: Sep 27, 2013
When you’re planning a startup or preparing to launch a small business, it’s hard to know which tasks to delegate, which to delay and which to tackle right away. One area where you should do a lot of the work yourself is hiring. If you get the right mix of people working for your company, it will have a far greater chance of success.
While the founder of a company usually wears many hats during the first few years - I handled everything from the secretarial work to the company accounts at my first businesses - you’ll have to delegate those duties as your business grows. It might be hard to even imagine this right now, but you should be hiring with an eye to the day when you’re going to delegate even your CEO position and step back from the business’s day-to-day operations so that you can focus on making sure that your company is prepared for what’s next.
As I’ve written in previous columns, it was partly due to my dyslexia that I learned early on to delegate – there were some tasks that I struggled with. When we were getting ready to launch Virgin Atlantic, I realized how important the ability to delegate was going to be, since I had no experience in the airline industry. Within weeks we had assembled a team of aviation experts to blend with our experienced Virgin managers. Together they worked on creating and delivering the level of service that I had hoped for.
Hiring the right people is a skill, and you get better at it with practice, but there are some good shortcuts that can help you learn quickly. Here are my tips for identifying great people and building your team.
A great personality goes a long way
During the job interview, you need to find ways to decide whether a candidate fits with your company culture. One great way to test this may be to ask two or three of the employees who would work with this person to join you at some point in the interview, and to come prepared with a few of their own questions.
When your employees start talking to the candidate, it’s time for you to listen. How is everyone getting along? While a little awkwardness and nervousness can be expected, look for someone who is fun, friendly and caring, because that is a person who likely understands teamwork and will help others.
A resume is just a piece of paper
Next, the person’s resume can come into play. One good question to ask a candidate is what he didn’t include. While you may need to hire specialists for some positions, take a close look at people who have thrived in different industries and jobs - they are versatile, with transferable skills, and can tackle problems creatively.
Above all, don’t get hung up on qualifications. A person who has multiple degrees in your field isn’t always better than someone who has broad experience and a great personality.
Take chances on people
When you’re interviewing, it’s possible that a candidate may say something so interesting about your industry or business that you’ll want to keep talking after the interview is over. Her resume may not be quite right, and she may be a little different than everyone else ON your team, but this might be a good time to take a risk and hire her anyway.
Such people can seem like oddballs at first, but in my experience, they can become indispensable. A maverick who sees opportunities where others see problems can energize your entire group.
Whenever possible, promote from within
If you’ve been hiring great people all along, when an executive or manager does leave, you should fill that job from within if possible. The key is to keep up a constant stream of strong candidates into all positions, especially the entry-level ones that your competitors might ignore.
At Virgin Active South Africa, we have made a point of hiring talented young people who may manage one of our businesses someday. Xiki Baloyi, for example, began her career at Virgin Active in 2003 as a receptionist - she had trained in sports management but couldn’t find a position on that career path. But Xiki’s people skills attracted attention and she was soon promoted to the job of fitness instructor, where she demonstrated her commitment to getting members fit and motivated to train. In the last seven years she has been promoted several times; in 2013 she was named the assistant general manager of our new Alice Lane Health Club.
When to consider bringing in someone new
If you’re in a situation where your business is becoming stale or stuck on a problem, it may be time for you to bring in talented people from outside the company. Two of the Virgin Group’s higher-profile hires were John Borghetti, now the CEO of Virgin Australia, and Craig Kreeger, Virgin Atlantic’s CEO. John had worked at Quantas Airlines and Craig had worked at American Airlines, so they knew our competition well, and were able to give us a fresh take on our business.
Great hiring takes time and a healthy dose of curiosity. You need to meet a lot of people, ask them about themselves and their careers, and tell them about yourself and your company in turn. So relax and be yourself - the people you eventually choose are, after all, going to play big parts in your shared adventure of building a business.
• Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He has recently published two books: “Screw Business as Usual” and “Like a Virgin”. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson.