Little Napoleons

Some of the other authors on this site have commented about how rotten small businesses are in terms of interviewing and selecting employees.  I believe their reports.  But as someone who runs a small business, I feel compelled to report from the other side of the fence.  However, these are my own observations: I  don’t pretend to speak for small business people in general.

To begin with, the employer’s first commandment is, ‘Thou shalt pay thine employees all of their earned wages every payday.’  This is why, even though I’ve been very busy over the past few months, I haven’t hired anyone: the cash flow simply isn’t there to support new employees.

My second thought is that when you have a real business, you’re busy.  Serving the customer comes first, and then there’s inventory, bookkeeping, maintenance, and all the other things to keep the place running.  Hiring new staff comes after all that.

If a one- or two-person firm is genuinely in business, there is no time for a convoluted hiring process.  If they have time to give three interviews each to 15 candidates for a simple admin position, they’re not actually doing anything to bring revenues in the door.

That said, the decision of whom to hire is the riskiest decision for a small business person to make: even riskier than the decision to go into business into the first place.   The wrong employee can rob you blind, ruin your business, and sue your ass off.

But selecting the right candidate can be an arduous process in itself.  I read a report of what purported to be best practices for hiring someone:

  • By all means, ask for references, and then check them out.  But recognize that if you ask for a reference from a previous employer, all you’re likely to get is confirmation that the candidate worked there, with no further data.
  • On one hand, content on the Internet about a candidate, such as the candidate’s Facebook page and what you find when Googling the candidate’s name, is fair game in assessing the candidate.  But you shouldn’t Google the candidate yourself: you should hire a Googling consultant, so that you don’t find out anything that would lead you to illegally discriminate against the candidate.

Googling consultant?  I’m ready to run off screaming into the night.

I suspect that’s why real small businesses, that actually need employees to do things, don’t run ads and instead hire through their circle of friends, relatives, and colleagues: you can’t sue an employer for discrimination if you never knew the job existed in the first place.

But underneath it all, we don’t teach children anything about running a business in school, so that there are unrealistic expectations about the duties, risks, and rewards.  I suspect that kids don’t even choose up sides for team sports anymore, in the name of protecting the self-esteem of the kids who aren’t that athletic.  But choosing up sides is a very basic example of the problem of hiring from a pool of applicants.

So while I can say that I’ll strive not to be a little Napoleon when I get the point where I’m hiring someone, I can understand why it happens, and I doubt it will go away.