It’s been said over and over: hiring is consistently cited as one of the biggest challenges that startups face. In fact, FastCompany lists "not getting the team right" as the number-one reason why startups fail. Growth is great, but it’s critical that you invest some time upfront to make sure that you’re hiring the right startup roles – if you don’t, you’re going to pay for it down the line!
One of the early key players you’ll likely to need to bring on board is someone in an accounting role. Up until now, you or your partners have probably been taking care of most of the day-to-day accounting functions, but this just isn’t sustainable as you grow. You need to focus on developing your products and forging partnerships, and someone else should take on the intricacies of working with the books. So where do you start? What are you looking for? And how do you screen for it?
First Things First
Right off the bat, you’ll need to define what you’re really looking for. At this stage, if you need help with financial projections and plans, operating budgets and pricing, then it may be time to start looking for a CFO. And heads up: that’s not what this article is about. Here, we’re talking about the day-to-day AP / AR, cash management, taxes and bookkeeping. Once you define the tasks that this person should be accountable for, you can start to build a candidate persona, outlining the experience and education that’ll be necessary in the role.
What To Look For
Technical Expertise: One of the reasons that hiring is so challenging is that experience and education actually aren’t all that predictive of future performance. So although it may be important to build a pool of candidates who meet your technical requirements, the next step should be screening for the things that do have an impact on future success.
Fit: Think about your environment. What sort of culture do you want to create and cultivate? If you can’t answer that question, then you’re not ready to hire yet. Every employee you bring on should be screened and interviewed to determine cultural fit. They need to believe in your mission, your values, and your product. This is important for all companies, but I think it’s especially true for startups – each person you hire has to buy into your vision in order to assist with the growth and future of your budding company.
Personality: At a large firm, a strong accounting person will likely be risk adverse, analytical and quite compliant. These are probably all traits that you should look for as well. But I don’t need to tell you that a startup environment is wildly different from a large firm. For a startup, the role of accounting should be filled by someone who's comfortable with shifting gears quickly. They may also have to be comfortable innovating and establishing accounting best-practices within the company – especially if your current system was quickly put together at the outset of the business. Keep this in mind as you interview and design some behavioural-based interview questions that assess these specific traits, and make sure you’ve given priority to some of these traits before selecting your candidates.
The first startup roles you hire are going to feel intimidating. That’s because they’re going to be influential in shaping the future of your company. You’re probably used to moving pretty quickly, but when it’s time to hire, it’s a good idea to slow down and put some thought into the qualities that are essential for success in each role. Once you know what you’re looking for, design a structured behavioral interview that will help with screening for each of these qualities. This will help ensure that you’re making the right hiring decisions and adding the right people to your growing team – doubly important if your next hire is going to be in charge of your startup’s financial health!
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