Introducing the ConnectMyApps BusinessMinded series, our weekly blog post on issues important to SMEs, written by experts in the field.  In this post, Astrid Warmington gives advice for SMEs on hiring staff, based on her experience working in talent acquisition and staffing for both large and small businesses.


There are few greater challenges for a manager than hiring staff. For a small or medium sized business without a HR department, finding the right talent is a minefield of complexities. Added to that, it is time consuming, expensive and with no guarantees that you will find your ideal candidate.

Having begun my career in the recruitment sector in the mid 1990’s, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with a broad range of companies, experiencing the process of hiring staff first-hand from the position of Hiring Manager. This has enabled me to work with different organizational cultures where I’ve seen all ends of the scale; from cringe-worthy interview processes that are long, drawn out and badly planned, through to the high-end and super-slick procedures from which I have stockpiled my inspiration.

For small business owners or managers needing practical advice on hiring staff and the recruitment process to acquire the best talent for your business, here are a few considerations you may want to add to your checklist.

1. Make a timeline plan that has a start and end point to your hiring process. The majority of people will have a 3 month notice period which should be planned for, sometimes longer if they have obligations to complete a project prior to joining you.

2. Ensure the job description is clear, concise and lists the main skills sets. Don’t forget to spell check it and list exactly what’s required. Avoid over-selling or attempting to make a job sound too good to be true, as this will simply look disingenuous. However, try to be imaginative and creative with the wording, without being too cheesy. If creative writing isn’t your best skill, find a colleague who fancies themselves as a budding copywriter to come up with some concepts for you. If you’re an international firm, it’s recommended to write the advert in English but if you’re serving the local market, then your local language is probably best.

 3. Use social media to your advantage. Social networking and websites like LinkedIn can be helpful though expensive to advertise a vacancy if you are looking for professionals. But it can be a resourceful idea to utilize your LinkedIn network to search for relevant candidates. For instance, posting the job in your news feed is completely free and can attract fast interest, especially if you ask colleagues to share your post. A top tip is to refresh it daily to ensure the post stays top of the news feed. Facebook is another free mechanism that you could also try to tap into your social-networks. If you are looking for someone with a trade or different education/qualifications, consider websites specializing in that area.

4. Include contact details of the hiring manager on any advertisements. Also include an email or postal address to where applications may be sent as well as a link to your online web application page. By all means include your phone number but be prepared to take a large number of calls from those inquiring about the position.

5. Set a date for interviews but be flexible for people coming to interview. At least one week’s notice is a good courtesy and an email should be sent confirming the date, location, names of interviewers and any additional information to be brought along. In the email, keep the subject discreet in case their boss or colleagues see it!

6. Never underestimate the power of a brief telephone call interview. This is very helpful with those candidates who you may be uncertain about. A phone interview can give you a lot of information and a good impression of how someone comes across, and can save you an hour or two of unnecessary face to face interviewing.


The 3-stage hiring model

A simple model for hiring staff is to think of it in 3 stages. The first stage is an informal interview enabling you to get a feel for the person in 45-60 minutes. If you are dealing with a large number of applicants you may want to use 30 minutes each instead. A 5-minute introductory presentation about the company and the role should be given to the candidate first, then allow them an opportunity to present their CV. The first stage allows you to shortlist your most promising candidates, who should be invited to a second, more formal interview that includes any other relevant people within the department.

The second interview should be a little more formal, structured and you should have some fixed questions which will help you measure which candidate meets your interview criteria best. Some of my favorite generic ‘character assessment’ questions to ask a candidate are:

  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why are you interested in working for us?
  • What do you know about our products and services?
  • How would you define your work style?
  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • What makes you a good team member?
  • What is the hardest challenge you have ever had to face in life/work?
  • Tell us a bit about your character and what makes you suited to work for us?
  • What unique factors make you stand out from other candidates?

Technical questions are a necessity when you are hiring staff for a position with a strong technical emphasis most notably within IT, Engineering, Science, Financial or Accountancy related roles.

At the third and final interview stage you will be able to assess your final chosen candidates and by this point it may just be 2 or 3 applicants in the melting pot. It can be useful to ask candidates to perform a common task or have some pre-prepared answers on how they would tackle the role. To help calm any nerves and ensure they can deliver their very best, all candidates should be given the required information so they can prepare in advance. Also, don’t ask the candidates to complete a huge, time consuming project that you then use commercially; the test should only be to ensure they can do what they say.

Let’s talk about money

Don’t be afraid to talk money. It’s crucial to get an understanding of what the candidate earns currently in order to measure whether they fit in to your company pay scales. Also, it is better to know relatively early in the process what their salary expectations are, in order to avoid going through the full interview process only to realize at the end that you cannot meet their requirements.

Checking references

Before final assessment and job offer it is important to take at least two professional references from the candidate. While these are a necessary part of any interview there is also an arguable degree of subjectivity that goes into a referees’ testimony.

In countries like America and UK, references have become almost obsolete due to the risk of subjectivity unfairly influencing the outcome. So don’t let this become the be-all and end-all. Sadly, I have spoken to many reference saboteurs over the years that have had an unhealthy interest in highlighting the negatives. Use your instinct and be wary of this. What counts at the end of the day is your perception of this person and it is therefore important to use a bit of instinct and pragmatism in the final decision.

Professional follow up

Ensure that you email all candidates who were unsuccessful to advise them of your final decision. This will leave them with a good impression of your company. It can be smart to have a preferred candidate and a second reserve person. Even the most interested candidates can change their mind at the last hurdle, a frustrating hazard of the job when you are hiring staff. Don’t let your ‘reserve’ know they were unsuccessful until you have a written acceptance from the ‘preferred’ candidate.

Good luck with your hiring!


Astrid Warmington

Astrid is an accomplished business professional from the Sales and Marketing arena currently based in Oslo, Norway. Having worked extensively within Talent Acquisition, HR and Operational Management globally, she has spent the last 2 years working at Amesto. Astrid started her career in London, England, specializing in HR generalist projects with a strong leaning towards Recruitment, Coaching and PR. She has extensive expertise of the regulated UK recruitment market and agency management and is particularly experienced with international businesses. Astrid lives near Skøyen, Oslo with her Swedish partner and their 2 daughters age 5 and 8. She can be contacted for consultancy, interim management or ad-hoc project assignments via or on LinkedIn.