Eight Essentials To Look For In Your Startup’s First HR Hire


As your startup grows and you hire more employees, you may find it’s time to make your first human resources hire. Founders often take on this role early on in their business journey, but with more employees comes more HR administration and responsibilities, and it’s important to find a well-qualified professional.

To help you with your hiring process, eight members of Young Entrepreneur Council share what they think startup founders should seek out in an HR candidate. From leadership skills to decision-making abilities, here’s what these business leaders recommend looking for.

1. A ‘Self-Starter’ Attitude

The one quality that matters the most is their ability to designate their own goals and finish them independently. In startup lingo, this is often termed a “self-starter with an owner’s mindset.” In the context of HR, the person should have a clear sense of candidates’ motivations and be able to reliably test their competencies. They should also help vet the candidate pipeline to the best of their ability and make sure nothing slips through the cracks. Startups have a terrible reputation for ghosting candidates and failing to deliver. A good HR hire is a taskmaster and accountable to the team, the candidates and themselves. – Brent Liang, Fractal

2. A Solid Grasp Of Data Analysis

Although conflict resolution is the task that most people think of when picturing a human resources department, the majority of their work involves data collection and analysis. This is why I always look for HR candidates who have a solid grasp of data analysis and visualization, with proficiency in tools like Salesforce, Apache Spark and TensorFlow. Familiarity with data science is a big plus as well, although that’s not always necessary for a new hire since it can easily be taught to the right candidate with a few certifications. – Bryce Welker, The CPA Exam Guy

When making your first HR hire, the candidate’s soft skills are essential qualities to look for. Can this person lead a team? Do they communicate effectively? Are they patient? HR personnel oversee so much more than hiring and firing employees. They are the ones employees need to feel comfortable talking to if they feel harassed in the workplace or are experiencing issues that might affect their jobs, like illness or disease. Your first HR hire will likely be the manager—the person in charge of hiring everyone who works under them. Above all, this person needs to be able to lead a team. Remember, your employees work for people, not for a company. – Jared Weitz, United Capital Source Inc.

4. Company Culture Fit

There’s a widespread idea that HR exists to protect the business and that it’s not there to help people—which is an idea that’s ultimately harmful to businesses. Good HR personnel help hire the right people, help employees and shape the company culture. For these reasons, it’s critical for your HR hire to be someone who fits your company culture. You need to have multiple conversations with your candidates and observe how well they communicate. Picking someone who’s a great cultural fit and who communicates well can shape your employees’ happiness and your business success for years to come. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

5. Problem-Solving Skills

Hiring the first HR employee is a big decision for any startup. You are not only looking for someone who is an ideal fit for the role, but you also want to find someone who will help contribute to the company culture and be a team player. One quality to look for is their bootstrapping ability. It means the person is resourceful and able to get creative when problem-solving. A startup often has limited resources and unexpected roadblocks, so it’s important to have someone on board who can make do with what’s available and still get the job done. Since there is a lot to set up, you need someone who can take initiative and work without constant supervision. They need to brainstorm ideas for how to contribute to the company, manage their own time and figure out what’s necessary to achieve their goals. – Tonika Bruce, Lead Nicely, Inc.

6. Care For Others

Does this HR person care for others? Caring for people at a genuine gut level will pave a path for fair, kind and measured HR duties at your company. Our first HR hire, who is now our Head of People, had zero “HR” training. Rather, she had incredible professional skills along with her nonprofit work helping teach kids in juvenile detention centers how to play team sports. It would be difficult to find a stronger candidate as our Head of People clearly demonstrated care for people who are sometimes challenging and unyielding. – Beck Bamberger, BAM

7. Strong Decision-Making Abilities

You need to look for their decision-making abilities, especially during a difficult scenario. One of the stigmas attached to HR is that they protect the company, not the employees, in businesses that have poor management. You know that is not true. This is your chance to prove that an HR department head or manager can strike balance between employee needs and company interests. HR should be able to both protect an employee and cover their best interests. They need to know how to accumulate paper trails over time and hear employee complaints to find a solution. That way, if a catastrophe happens, they have enough information to make a decision. As a result, they would protect your company from liability and provide employee satisfaction. – Duran Inci, Optimum7

8. Effective Communication

It would help if you found someone who is a fantastic communicator and negotiator. An HR manager with good communication skills can better handle situations before they arise and diffuse them when they do. The better someone in HR is at communicating, the more employees will feel the HR team member understands and empathizes with them, which will help build trust and respect within the company. This respect and trust are extra important when it comes time for performance evaluations and layoffs. The HR manager also needs to be able to negotiate the conflicts that can arise between two or more of your employees, and communication and verbal problem-solving skills are integral to this. – Salvador Ordorica, The Spanish Group LLC

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