Hiring an HR manager for the first time – A complete how-to guide

Seeing your startup or small business grow is a priceless feeling. But for this growth to continue, you need to ensure that employees are engaged, the workplace is productive and that people operations run smoothly.

This responsibility might be something that founders, executives, office managers or HR generalists can share at the early stages of a company’s life. But soon, it becomes apparent that you need one person, someone senior who can put the right policies in place and help your company maintain its momentum. In short, you need an HR manager.

How do you know it’s time to hire an HR manager?

When the law requires it

The most important factor you need to consider is legal obligations. Ask your attorney to fill you in on relevant local or national laws that might apply to your company at present and in the future.

For example:

  • US companies with more than 15 employees must comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which instructs you to make sure you don’t discriminate against protected characteristics, intentionally or unintentionally.
  • US companies that reach 50 employees must comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act which means that you are now required to grant leave to employees who are sick or tending to sick family members.
  • Federal contractors must implement and manage an affirmative action program and keep records of relevant hiring and employee data, in addition to other compliance requirements.

Completing these administrative tasks can be a full-time job that executives or other employees can no longer maintain on their own. And if your company isn’t diligent or focused enough on these tasks, you may fall on the wrong side of compliance.

When you realize you need help

You may also consider hiring a good HR manager if you notice issues in people management within your company. For example, in smaller firms, high employee turnover means regularly working to replace a sizable chunk of your employee base. This can slow down operations and makes it harder for you to establish a work culture. An HR professional can investigate and optimize the process.

Also, if you have a vision about your workplace, as many growing companies usually do, you might need help to make that vision a reality. You want employees to be happy and productive, so you’re thinking about perks and benefits. But not every employee wants perks like ping pong tables and free snacks. They may prefer better health insurance or work from home options. An HR manager can determine what your employees really want and put those programs into place.

How do you start your hiring process?

Determine your needs

Do you need someone to think about the big picture and build an HR strategy, or someone to get into the weeds and manage small but important daily tasks? If you’re a business looking to grow aggressively, hire someone senior and strategic and give them authority to build their team as needed. These people command higher salaries, but it’s good to hire them early to set up your company for success, especially when it comes to recruiting. You’ll need someone who can design an effective hiring process, so you can consistently select the best talent as your company grows.

If you’re working on a tight recruiting budget, hire a less senior but promising HR professional to handle your daily procedures with a plan to promote them to a strategic role (or hire an HR director later on). You could also consider working with an independent consultant on higher-level HR concerns.

Flesh out the job description

A good job description will help you throughout your hiring process. You can post it to job boards or send it to people in your network. This job description will be the basis for selecting the right interview questions when you evaluate candidates. Here’s how to start building the job description:

  • Find a template online so you won’t have to deal with a blank page. Use an HR manager job description but consider also searching for sample job descriptions for HR directors, HR business partners or HR administrators, since the job title can differ while duties remain the same. These will help you determine what to look for when hiring an HR manager.
  • Sort the job duties on the template and include only those relevant to your needs. For example, if you want help with legal obligations, you need someone who knows labor legislation and compliance. If you want someone to design an effective and creative recruiting process, ask for relevant experience. Here’s a list of soft skills HR people ideally possess in the modern workplace:
    • Reliability
    • Flexibility and open-mindedness
    • Analytical thinking
    • Leadership and conflict management skills
    • Tech savviness (knowledge of HR systems)
  • Promote your company to attract applicants. When you post the job description on a job board, it’s not enough to present duties and responsibilities. Think about what will encourage people to apply, especially senior professionals who have many job options to choose from. Describe your company’s mission (answering the question; “What do we do that could give a sense of purpose to employees?”) and why your company is a great place to work. Include benefits and a link to your careers page if you have one. For more, read our article on how to write a great job description.

Promote in the right channels

There are many tactics you can employ to find the best candidates. Here are a few:

Since you have determined the characteristics of the person you’re looking for, you can hire a recruiting agency to take over advertising and screening applications. This will save you a lot of time in job posting and resume screening, and will also make it possible for you to advertise in niche channels that specialized consultants know about. Give them the job description and explain what you expect in candidates.

  • Tap into your social network. You can find many HR professionals on LinkedIn and Twitter. Ask your connections if they know an HR person who matches your criteria or share your job ad using Twitter hashtags (such as #HR). If you also belong to startup or entrepreneurial groups, ask people who have already hired an HR person for advice. Also, if you want to try niche social platforms, try joining Slack groups or Reddit and build a community there.
  • Ask for referrals. Send an email to your employees including the job description and ask them if they have a person in mind that could be the right fit. Since referral is often cited as the most effective source of hire, there’s a good chance you’ll find your best candidate this way.

How do you evaluate candidates?

When you have a shortlist of strong candidates in your hands, it’s time to start interviewing. Use the job description to build interview questions off of the duties and requirements you’re looking for. For example, if you need someone to develop a compensation and benefits system, ask them how they’ve done this before and what the results were. If you want someone with strong leadership skills, ask them to describe their experience leading a team, how they motivated their team members and how they resolved conflicts.

For example, you could ask these or similar interview questions when hiring an HR manager:

  • Tell me about your experience leading an HR team/building an HR department. Look for candidates who describe their experience with confidence, give credit to their team members and show they have a leadership style that fits with what you want to see in your company.
  • Which would be the first three company policies you’d draft if you were hired and why? Look for candidates who consider legal aspects, present a solid reasoning, and show they’re able to set priorities.
  • Describe a time you made a mistake. It’s important to find someone who’s accountable and responsible and learns from their mistakes.
  • How would you go about enhancing our company culture/benefits and perks? Look for people who acknowledge the need to investigate the current situation and involve employees in deciding what would improve the workplace. Give bonus points to people who mention studies on culture or benefits.
  • Which HR technology tools do you prefer and how would you choose the best ones for us? Look for people who are tech-savvy and can explain why they’d recommend one system over another.
  • Describe your hiring approach. How and where do you find talented job applicants? Look for people with solid experience who’ve used a mix of sources and have a good grasp of interviewing techniques.

Your new hire doesn’t need to know everything, but they need to know where to find the information they want. For example, a candidate needn’t have drafted numerous HR policies from scratch, but they need to know that they can find direction on policies in the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) website or work off online templates. Similarly, they may not have used or researched HR tools extensively (especially if they’re not very senior), but they should be able to describe a process to evaluate different options.

As far as soft skills go, you want someone who is a good listener and can elaborate on their arguments with confidence. They need to act with diplomacy since employees might not be quick to accept new policies and rules. Avoid being strict about other personality attributes (for example, it shouldn’t matter whether the candidate is introverted or extroverted). However, make sure the person you’ll hire matches your company’s tone. For example, if you’re a relaxed and flexible startup, you don’t want someone with a more regimented approach to the workplace.

Have an honest discussion

During the interview, make sure that you clearly present the challenges your company faces. Talk about processes and policies that you’re missing and what you’d like to achieve in terms of culture and employee engagement. Ask the candidate how they’d start working to that direction and invite them to share additional thoughts.

This approach will help both of you: the candidates will understand what’s expected of them and whether they are qualified, while you’ll be able to determine who seems motivated and has a strategic mind. Look for those who ask you probing questions, those who challenge you with solid arguments, and offer creative solutions for your HR challenges. It’s important to find someone who can say ‘no’ when necessary, but who is also open-minded and subscribes to your vision. With a successful HR manager, you’ll establish a strong, loyal employee base and maximize your company’s potential for success.

Looking for an all-in-one recruiting solution? Workable can improve candidate sourcing, interviewing and applicant tracking for a streamlined hiring process. Sign up for our 15-day free trial today.

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Nikoletta Bika

Nikoletta Bika is a writer and a researcher at Workable. She writes about all things HR and recruiting, with a particular interest in metrics, laws, interviews and technology. She's a relentless editor and loves to sneak in Oxford commas in her drafts. She tweets @Nikoletta_Bika.

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