Hiring and firing for small businesses can be daunting, but Kim James knows the secrets to successful recruitment

Kim James knows recruitment like the back of her hand. With over a decade of experience in hiring and firing roles across multiple industries, she’s learnt a few tricks of the trade, and she of all people know the importance of the right fit in the workplace. 

She’s a maverick; she thinks outside the box and doesn’t work within the confines of hiring from the rule book, and it’s one of the many reasons why her newly founded businesses, Vivid CD, has been so successful…

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You’re the Director of Vivid and the creator of GlassyAnt. Do you have a work/life balance?

In a word – no. In a way – yes! There are so many aspects of the business that can be easily prioritised into working hours, so I have healthy boundaries there and keep certain things strictly professional. 

This makes space ‘out of hours’ for creative work, developing products and systems or purely getting on top of the business. 

I learned quickly that whilst it’s great to be highly available, it’s much better to be highly valuable. I’ve been known to monitor calls on my Fitbit during gym and my pup barking in the background after hours is a bit of a trademark move.

You worked for other companies in recruitment roles for nearly 10 years before going out on your own to launch Vivid CD. Why the leap?

I’m a little bit like the Goldilocks of Recruitment. Large agency, boutique, internal, regional Management. However even when trying it out with some great companies and people, I felt there was a higher purpose than the ‘P&L’ and that the industry is largely broken and unethical.

I wanted to create new ways, systems and thoughts with wide eyes and without any creative or business barriers.

Playing the corporate politics game was one avenue, but I’ve always been more of a ‘this is bonkers, this is wrong – let’s fix it immediately’ direct sort of person. In my own business, I never have to compromise my values and can be as transparent as I like. 

In short, I felt I wasn’t being heard so I created my own microphone.

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What the biggest challenge you faced in the first year of Vivid CD?

Whenever you do something new or create something different, picking your support audience is key. You need to back yourself and narrow in on the empowering voices that sustain you, at the same time avoiding gathering the ‘yes’ people who tell you what you want to hear!

As anyone does, I received feedback and negativity about the direction I was taking. It took a toll and – without the day to day validation around me – I briefly questioned myself. After a while, I learned that the source of the feedback was the most important. 

I now say ‘thank you’ to the noise and zero in on the critique from those I trust and value or those who are directly relevant to my cause.

Hiring and firing can be difficult for small businesses who are learning to do it for the first time. What common mistakes do small businesses make when they start hiring?

GlassyAnt.com is our small business and start up DIY hiring platform, created to fill those exact gaps. So, I know the topic pretty well! The top five mistakes small businesses make while hiring and firing are… 

  1. Failing to be really clear on the type of person and personal attributes you need in the role for success (and failing to explore those in screening). And not being clear enough on your own culture and benefits, the best ones of which are usually really subtle. Communication techniques, leadership styles, systems to recognise performance and so on.

  2. Borrowing a PD or Job Advertisement template from a neighbour and filling the content with things you ‘must have’. Recruitment Content is so important and the more accessibly and down-to-earth (and jargon free) you write, the more likely you’ll attract your perfect match.

  3. Not having a well-defined process for the Recruitment campaign. This means interview times set aside upfront, contract at the ready and a streamlined methodology.

  4. Failing to communicate to candidates! It’s really common but doesn’t mean it’s ok. I wrote a resource with templates to help people, the candidate experience is dear to my heart.

  5. Not having any structures, onboarding or policies in place. As a B Corp, I think business owners have a strong responsibility to give our people the right foundations to flourish. If they’re uncertain about their expectations, your people simply can’t give you their best.

Big businesses can still get it wrong, even with experience. What does Vivid CD do differently to ensure the right employment fit?

When we’re finding IT contractors or permanent staff, we fight for ‘attitude recognition’ rather than a long list of tech skills. It’s such a cliché, but other skills can be taught. Businesses must all expand their minds here to future proof themselves.

We have a unique screening methodology that doesn’t rely just on keywords, artificial intelligence or where a candidate has been in their past. Our new application form asks questions to tease out motivation, adaptation and learning skills and a mandatory cover letter that is always read.

In the future, recruitment won’t be required to match tech skills, so agencies need to delve deep into human behaviour and mannerisms to stay relevant. Large businesses can help by pushing back on their providers and making sure their search contains valuable, human diagnosis beyond the resume.

Listen to Kim’s Small Business Hiring podcast in San Francisco  here.

Listen to Kim’s Small Business Hiring podcast in San Francisco here.

What are the three most important factors to consider in a potential applicant?  

I attended the Culture First conference in San Francisco in 2018 and was blown away by the speakers and the ‘out of the box’ thinking here. 

Why do they want this role? This doesn’t mean you need an impassioned recount of Homer’s Iliad upon application – we need to respect varied levels of English aptitude. But for example, you might be looking for somebody who absolutely wants to be on a contract and is motivated by getting in there and doing their best work. At any rate, knowing their true motivations is so important to understanding a/ their true interest b/ you can support them in the future and c/ they’ve looked into your company and are motivated by your purpose.

What sort of communicators are they? Susan Cain gave an incredible speech at the conference around the power of introverts and ambiverts and how the right company is so important for them. If you know your leaders are direct, find people who are great at receiving direct feedback. If your team are all technical leads, you’re probably not seeking high-touch extroverts. The free love language test in particular is really helpful here, something we picked up from Justin Dry of Vinomofo in conference last year.

How do they respond to change? Your company will be slow, fast, transforming or stagnant at any period of business. If you’re a fast-moving company, your personal hell will be an employee who is frightened by daily change. If you’re slow and steady, an impatient hare will be like a cat amongst the pigeons. Know your business and be candid about the pace.

Let’s quantify it. What are the facts and stats of hiring ‘wrong’, and the cost to companies?

I love having facts and in 2018, I actually dumped my recruitment methodology into a calculator on GlassyAnt that gives all of these statistics and more.

Speaking of small businesses - in the recruitment process alone, you could spend 60 hours and $7k (including your time) and that’s only if things go right.

Conservatively, the wrong hire could cost $25k-$50k over the course of a year (excluding their salary). 65% of direct hiring managers admit to making at least one ‘bad hire’ over time.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg. A wrong hire can cause significant employee turnover, loss of client revenue and irreversible cultural damage. It’s ok to make a mistake, but if you can’t recognise this within 3 months maximum (one ideally) then there’s something missing in the rigorousness of your probation assessment.

What’s on your daily to-do list in the office? 

A great question. Happy to have delegated some of the many financial/administrative tasks recently, but the list is varied and long.

People first - I’ll start with refreshing the onboarding for my new employee for the day, checking in on their happiness and capacity levels. Check our onsite people have what they need from us and finally, our client deliverables are diarised and distributed.

The rest of the day will be business development, some onsite meetings, bi-monthly interstate travel, product development for GlassyAnt, compliance and legal updates, networking, vendor assessment, website development and maintenance, a (poor) stab at socials and marketing, fixing whatever breaks on any given day and a raft of financial approvals.

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How has co-working at One Roof helped with your personal and business growth?

‘Running a business is solitary’ – what a huge understatement.

The opportunities for me at One Roof have grown as the company has grown, at a time I needed it the most. I’m on the extreme scale of independent and self-reliant, which has been a struggle but a blessing to change. It’s still a work in progress but One Roof in particular has opened me up to the power of people – nobody achieves anything great alone.

One Roof has made me comfortable with the idea of building the business and confidence to hire people around me. It’s opened my eyes to a serious world of good-business collaboration just waiting to be explored.

And perhaps most importantly, I encounter people who are facing similar struggles or thoughts. A simple kitchen chat helps you recognise mutual issues and alleviate – even solve – them.

What one superpower would you have and why?

The power to heal. I’m a natural fixer, I crave balance, which is why I design for the world of work. I find it hard to leave someone or something in turmoil or pain.

If I could snap my fingers and make the planet well? I can’t think of anything better.

What would you go back and tell your 15-year-old self?

I grew up in a country city. I’d say, ‘Kim, in 2 years, you’ll have this magnificent thing called the internet and it will open up your thoughts and opportunities. So, look up the top female technologists, scientists, thinkers and leaders. That could be you.’

I’d also tell myself to get really, really comfortable with life changing course. If you follow your higher values and forget about your ‘plans’, you’ll always be exactly where you need to be.

This blog was written by the incredible and talented Claire Goldsworthy, Founder of The Fashion Advocate.

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