Hiring employees for an e-commerce business is one of the greatest challenges for small-to-medium sized business owners. There’s a reason that corporations and large businesses have entire departments dedicated to hiring—it’s a challenging, intricate, and time-consuming process. These challenges are doubled if you’re hiring remote workers, which is a trend becoming more and more common for e-commerce and Amazon stores.
Still, hiring is also one of the most critical aspects to business growth. The people you have on your team can make or break your business. This is true for both in-house employees as well as any contractors to whom you outsource work.
So how can you improve your hiring process as an e-commerce owner? How do you ensure you find the right people—even if your employees all work remotely?
1. Define your company culture.
Before you can even look at your candidates, you need to have a sense of your business overall. This will help you determine who is the right “fit” for your company. What is your business culture like? What are the specific behaviors and actions of your culture?
Think specifically about your brand mission. For example, you sell eco-friendly sunscreen. Your business mission is to stop the runoff of chemicals into the ocean.
Your mission often helps determine the culture specifics as well. If you have a green mission, you might emphasize recycling plastic bottles. Or maybe you offer in-house coffee if your employees bring in their own mugs. These business nuances can help determine whether or not your prospective employees would fit-in with how you want your business to run.
Even if you’re remote, your business has a company culture. For example, you might communicate primarily via Slack, and everyone ends each message with an emoji. This is specific but it says something about the lighthearted aspect of your community.
Define your culture so you know what the right employee “fit” looks like for you.
2. Present your company culture.
You’ve designed and defined your company culture. Now you need to find a way to make this culture known to your interviewees during the hiring process. You also need to systemize how you’ll look for candidates who could be a good fit.
Remember that hiring is a two-way street. You want to make sure that you present your business in the best and most honest light. You want your employees to know exactly what they’re getting themselves into to help avoid turnover.
You could present your company culture in a variety of ways. You might bring a prospective employee around the office so they can get a feel for the team. Or you might discuss with a prospect your definition of success and your vision.
During the hiring process, ask them questions that relate to your culture. For example, if you have a green mission, you could ask them, “What sorts of global issues are they most passionate about?” If they’re passionate about the environment, they’d likely be a great fit with your culture. If they say they don’t really have a social passion, they might not fit in with the rest of your team.
3. List the necessary hard and soft skills.
Every job has its own set of qualifications. You want to make sure that the candidate doesn’t just meet these qualifications but exceeds them.
This starts by clearly defining what the role needs. What kinds of skills does the person in this role need to have in order to be successful?
Start by looking at the hard skills. These are the basic qualifications and experience someone needs to do the job well. This includes things like data entry, accounting, technological skills, graphic design experience, etc. These are the foundational skills necessary for the job.
Then look at the soft skills. These are the skill sets that someone needs to really thrive on the job. This includes skills like leadership, communication, collaboration, teamwork, and ability to deal with conflict. It can even be something like “ability to work alone,” if they are a remote worker who spends the day plugging numbers into the computer. Someone who can’t work alone will not have the soft skills needed for that job.
Soft skills are different than personality traits, though the two are linked. Someone might be an amazing leader, but they have an angry personality. Or someone is really personable, but they don’t know how to deal with conflict. You’ll want to be able to differentiate the actual skill sets this person has when dealing with day-to-day tasks.
You want to clearly define hard skills and soft skills in the job description. From there, you’ll need a system for your ability to identify these skill sets in employees. What kinds of questions do you need to ask—and how do you need to ask them—in order to see if this candidate has the necessary skills?
While hard skills are usually more important to do the job, these skills can also be taught. You can teach someone how to use Excel or run a social media campaign. You usually cannot teach the soft skills, like communication and positivity. That’s where a behavioral interview comes in.
4. Have a behavioral interview.
Too often, interviews become a reiteration of the resume. Hiring managers ask questions about previous work experience to make sure they have all the hard skills, without asking questions related to the soft skills.
You don’t want to hire someone because you like them or not hire because you don’t like them… but you do want to hire based on their character and ability to fit in with your culture.
You want to make sure they’re passionate about your business and mission. You want to see if they have a good track record of being a positive force in their company. You want to see how they’ll respond to situations they might face in this role.
Ultimately, you don’t want to hire someone you wouldn’t want to work with. And the interview is there to make sure they’ll do the job—and do it well.
Would this candidate be a good spokesperson for your brand? Do they embody your brand?
One of the best questions to ask is, “Why are you leaving your other job?” If they say that they’re leaving because they have a lot of problems with their coworkers or they start talking bad about the other company, it could be a red flag that they’re a negative and problematic employee. (They could also end up saying this about your company in the future.) If they say they need a new experience or are looking for a chance to grow, they likely have a strong and ambitious work ethic that you’d want on your team.
You can also prompt them with certain situations. How would they deal with an angry customer? How do they handle conflicts with coworkers? You can ask about specific situations in the past or ask them to hypothesize about the future. Ask open-ended questions that prompt thoughtful answers.
5. Create performance expectations.
What sort of metrics does someone in this role need to meet? Creating specific, measurable standards can help candidates understand how they will be evaluated. This evaluation tells them what they would need to focus on in their job.
For example, you’re hiring a customer service rep. In the hiring process, you tell them they’ll be reviewed based on how many positive reviews they receive on Amazon. If people say the customer service is great, they get positive evaluations; if customers say the customer service is bad, the worker would get negative evaluations.
This helps the candidate understand what success looks like in your company and it helps them see where they’d be focusing their time at work.
Aligned with this, you’ll want to create a process for goal setting, feedback, and accountability. Show the candidate what life in your company looks like. Is this something they would be comfortable with moving forward?
6. Call references.
A lot of small business owners thinking references have become facetious, but it’s actually quite the opposite. If you truly want to get a sense of how a candidate will be as a worker for your company, you want to talk to their old bosses and coworkers.
We typically recommend calling two to four references. Request at least one professional and one personal reference. This can give you a broader idea of this candidate’s overall experience, character, and skill sets.
Note: If you’re a remote e-commerce business, references are king. You want to make sure that the remote employee you hire won’t disappear or act inappropriately. If a remote or freelance worker doesn’t have references, they’re not a reliable employee.
7. Don’t rush.
This is the biggest problem we’ve seen with e-commerce businesses especially. They start to see a lot of immediate growth, so they feel they need to take immediate action in hiring. This is especially true in the fourth quarter when there is suddenly an influx of orders and customer service issues.
This kind of business stress puts stress on the hiring process as well. And a stressed or hurried hiring process is the easiest way to ensure you hire the wrong people. It’s like marrying someone you just met because you already bought the wedding cake.
To avoid rushing, you want to include human personnel in your projections. If you expect product diversification or sales growth, you should expect employment growth as well. Even if you don’t expect or plan for significant growth, you want to have a plan in place that will allow you to respond to and pivot based on your business needs.
Don’t get stuck without resources or hands-on-deck when you’re in crunch time.
Hiring failures can stunt your growth. The wrong person can cause situations as dramatic as an employee stealing from you or as foundational as someone not pushing your mission forward.
If you want your e-commerce business to grow, you need to understand how hiring plays a role. Your business is only as strong as the team backing it.
What does your hiring process look like?
Let us know in the comments below!