Hiring: What 5 Entrepreneurs Look For in New Grads
Life + Money

Hiring: What 5 Entrepreneurs Look For in New Grads


A whole new crop of college grads are about to hit the job market. A growing number them will end up at one of the increasing numbers of small business owners who are hiring. Here’s an inside look at how entrepreneurs go about deciding who to hire:

  1. Interview them again, and again (and again). Razor Suleman, CEO and founder of I Love Rewards,   uses a four-step process to interview candidates at his Toronto- based company, which creates employee recognition programs. “The first step in our hiring process is an open house, which attracts upwards of 400 candidates,” he says. “It lets prospects get a feel for the company and allows us to personally meet every candidate.”  A select few are invited to come back for a group interview, half of which is spent asking questions and half “half about selling the company, because you’ll always have to fight for an A-play,” says Suleman. A handful moves on to a skills interview, where prospects are asked to perform job-related tasks; and last, the company does “Topgrading” which Suleman says “takes the applicant back to high school and evaluates their ability to self-reflect, as well as the value of all their previous experiences.” The process, says Suleman, “may seem timely and excessive, but it has proven to work well and gives us the opportunity to gauge both personality and skill level.”

  2. Throw them a little off balance. At Funuation Tekademy, which offers technology classes to kids 8-15, president Ted Jordan meets recent grads at job fairs and then invites them to do a 15-minute presentation on HTML programming to his staff and “assume the audience is eight 10-year-old kids.”  It all starts out normally and then Jordan’s staff begins to get fidgety and disruptive.  “One of us will ask ‘what time is break?’ or ‘can we have cookies instead of chips?’” says Jordan. “Good instructors will keep the kids focused by saying something like ‘we can talk about break time in ten minutes.  Right now we’re discussing HTML… now, use less than and then greater than buttons to add this line to your code.’  Our last scenario is that the instructor has to break up a minor tussle between students.’”  Candidates who pass the “kid test” get a complete background check and come on board with 90 days probation.

  3. Check in with professors. Most employers place emphasis on candidates’ past job performance, but when you’re hiring recent grads, a professor’s recommendation can be equally valuable. Jeff Kear, owner of Wedding Workbook Pro, which provides online wedding planning software, says he hired a fantastic new grad based on the recommendation of a philosophy professor. “The position we were hiring for required excellent writing skills - the one skill that’s difficult to teach — and we thought English and philosophy majors would have written quite a bit for their studies,” says Kear. “We spoke with a philosophy professor at Regis University here in Denver and she referred her best student to us.  As a serial entrepreneur, I will easily admit that the referral has become one of the best hires I’ve ever made.”

  4. Hire young entrepreneurs. Sounds risky, doesn’t it? But George Burke, the CEO of BookSwim.com, a startup that is like Netflix for books, swears by it. He needs people with great technology skills but believes that “there are plenty of tech grads who don’t know much about actually operating or marketing a website. So rather than look at their school credentials or class projects, I look to see if they have a real revenue-driving website that they have either helped build or helped manage.” The result: the company’s CTO was a founder of College Borecom.com; the head of customer service was the founder of a physical fitness magazine; the web designer sold Barack Obama-themed candles during the last presidential campaign; and the communications guy sells his own music and merchandise online. The last three, by the way, are still in college.

  5. Forget their resumes; look for passion. Matt Lauzon, founder and CEO of the custom online jewelry company Gemvara,  says he’ll have 30 job openings at his growing company in the next several months. He doesn’t plan on pouring over a mountain of resumes. “Everybody has a personal brand and you need to manage it. I feel that if people can do that effectively for themselves, then they’ll also be able to do that on our behalf.” He scours the web for Facebook and Twitter profiles, blogs, and any other telling information that might come up in a Google search. “I’m screening for passion,” he says. “For example, one girl we just hired is passionate about African lions. I don’t know why and I don’t really care, but I think it’s a tremendous quality.” Is he turned off by tales of excessive partying? “I’ve never seen anything so outrageous that I didn’t hire the person,” he says. What does turn him off: “When I find nothing at all.”