While most corporations would be attracted to hiring a budding Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerman is that always a smart move? Entrepreneurial characteristics like drive, innovation, and risk-taking are suited for some roles in some organisations, but recruiters must take care during the hiring process. Three Australian talent leaders shared their approach when considering entrepreneurs.
Tip 1: Capitalise on entrepreneurs’ sales and leadership experience
Eva Arelic, talent acquisition manager at APAC biotech business Novotech is open to hiring entrepreneurs for business development roles. “If they’ve operated in our space and already know the industry, and have the relevant experience, [an entrepreneur] could be ideal. They are self-sufficient and don’t need a lot of long-term hand-holding or support [besides] the initial onboarding. They’re quick on their feet and agile in their thinking and tend to handle pressure a lot better.” Arelic advises hirers to probe candidates to uncover specific skills: “I’d be looking at whether this person knows how to attract new business, map and research a market, and how they approach clients.”
Bernt Schindler, head of talent acquisition APAC at talent business Allegis Global Solutions, says entrepreneurs can contribute in several positions including “any role that encourages thinking outside the box, any project based role where there is a defined solution you are trying to produce: sales, business development…leadership.”
Tip 2: Entrepreneurs work best in times of change or growth
It sounds obvious but there’s little point sticking an entrepreneur in a stable business or industry. They thrive on opportunity, disruption and innovation so it’s more likely they’ll prosper if your organisation or industry sector is in flux or is aiming for rapid growth.
Kalena Jefferson, general manager people and culture at aged care provider Southern Cross Care (NSW & ACT), says the sector is changing rapidly and can benefit from hiring entrepreneurs. She explains the ageing sector in Australia is ‘candidate dry’, and the market simply can’t meet the demand for growth due to Australia’s rapidly ageing population.
“We are beginning to look for people with entrepreneurial characteristics because aged care is in a huge state of change,” Jefferson reports. “Age care is deregulating from a government block funding model into having to compete for business, so that entrepreneurial skill set is important,” Jefferson adds. “Agile thinking is needed, because it is all moving so fast. We have to think, create and do all at the same time, which is what entrepreneurs can do. We need people who can think creatively about and act on their creative thinking.”
Tip 3: Make sure they’ll fit into a team environment
While it’s easy to generalise and incorrectly stick labels like ‘lone wolf’ or “go-getter” on entrepreneurs, the reality is people who’ve run their own business may not always suit a corporate environment. They’re accustomed to making quick decisions, often without needing to get buy-in from team mates. Be sure to ask interview questions that uncover candidates’ tolerance for colleagues’ views and their level of patience in dealing with day-to-day tasks as well as focusing on big-picture goals.
Arelic says entrepreneurs “have to demonstrate why they want to return to the corporate sector. Recruiters must examine whether the entrepreneur would feel comfortable or stifled in the position. They need to demonstrate they can be accountable to a manager and come back to a reporting structure after being their own boss. Even if they run an entire division there is still a reporting line.” This is important, she says, as “there are structures and processes that have to be adhered to. [The entrepreneur] would need to justify what they want to do and why they want to do it, and how they’re going to go about it.”
Schindler’s view is a little different: “Anyone can be a lone wolf and that doesn’t mean they are going to be maverick. You can have mavericks in any situation, there are always going to be people who go out of their way to ignore process or procedures”. His advice is to be sure the interviewee knows what’s expected in the position: “Entrepreneurs are driven internally, so you need to be clear with your expectations and use open communication with them, because it will allow you the opportunity to be on the same wavelength.” He emphasizes it’s important to consider each candidate with an open mind: “I don’t like to pigeon-hole. If I’m interviewing someone, you talk about their experience, what competencies they’ve learnt and what they’ve done in the past that can benefit that role.”
Tip 4: Check they’re not a flight risk
Entrepreneurs are people with ideas, motivation and business nous so how can you be sure they won’t leave to start a new business? You can never be sure, so it’s even more important with entrepreneurs to probe how long they’re likely to stay. In addition to discussing candidates’ past roles and their reasons for leaving, be sure to ask questions like “what are your immediate career goals?” and “how do you see this role contributing to those goals?”, and listen carefully to what they say. Ask also about candidates’ interests out of work to look for clues they may be planning to launch a new venture. The more you probe the more likely you’ll find clues but sophisticated candidates can be good at deflection. If you’re still uncertain consider asking a very direct question: “If I hire you how can I be sure you won’t leave within a year to start your own venture?” You may get some useful indications but, as Novotech’s Arelic says: “…ultimately, there are no guarantees with anyone.”
Recruiting entrepreneurs is tough. While they can contribute unrivalled value to corporations they can destabilise existing teams and processes. Hiring managers must carefully assess each situation to ensure the value does outweigh the risks. If the entrepreneur is placed in a role where s/he has scope for using their strengths and is rewarded for their drive, innovation and experimentation they should prosper. But if they are bogged down with process and structure their potential may be limited. As our 3 talent leaders suggest, limit your recruitment risks by ensuring the candidate will fit in to the team and corporate life.