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Thoughts on hiring by a small business owner

When my firm faces “capacity” issues, two main thoughts hit me. First, I am proud of my team providing a “wow” experience to our clients, prompting client referrals. This means we are succeeding. But second, it means it’s time for a necessary annoyance: hiring. Writing the job description, posting it online, reviewing resumes, multiple rounds of interviews, writing the job offer, etc. Then what do we get? Sometimes duds who don’t show up, wear pajama pants to work, or come crying to the office because they are having legal custody battles with their ex-boyfriend—over a dog. And, yes, sometimes the most satisfying and rewarding thing happens to a small business owner: we actually find an all-star team member! 

As you, young reader, begin the adventure of your career, it is biblical to align your priorities properly. The church is first. Being a member and actively involved in a Protestant Reformed congregation, or a Reformed or Presbyterian church as defined by Belgic Confession article 29, trumps your dream job. Our Lord reminds us in Matthew 6:33 to “seek…first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” John Calvin, commenting on this verse, tells us that “those things which relate to the present life are but favorable appendages, and ought to be reckoned greatly inferior to the kingdom of God.”1 The advice I give below follows this priority. 

The first observation I would make concerns the business at which you should look for gainful employment. I don’t mean what the business does, though this is an important question to consider. I mean the actual business itself. The owner(s); the team members; the values and behaviors. For clarity’s sake, let’s define those things as a business’s “culture.” Most large companies know the importance of culture and grow their business and employees around it. But unfortunately, many big businesses have a progressive culture of “inclusivity” and “wokeism.”2 These cultures should cause the young Christian to consider if it is really the Lord’s calling for them to seek employment at such a place. 

On the other hand, many small businesses do not intentionally develop and document their culture. This doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons, but regardless, one consequence of this is that the employees of that business will have a diminished opportunity to grow, develop, and thrive. Think of the proverbial “dead-end job.” It’s a big reason why large businesses can be appealing. Climb the corporate ladder. Get more pay, promotions, fulfillment, and meaning. Small businesses, however, can still offer their team members growth and satisfaction. My advice to you is to research the business before applying and see if you can find out what that business culture is. When interviewing, don’t be afraid to ask about the direction and the culture of the business. 

I bring up culture because without it, a business cannot define what a qualified team member is—unless it is specifically defined as the ability to prepare a tax return or do bookkeeping. That’s what my firm does, taxes and bookkeeping; but of the nineteen team members, a total of four have a degree in accounting. Qualified does not necessarily equal accounting skills. It simply means someone is fit to perform a job well. 

Knowing how to provide the service or create the product is important, but to the mindful business owner it is just as important that their people be conducive to the culture of that business. When interviewing a potential team member, it is never only about their degree, work experience, or history. I want to envision this person as fitting into the culture we’ve created, to see them thriving, growing, and eventually taking over as partner! 

Self-leadership and innovation are two “cultural building blocks” I use when evaluating a potential team member. The idea of self-leadership can be summed up as self-consciousness or self-awareness in the work environment that leads to one taking action, especially as it applies to what their flaws and competencies are. Although this is somewhat similar to the sort of self-examination that Christians do before coming to the Lord’s supper, it’s applied differently in the workplace. At work you need to be aware of what you are good at and assert yourself to best use those talents. You also need to be aware of your weaknesses, personality deficiencies, hygiene issues, and so on. Have an honest conversation with yourself. Be harsh with yourself—and then fix what you find! Without leading yourself to improvement, you won’t be able to lead a team (or even yourself) to success. Alongside this aspect of self-leadership is the Christian principle of servant leadership. Self-leadership requires us all to be servants to each other. 

The second cultural building block I use to evaluate people is innovation, which I define simply as thinking: real, applied, critical thinking. Innovation leads to advances and changes, but it starts with thinking. Again, this is something we do as Christians. Our regular evaluation of scriptural truth involves a lot of thinking about what God is saying. Do we simply let words go in one ear and out the other, or do we really think about them? In the workplace, what I look for is someone who can think deeply and solve problems on the fly. 

Toward the end of interviews I typically ask, “What is the capital of Mongolia?” Here we are in a high-pressure situation (at least for the interviewee) at an accounting firm. It’s a strategic question though. No one should reasonably know the answer. The correct answer for most people is, “I don’t know.” And usually interviewees get there after squirming for a minute or two. Then I follow up with, “How would you find the answer?” Think! The obvious answer is Google: “I’d Google it.” (I guess I might also accept Bing or ChatGPT.) I would not accept a map, an encyclopedia, or any other older and less efficient method of finding an answer like this. As your potential employer, I want to see you think quickly on your feet about Mongolia, even though this has nothing to do with accounting. This interaction gives me a very small glimpse into the mind of an interviewee and how it operates.  

Young people entering the workforce today are at a considerable advantage over many prior generations when it comes to situations like this. Opportunity still knocks on every door and our younger generation has a chance to shine. Yes, you’ve got to know how to do your job. Yes, you need to show up on time, put in the hours, dress appropriately, and all that. But how are you going to succeed? How do you differentiate yourself from the thousands of others who show up? It’s your job to convince someone like me that you are the right person. If you get hired, it’s your job to apply these types of principles to yourself. And Lord willing, you will succeed. 

 

John is a partner at Prospect Financial Solutions and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, CA.