Crucial first hire: the "do-it-all office admin"
Back in June of 2006 after having closed a small series A, it was time to move out of our spare rooms, get some basic startup office space and hire a couple of employees so we could move fast and get on with our mission.
One of the best decisions we made at the time was to hire a “Do-It-All Office Admin” (DIAOA) as one of our very first hires. The point was to free up everyone else to focus exclusively on building the business. Basically, we needed someone to tackle all of the “distractions”: anything that isn’t a direct action related to a core goal. The list of distractions was growing fast: find office space, determine what kind of office space we even wanted, get a cheap (used?) fridge, get a laser printer, plan a party (for recruiting purposes, of course), figure out what kind of benefits we should offer and then get something priced out, sweet talk the neighboring office into sharing their wifi connection for a few hours, etc. All important things but also all things that are incredible time sucks and aren’t going to make or break the success of the company at the early stage.
In the two and half years until we sold the company, we had two successive people fill this role. Neither had more than a year of professional experience when they started, but both did incredibly well in the role and have moved on to greater success (one was just accepted into an MBA program and interned at BCG and the other is currently in law school full time).
Here is some advice on hiring a Do-It-All-Office-Admin.
Personal characteristics to look for:
- Self-driven, tenacious, energentic – this person will need to be able to take a loose project description and drive it to completion, with little help.
- Eager to gain experience – they may not have experience but they are eager to prove to the world how they can shine. Startups are great places for these types.
- Smart – because smart people will respond to challenges like “figure out a way to get free pastries from that new bakery downstairs for our next board meeting”
- Trustworthy — this person will invariably have access to sensitive information like cap tables, employee records, bank statements and your email inbox (if you let them)
I could write an entire blog post on how to suss out these characteristics during an interview, but for now the critical things are (a) call multiple references and ask direct, frank questions and (b) give situational interviews and ask the candidate to problem-solve and walk you through how they would execute on example tasks (intentionally vague/challenging example tasks).
I can’t say enough about how important and valuable our Do-It-All-Admins were and how grateful I am for their work.
Here’s a starter JD for reference…
- Be driven to accomplish a lot and learn a LOT very quickly
- Be smart and have great problem-solving skills
- Be resourceful, upbeat and enjoy getting things done on a startup budget (translation: you must be frugal, scrappy and happy)
- Have web and computing skills, including maybe a little HTML and a good command of MS Office
- Find office space – identify criteria for office space, select real estate agent, work with agent to narrow down to 3 or 4 spaces and arrange visits
- Recruiting – Post jobs online, screen candidates for basic fit, arrange all phone screens and interview days and follow-up with candidates
- New hires – develop a streamlined new hire paperwork process, make sure employee is 100% set up and productive on their first day
- Spreading cheer – be the face of the company to the employees and all visitors, be upbeat always and keep things lively
- Office management – make sure printer ink, paper, soda is in stock, keep office relatively organized, everyday coffee prep
- Independent tasks – do whatever misc tasks are needed with minimal guidance, e.g. “get a used refrigerator here by Friday for less than $250″
- Exec admin – arrange board meetings, do lightweight word/powerpoint/excel prep and whatever else the CEO needs to keep moving quickly
- You have some professional business experience, and ideally have a college degree
- Experience with accounting, HR or recruiting a plus
About this opportunity:
- Although this is a junior role, you will play a key role at a venture-backed high-tech startup.
- You will report to the CEO
- If you are looking for an exciting, demanding job that provides unique experience and gives you a chance to shine, this is a special opportunity.