This week, small business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about hiring right.

Thomas Dietz is the founder and CEO of WOOP, an Auckland-based food-kit delivery service that currently has 11 staff.

What's the hiring situation like at WOOP?

We started six months ago, and as a startup people are really key. I'm currently putting about a third of my time into making sure we recruit the right people and nurturing the staff because the efficiency of what we do comes down to the team of people we have. We've established a strong recruitment process, and I think that's helped us attract some A-players.

Can you talk me through your recruitment process?


The first thing is we do is work with the team to define any role we're recruiting for. We dig right down into how we would describe this person once they're in their job, and we work in groups with the management committee to define their competencies and, even more importantly, what their values would be.

Once we've defined clear scorecards for those, we go through a few steps to screen the candidates. But we try to make the process a bit different and attractive, so for example rather than asking candidates to send us traditional CVs and application letters, we ask them to send us a postcard, a weird picture of themselves, their favourite song and a Youtube video they like. That's our first filter because we're looking for people who are creative, original thinkers.

The next step involves a 20 minute phone interview to further screen candidates where we ask them to tell us about their personality.

Then when we do interviews in person we have precise interview questions to test their values and skills. We'll also give them a test 'in situ'. So for a marketing role for example, we'll put the candidate in a real meeting with the marketing team to see how they contribute, respond to specific problems and express ideas. One of our values is a passion for what we do, so before we confirm any candidate we also make sure they're real foodies by asking them to give us a list of ingredients, which we'll buy them and then we ask them to cook a recipe for us.

And just before we're at the stage of offering employment we invite the candidate to spend a couple of hours in the office so they can talk with each team member. On one hand we want the candidate to be very comfortable with the team and know there's a fit, and on the other we want to make sure the candidate fits well in the environment and with the existing team.

I specifically ask my team to reveal any doubts during this process so we can dig into them, and if there's something we're really not sure of, my experience is it's safer not to recruit the person. Often I've made the mistake in the past of saying 'I know this candidate has this weakness, but I can't find the perfect candidate so it should be okay'. But the weakness can be bigger than it appears in just an interview and having to replace someone after a few months is really costly for a small business. It's better to spend a bit more time in the recruitment process rather than having to make some hard decisions later.

And the last thing we do is check references - one chosen by the candidate, and one chosen by us.

So the primary focus is to find candidates that are the right cultural fit with the values of your organisation?

Definitely. I'm a member of EO [Entrepreneurs' Organisation] and one of the biggest lessons I've learned from talking to all the entrepreneurs there is to recruit people based on their values.

I've made the mistake before of hiring someone who was very productive and skilled but who didn't share the values of the team. We had to let that person go because it just wasn't a fit.

COMING UP: What are the experiences of some small business owners who have built up longstanding relationships with their suppliers over time, and how are they extracting the most value out of those relationships? If you've got a story to share about supplier relationships, drop me a note:

You can always train and upskill someone to get stronger on skills but it's really hard to change someone's values, so we always make sure our first criteria for any candidate is they fit the values of the team, and then we try to recruit people from there who have the highest skills possible. You work really hard in a startup and you often find more problems than rewards, so we need people on board who are 150 percent committed to what we're doing.