Startup Office Manager Hiring Cheatsheet: Timing, Interview, Job description, and Salary

tl;dr - Use the table of contents below to read only what you want.

Table of Contents.

  1. Why do you need a startup office manager?
  2. What can an office manager do for you?
  3. When is the best timing for you to hire an office manager?
  4. Where do you find an awesome office manager?
  5. How do you qualify a good startup office manager?
  6. How do you interview an office manager for your startup?
  7. What’s the appropriate salary level for your office manager?
  8. How did Plivo hire its office manager and what can you learn from it?
  9. Office manager job description example.
  10. Finding a right office manager is tough.

### Why do you need a startup office manager?

Here’s a simple answer: because your startup needs growth and a startup office manager can be a great catalyst for it. Hiring an office manager for your startup has everything to do with furthering your cause for growth. And hiring a startup office manager should be more of a proactive decision than a defensive one. How so? A good office manager will ensure focus. As Mihály Csíkszentmihályi puts it, they will allow your team to be constantly in the flow, letting members be focused on nothing but building the core of your company: product and customer.

You know there are various small tasks that enjoy being the bottleneck: purchasing office equipments, dealing with paperwork and payment, scheduling trips and etc. All these should sound familiar to you. Of course, you can do the tasks yourself—only at the expense of the time that you could have spent honing your product and selling it to the target customers.

### What can an office manager do for you?

Here I listed some of things that a good office manager commonly can do for your company. You can add more tasks that are specific to your company.

  • Ordering and managing food, drinks, and office equipment.

  • Finding a good office space. If you happen to be based in San Francisco, you would understand how hard it is to find a good office space with a limited budget.

  • General HR: composing a job description, posting a job opening, prescreening candidates, scheduling interviews, and on-boarding a new hire.

  • Financial and legal documents: a trustworthy startup office manager will process all repeat payments and paperwork for new hires.

  • Organizing team and marketing events: team lunch, small hackathons at the office, open office, and so on.

  • Executive assistance: calendaring meeting and business trips.

A truly competent office manager deserves the title of Jack-of-all-trades. They can do lots of things.

### When is the best timing for you to hire an office manager?

The answer is arguably “as soon as possible.” According to dozens of samples I looked at manually, startups in the Bay area seem to hire their first office manager when the company size falls anywhere between 5 to 20. Funding-wise, It’s usually right after when you’ve closed a A round or when you got a relatively large seed funding as Mark Suster explains.(A more meaningful survey could have been done first by scraping the names of company which posted a job description containing “Office Manager” on Craiglist, Linkedin, Angellist, and so on; then matching the names with the company size data from Crunchbase.)

I said ASAP, because you would not be reading this unless you’re past product/market fit. If you’re a team of 3 engineers, your next hire won’t likely be an office manager, although I’ve heard one case from another yc company who hired an office manager as their employee#1.

### Where do you find an awesome office manager?

Here are some options you could explore.

  • Craigslist: quantity guaranteed. $75 per listing posting fee.

  • Hireart: quality, time-saving preview (video interview and work samples)

  • Others: Linkedin, Startuphire, Simplyhired, Indeed, and Angellist

  • Recruiting agency: Convenient but expensive. (usually with the performance-based pricing which takes X% of the base salary of the candidate they deliver to you.)

Craigslist is a good starting point because it’s the place where most applicants look for office manager jobs. Hireart was also good, because you get qualified people and could see their video interview samples, meaning you can filter out many who wouldn’t be a fit before phone interviews.

### How do you qualify a good startup office manager?

Here are five key qualities to look for in an office manager candidate:

  • Cultural fit.

  • Motivation match.

  • Attention to detail.

  • Resourcefulness & Creativity.

  • Verbal and written communication.

All sounds like quite generic traits, but let me elaborate on the first two in more detail.

First, cultural fit is about asking whether a candidate’s personality and energy level would be frictionless with the overall company culture.

Second, motivation match is about asking whether a candidate’s long-term aspiration is aligned with the support or operation role. This element is very important to check as early as possible during the interview, because there are many passionate, smart folks who regard the position merely as a gateway to the higher roles. There’s nothing wrong about the view, but they won’t stay too long in the position which isn’t so great for your company. You would want a person who finds pleasure in the operational role and want to develop skills more on the operational side, not necessarily marketing or sales.

The last three elements are the great advice of Anikka Fragodt, Mark Zuckerberg’s admin. You can find the quote on Quora. Also it’s a good idea to check if a candidate is familiar with various softwares you would need the person to use on the job. (for instance: 9 awesome apps for startup office manager.)

### How do you interview an office manager for your startup? You can ask all the generic questions, but make sure to build an interview structure that will thoroughly test each component of the five key qualities mentioned earlier. Here are some examples Plivo used to qualify a candidate against each quality:

  • Cultural fit: let the applicant talk with at least 3 team members in the face to face meeting for less than 10 minutes. 3 will be a good sample size if you’re small and they can tell you if there’s a personality red flag.

  • Motivation match: Ask “Which role do you like to grow into a year from now, if you’re free to choose?”  Pin their generic answers down to specifics!

  • Attention to detail: Plant 2-3 questions in the job description that would require attention to minute detail to answer. For instance, “what were the two questions asked in the job description?” & “how many sentences did you write your application in?” (I will elaborate on this in the following paragraphs)

  • Resourcefulness/creativity: Share an example where your team made a really tough operational decision and ask how the applicant would approach it. Make sure to keep the case simple but open-ended.

  • Verbal and written communication: you can check through their job application and during the phone and face-to-face interview.

You might have thought it’s just too outrageous to expect an accurate answer to such a question as “how many sentences did you write your application in?”. Check the backstory (how did plivo hire an office manager).

### What’s the appropriate salary level for your office manager?

The compensation varies depending on the experience level of candidates, additional skills they possess, and where your company is based. As for startups in the bay area, the salary for startup office managers can range anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000. The average seems to anchor on around $50,000 in San Francisco.

You might also think whether you should share an equity with office manager. It is frequently asked indeed. Check this Quora thread to see how others approached this. My take on this is that you could definitely consider sharing some equity, once you’re confident the person can be trusted as the one growing together with the team.

### How did Plivo hire its office manager and what can you learn from it?

Here’s a summary: As a marketing person in Plivo, I led the hiring work for the office manager. I’ve used craigslist and Hireart as applicant sourcing channels. I screened 300+ applicants, did phone interview for roughly 20, and did the face-to-face interview with 7 applicants. I gave a task* to 5 of them. And picked one who came out on top.

*check the second point.

All in all, I think there are two things you could learn.

Adding questions in the job description.

Send us an email at jobs(at)plivo(dot)com and tell us in less than 7 sentences 1) why you’re interested in this position and 2) what unique contributions you can make to the Plivo team.

I planted two fairly generic questions in the job description. The original purpose was to make it easier for me to screen the candidates. But it turned out a great way to test the applicant’s attention to minute detail.

This way, you can filter out one-size-fit-all applications—those who don’t answer the questions or write a lot longer than expected.

What to do: check who made an effort to meet your criteria. Check, during the phone interview, who remembers how many sentences they actually wrote in. Be wary of those who say something by guessing. Make sure you ask back “are you really sure about it?” and really check if they have written in the number of sentences they said they’ve done.

Giving them a real task.

I gave a real task which they will do anyway, once coming on board. It’s because there’s no way you can know how an applicant would perform other than seeing actually how they perform. (e.g. we give a coding task to all of our engineer candidates; we give X hours of time and they have to build something interesting using our API and XML. And those who we decided to move forward with quite often surprised us with the results.)

At that time, Plivo was looking to move into a new office space. So I gave 5 people the task of finding 3 options for the new office space with several criteria in mind. (i.e. budget, capacity, kitchen, and etc.)

This task turned out a great way to check how well they research, how they communicate in a working context, and whether they can deliver a result on time. And for candidates, it seemed they could have some real sense of what it would be like to work at Plivo as an Office Manager. So it was a win-win. 

### Conclusion: finding a right office manager is tough.

One thing I realized is that finding a right office manager is tough. Let me say it again, it’s tough and the process can be easily drawn-out.

Why? Because you need be picky. Your office manager would be a go-to person for all members. So the cost of making a hiring mistake is very high. A wrong hire could kill the morale of the entire team.

Also you should be prepared to see lots of noise and total misfits among applicants. It’s a number’s game, as the barrier to entry to this position is very low. Basically almost all can claim that they have what it takes to be a good office manager.

So… you need to be picky and patient. Entrepreneurs, tenacity is called for once again.

Gift given to Plivo

A surprise gift given to our new office manager, Liz. Yes, we love green.

If there are things I forgot to mention, don’t hesitate to ask and discuss in the comment section.

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