Some Truths About Hiring

| January 15, 2009 | 0 Comments

By Samantha Kurtz | January 15, 2009

Here’s a scenario for you.  You’ve decided you would like a long-term, committed relationship.  You are very busy and find it difficult to meet people so you opt to look through the classifieds.  You find several people who spark your interest.  You invite them to meet you at Starbucks to feel them out.  You have a probing one hour chat over a latte and then decide to proffer an offer of marriage (after you check their references of course).  Good way to pick a marriage partner?  Probably not, right?

Then why do we think it’s a prudent way to choose personnel??? 

…I suppose you could take the approach to the prospective relationship negotiated in this manner that, “What the heck, if it doesn’t work out we can always get a divorce.

I’m not sure how many of you have gone through a divorce, but I would doubt it’s on anyone’s top ten list of easiest things to navigate.  I’m not even sure why people think this way when it comes to personnel, since the one thing managers hate to do the most is fire people.  It’s an ugly task, not to mention expensive in terms of lost profit from the position vacated, recruiting/training time needed for replacement, inefficiency of initial job performance of a new hire, etc.

I think I know what you might just be muttering under your breath right now, “Easy for you to say, but there aren’t that many people lining up at the door and I need to get staffed up in a hurry.”   I hear you.  Finding good people is certainly becoming a more and more difficult task.  Why?

Well, two reasons actually.  The first is the Boomer generation is retiring.  These people were socialized to be workaholics.  They are being replaced by the Gen-X crowd who come to the workplace with a highly different set of ethics.  Their parents wanted a place they could prove themselves.  These “children” (admit it, that’s how we often view them) want a place which proves itself to them.  That’s right; they believe it’s your job to sell your operation to them, in terms of how closely it meets their needs.  They expect a higher income than they have a track record to justify (they don’t view themselves as being unreasonable here, they are just accustomed to a certain standard of living established by their parents and now expect that to be sustained by their employer), balance between their personal lives and their work lives (don’t even think of calling them on their day off), a strong team environment (they were socialized in play groups and after-school child care centers), and lots of room for a raise (which is generally expected within a few months of starting since this is, after all, the “instant message” generation).  Find all that hard to swallow?  Well, you might want to consider getting over it because pretty soon it’s going to be the only pool to go fishing in for prospective employees.  If you were thinking of holding out to try to lure in Gen-Y, you may want to reconsider because, put simply, they are nothing more than Gen-X on steroids in the workplace. Enough said?

The second reason it’s hard to find people is the current economic environment.  People are reticent to move away from an established income without sufficient reason.  Their approach then is to stay put until a possibly better opportunity presents itself.  What constitutes better?  Generally, more money, or better placement within an organizational structure (known as a promotion – along with more money), or an overall better work environment (fill in the blanks here, there are as many definitions of what is a “good” environment as there are people looking to find it).  So unless you’re willing to cough up substantial non-refundable signing bonuses, or have benefits packages which far outshine the competition, you may be at a loss to entice these people away from the pond they’ve been wading in.  Truth be told, even if they interview with you, often it’s just so they can return to their current employer and use your offer as inducement to up the ante back home (and most of the time they get it – if they don’t, then perhaps you’re “catching” another fisherman’s “reject” which is never the best of ideas).  And suppose you are able to attract these “superstars” away for a few more “morsels” – what does that say about their longevity in your operation when the next “angler” desperately offers the possibility of somewhat better bait?  Can you spell “adios”?

So what’s a desperate organization to do?  Well, at the risk of taking this fishing analogy one step too far: cast a broader net.  Stop looking for the “seasoned professional” – that’s right, skip seeking the person who you believe will “hit the stream swimming” and start seeking the person who would rather hit the job head-on with enthusiasm, willingness to learn, and a desire to serve the customer instead of solely concentrating on being served by the company they work for.  Who are these people and where might they reside?  Think about any service-oriented business and begin recruiting there.  For an example, my personal favorite is the restaurant industry for sales people: servers are accustomed to working on commission (called a tip); encounter the customer’s particular idiosyncrasies at every turn (have you heard how picky some people’s food orders are?); find themselves in a customer “care” mode much of the time (mollifying dissatisfied diners when the cook doesn’t get it right, or they – the server – wrote up the order wrong); feel retail hours actually comprise part-time work; and are “cold call” pros (consider this, they spend all their time approaching total strangers and working to ingratiate themselves).

Yes, yes, I know.  At this moment you’re probably compiling a list of all those people you’ve encountered at one fast-food, sit-down restaurant or another who yawned in your face when they took your order.  Please don’t hire those people – it would be a definite mistake.  Instead, look for the shining star with the absolutely great attitude, or for servers at finer restaurants.  It won’t cost you – or them – anything to talk, except time (and they can come in during the day).

In terms of administrative and/or warehouse personnel, you may want to look into temp agencies and then hire the people who meld with your culture.  Worried it’s too expensive?  Compared to what exactly? – your bills for placing classified ads in your local papers or on Monster repeatedly?  Even if it is a little more than you intended to spend on hiring, how much is it worth to you not only to know the prospective person is a good performer, but genuinely enjoys working in your company?  From my perspective that type of on-the-job information is worth its weight in gold.

If you find unconventional methods of hiring still a little too adventurous for your taste, at least take into consideration coming to terms with some myths about the process which I believe sorely deserve to be shattered:

  • 1) Resumes count – They don’t. At best a resume is exactly what it’s intended to be – a classified ad where a person attempts to sell themselves to you in the most flattering manner possible. Very few resumes are entirely accurate. The person either re-writes their job history to fit your posting, or leaves things out which they feel are “superfluous.” Anything you need to check – like honesty regarding employment history – can be checked from a standard application form.
  • 2) References should be checked – Only if you have too much time on your hands. Ponder this: who would list someone as a reference who would “slam” them, and if they did, would you really want to hire someone that idiotic? Even attempting to check past performance is often a waste of effort. Just because someone excelled in their former company is no guarantee they will excel in yours. Unless you are comparing “apples” to “apples” the exercise is a practice in futility. Your company culture, rules, norms, etc., are different – even if the product you sell is the same – and so someone else’s “star” could easily turn out to be your “problem” (or vice versa).
  • 3) Tricky interview questions will give you great insight into the character of a potential hire – Actually it will give you more insight into how good a student they are. There are literally hundreds of “Interviewing for Dummies” books out there, and it’s doubtful you’ll be asking questions they’ve never heard before (unless this is their first job interview). Want to assess job skill under pressure? Ask them to perform some task, right on the spot, that they will be required to do in their new position (have them sell you something, point out things in your warehouse which could be improved, do an excel spread sheet, etc.). The most egregious exaggerations which occur on resumes are in the area of skill sets – and the ones which are the most difficult to truly check – so, be sure you attempt to confirm any skills claims as closely as possible.
  • 4) Attitude can be trained – Just about as easily as world hunger can be cured. Approximately 80% of people’s differences in happiness are attributable to their genes. What this means is some people are just innately more friendly and upbeat than others. The other 20% of their personality will be determined by their environment. A good environment will reinforce a positive attitude, a bad one will dampen it – it’s as simple as that (except, once again, definitions of “good” are as varied as the people who conceive of them). Many prospective/new hires regrettably have less than glowing personalities. Well all I can say is, if they are acting this way on their first “date” with you, what is it going to be like when the 90 day probationary “honeymoon” is over? Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s merely the result of them being “anxious” – even if that’s true, what does it bode for you and your customer when that person encounters the myriad nerve-wracking situations which occur in a typical business environment on a daily basis?
  • 5) It’s a good idea to “sell” your company to the applicant – Only if you are seeking astronomical turnover. 82% of employees who leave a job, state the reason they did so was because expectations established during the initial hiring process were never met. You will be far better off painting a totally realistic picture of your operation/the position and then filling in any gaps with possible goals you may have for future improvement.
  • 6) Trusting your “gut level” feeling about an applicant is advisable – NOT! Let’s put it this way: I am a trained psychologist and I developed a standardized screening tool for prospective hires because even I – with all my experience – can’t totally trust my intuition when it comes to people. My personal feelings regarding the applicant (commonly known as “rapport”) can serve to cloud my judgment, since I’m just as human as the next person – I have hopes, expectations, desires, etc., for filling the position. Although it’s certainly important to at least like the people you’ll be working with on some level, the objective of good hiring is just that: to remain as cool-headed, farsighted, objective, and unemotional as possible during the process. Find a tool – any tool – which will assist you in achieving that goal and it will serve you well in terms of building your company for the long haul of a true “marriage” rather than allowing you to give into the possible “allure” of engaging a string of “crushes” which may quickly fizzle out.
  • And that’s the irony of the situation: hiring people is the ultimate blind date with stakes which far exceed personal choice – this is a choice you’re making for everyone in your company and the consumer who financially supports it.  Great companies start with great people.  People of exceptional capability are not the ones who build remarkable companies (for there are not that many of them around, even in good economic times) – astounding companies are built by ordinary people who are willing to expend extraordinary effort.  So in your search for the right “stuff” for your company, keep in mind the wise words of Tom Peters:  Competitive advantage is not gained through the achievement of some spectacular initiative or the advancement provided by the adoption of some amazing technological marvel; it is gained by your people being willing to persistently seek the mundane edge on a daily basis.”  Objectively seek that goal, so you won’t subjectively be led to disappointment.

    And by the way: happy casting!

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