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How to Hire Terrific Employees: Part One
Part One: Adopt a Screening Process That Reveals Applicants' Qualities & Skills
Choose the staff who make your business inviting to customers and profitable for you. A three-part article hiring process to help you find employees you can trust.
Your customers are looking for more than the latest model or best price. They want to engage with employees who know the products and services, and are also sensitive to their needs. Savvy business owners treasure the peace of mind that comes from having employees with whom they can communicate easily, and are eager to help the business be successful.
Have you ever lost sleep over having to reprimand or fire an employee? Most likely this was due to an unpleasant interaction with a customer or co-worker. Many managers were taught to look for candidates with a background in needed skills. For businesses that depend on excellent customer service, it’s often wiser to hire people who naturally care about others. This is because it is easier to train good-hearted people in practical skills than to try to teach empathy.
You may wonder if you have the knowledge, skill, or patience to direct such a hiring process. Take heart. If you love your business and know your customers, you have all the information you need.
Hire In Haste, Repent In Leisure
It’s tempting to hire someone after one lively conversation. However, this magical feeling of rapport is only one of many important elements that may indicate a good fit. A thorough hiring process benefits everyone. You gain the confidence to make a commitment to new employees, and they are invited to communicate honestly with you.
For twenty years as a psychotherapist and business consultant, I have counseled business owners in solving problems caused by mismatched, unproductive, or insensitive personnel. The best way to avoid this struggle is to use a hiring process that highlights interpersonal qualities as well as an aptitude for the job.
Three Elements of a Thorough Hiring Process
To identify a candidate’s personal qualities, a hiring process needs three distinct elements of screening, probation, and evaluation. Each step gives you the opportunity to determine if a prospective employee can help you meet the goals unique to your business. No one can hurry this exploration and count on good results. Using all three elements allows you to detach from the natural tendency to want to like and be liked. You are not pressured to make an important decision with too little information. Your reward will be finding employees who make your business a delight for the customers, co-workers, and you.
Screen for Qualities as well as Skills
Promise yourself to base this major decision on more than an initial interview. People who shine under pressure and claim dazzling skills will not necessarily have empathy for customers or loyalty to you. Someone who appears less confident initially may turn out to be an ideal employee.
Make sure the job application includes questions to answer in writing: describe interests, unusual background, or skills. Find out if they are artists or photographers, what their hobbies are. Where have they traveled? What books have they read?
You can sense how they would interact with your customers while discussing their interests and experience. You can weigh their ability to carry on open conversation, which is a basis of good sales and customer satisfaction.
Get the Most from the Initial Interview
This is where you learn if job candidates follow your instruction and respect your time, and how they dress for work. Schedule at least an hour – you do not want to hurry this process. Use the following guidelines to make your meeting as productive as possible:
- Throughout the interview, remind yourself to stay neutral and avoid showing negative reactions or giving eager praise during an interview. Breathe easily to keep calm and centered. Allow short silences between your questions. Pay attention to expressions and body language as well as words.
- Hold the interview at your business, even if it means meeting before or after regular working hours. It’s important for them to see the workplace and for you to watch their responses.
- Make it clear you want them to arrive on time, dressed for work, with a fully completed application, and three work and two personal references.
- Ask them to write their reasons for wanting to work in your business. Include a request to write briefly about personal interests and unique experiences. Note if the handwriting is legible (ask for a sample during this meeting if the application is typed).
Begin the interview by reading the application with care. Did they follow instructions? How do they communicate in writing? Invite them to discuss work and life experiences, and if there was anything they want to add after they have seen your business. Notice if they interrupt you and how thoughtfully they answer questions. You are looking for clues about their ability to listen to customers and other staff.
Discover Applicants’ Working Style and Personal Qualities
Always use a script when interviewing candidates. Prepared questions allow you to focus on the most important topics. Avoid setting them up for “yes/no” answers. Give real examples from your own experience. You want them to see the importance of discretion and customer service. Let their answers direct your follow-up comments and queries to disclose their strengths and limitations. The following questions take you deeper than surface impressions.
- What do you imagine you would like best about working here?
- “It will be easier than my last job.”
- “I don’t know”
- “I haven’t thought about it.”
- “I love the kinds of projects and products you have.”
- “I like helping people.”
- “I’m intrigued by what you do/sell.”
What were difficult elements of your last job?
Also, tell me about your favorite parts.
- Notice body language: Is she really thinking, or merely treating these as tricky questions?
- Quick denial that there could be any challenges.
- Defensive or blaming comments about her last boss or co-workers.
- Meets your gaze and gives genuine responses that reveal self-doubts or fears.
- Talks about previous employment with a positive spin on facing difficulties; honest assessment about why she did not work out there.
- Likes similar elements of this job opening.
Follow-up comments and questions:
Everyone starting a new job runs into obstacles. They need to ask questions and suggest new ideas. When someone makes a mistake, they need to be able to come to their supervisor and explain what happened. Always ask: How might we work together to avoid the problems you had in other work situations?
Continue this article…
Part Two: Teach Applicants About Your Business During Screening and Probation
Part Three: Build Interactive Evaluation into Probation and Training
Cynthia Wall, LCSW, is a therapist, consultant, and the author of The Courage to Trust: a guide to building deep and lasting relationships (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publication, 2005). In consultations, she assists a small business translate the successful strategies of larger corporations and supervise employees with compassionate honesty. Contact Cynthia at www.CynthiaWall.com.
Published in Networking Today, February 2006.
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