Moving dirt to find diamonds

Thirteen and half percent unemployment is no laughing matter. As our community continues to languish in the job creation department I have been privy to the unique and often disappointing candidate pool. Sure, there are a lot of people to interview if you are fortunate enough to be hiring right now, but it takes more work than ever to find those employees with potential, ambition, skills and professionalism. I do this for a living and I am continually surprised at what is perceived as acceptable by both applicants and employers.

Here are a few tips for employers on how to identify employable mediocrity when it comes to professional appearance and behavior. These are people who can work, have some skills, but just don't make the wow meter register.

1. I was shopping over the weekend and at the counter was a woman with her daughter checking out ... she (the mother) was wearing bright red, full length, zip up, footie pajamas. The outfit made the impression, but now I won't forget the face either, nor will other potential employers who happened to see her that day. Always be on the look out for acceptable dress, or at least age-appropriate sleep wear if you're going out on the town.

2. I've stopped counting the number of people who apply for jobs in sweat pants and slippers. When did this become standard interview attire? Wherever you are, you are making an impression on others. It's all right to let applicants know you're a professional company and your expectations include wearing shoes as part of your informal dress code.

3. I am always on the lookout for great service. The workforce in retail, restaurant and other services walk a tough beat, and those that are good at it, transition well into professional service related jobs. On the flip side I always make a mental note when the clerk rolls their eyes at having to help someone, or flat-out ignores customers who enter the store to spend their money to keep them employed, or treats people with anything less than common courtesy and respect. They won't work there long and you should remember not to hire them when they come knocking on your door wanting a job.

4. Interview with expectations in mind. What does this person need to do for your company in order for you to consider them a good hire? I assume you actually want some tangible work out a new hire, so please ask them if they can do that work. Get some examples of when they have done something similar in their past. Don't hire the first person you like. The onus is you to conduct a great interview, not on them to blow your socks off with charm and wit.

5. This is a true story. I had an applicant who had listed 11 different employers in the past two years. Now if you were employer one, two or three ... OK, but employer No 11, what were you thinking when you offered the job? This person for any number of reasons is not a good investment for the long term. Read the applicant job history and look for the red flags like terminations, job hopping, quitting because of conflicts with others, accidents etc. Prior work history is the number one predictor of future performance. You should spend a significant amount of time listening to an applicant's history of what they did, how they did it and how well it was done.

6. I know some employers who are really clever interviewers. They read the book on behavioral interviewing, dreamt up some clever questions to spring on applicants like ... "If you were going to mow the lawn would you use a power mower or a pair of scissors?" It's good to look for a mind at work but unless you really know what your doing with behavioral interviewing, stick to getting to know a person and their accomplishments. That way you don't need Freud to interpret your notes to decide if you should hire them or not.

7. Run background checks, and do drug tests. They are cheap and fast now and there is no reason not to do it before you hire someone. Here is what I have seen in applicants: Delivery drivers with DUI records, collection agents and accountants with theft convictions, health care workers with assault charges and the list goes on. As soon as an applicant asks if you run these tests you should be on high alert ... especially when they ask "how far back do you look, or what drugs do you test for."

8. Don't overlook the gems. The old thinking that really qualified people are not a good hire for a lesser job because they will just leave as soon as better pay comes along is just wrong. Most of those candidates are really good for reasons beyond just their skill. They're good people. If you treat them well, give them an opportunity to learn, contribute and grow, the pay falls far down the list of reasons to move on. These are the candidates hiding in the masses of the unemployed and it takes diligence to find them. But when you do you should make every effort to hire them, use their skills and build a stronger team. You and your company will be better off for having done it even if they do leave for greener pastures. Don't settle for mediocrity. Always hire the absolute best you can afford.

You do have to move a ton of dirt to find a diamond, but that is why they are so valuable. Keep looking, they're out there.

Steve Conine is owner of Talent Framework and the Reno office of AccuStaff. Contact him at 322-5004 or


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