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Hiring from the bottom up

Steve Conine

Today business survival hangs in the balance of falling sales, shrinking budgets, and evaporating credit, so having employees that can perform is an absolute must. Hiring quality employees is arguably the toughest challenge a small business owner faces. Finding that “go to” person for the team requires gauging a person’s intelligence, skills, personality, motivation, and more.

Sure, there are lots of tests, models, books and other sage advice that help with prediction, but how successful someone is on the job depends on more than the person themselves that depends a lot on you, the employer. Whether it’s technology, the business climate, the business plan, or cash flow, hiring the right person requires business owners to know what they need done before they can look for someone to do it.

In the race to cut costs and redistribute workloads, employers may find that they’ve lost a key person or stifled others with new responsibility to the point of failure. You may now actually be in a place to hire someone. So how do you hire the right person without wasting resources? If we rush to fill an empty seat then a poor hiring choice is inevitable. This is a universal problem for all companies, however a bad hire hurts a small business far more than it hurts a large corporation.

One major misstep small business owners routinely make is putting little effort into hiring their lowest-level employees. I’ve known many an owner or manager who will spend two weeks debating what copier to buy from Costco for $500, but spend an hour or less on hiring their next employee. (They’ll cost you double that in the first week and that’s if they do everything right.) These are usually the people with the most exposure to your customers, vendors and suppliers. Don’t wait for the midnight infomercial on hiring, follow some simple rules and you can make a great hire at every level in your organization.

Throw out your old job description and make a list of the things that this person needs to get done. This isn’t a wish list so be realistic, account for tasks big and small, be as comprehensive as possible. Include timeframes, budgets and deliverables so everyone knows what to expect before they accept. A bonus you can use this later to manage individual performance and conduct reviews from this same document.

Get prepared. Write the interview questions down in advance. Skip the small talk questions like “tell me about yourself” and focus on the tasks you’ve identified. Have they done them before? Can they do them again? How well did they do them? Be ready to drill down and find out if they have done something similar in their past that translates to what your looking for. Have them describe that work in detail.

Put your biases aside. This is the hardest task of all. Favoring people in your own image and likeness is a common hiring mistake. Stay focused on what needs to be done on the job, and if the person is capable of delivering results. Don’t let first impressions decide for you. Trust the process and see what you can learn about the candidate with an open mind. Hiring should not be about likability. It should be about identifying who can deliver the results you need. When a new hire can do the job, you’ll be surprised at how much you learn to like them.

Don’t put too much emphasis on specifics such as education, technical skills, and industry experience that screen out qualified candidates too quickly. Today’s market has a lot of capable people, they just might come from a different industry than you’re used to looking at. You may need to spend some extra time to understand their skills and how they relate to your needs. Remember, Ronald Reagan made movies with monkeys. Turns out that was pretty good experience for a later job.

Forget about the past. Using only past employees as benchmark against future candidates is a mistake.

Focusing on who used to do the job or how they did it will cloud your judgment on how to get today’s job done and utilize a new person’s skills and abilities.

Understand that interview behavior and job performance are two different things. Don’t be fooled by a great actor who doesn’t have the goods. We also don’t want to eliminate someone prematurely who is shy, or introverted. It takes a substantial effort and good listener to seek to understand what candidates are telling you about their abilities. Remember nervousness plays a big part in an interview, and it’s the employers responsibility to put the candidate at ease.

Look for core success factors. The five best predictors of long-term success are self-motivation, leadership, comparable past performance, job-specific problem solving and adaptability. Candidates either have them or they don’t. You must determine which factors are critical for your position and weigh them carefully if they do not meet your standards.

Ignoring a candidate’s needs. Just because there are a lot of people looking for work don’t think you get

the pick of the litter. To get the best, you still have make an effort, put your best foot forward and aim to impress. Top candidates can sniff out a bargain hunter in second. They share cheap offers and shady tactics with everyone they meet and it will hurt your reputation and ability to hire top talent in the future.

Take your time. Not budgeting enough time for the search, shallow sourcing and superficial interviews are fast track to hiring wrong and having to do it all over again. I promise this route will cost you a lot more than a new copier.

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