A 10-minute pre-screening interview maximizes your time.
  • How to hire the right person for your small business. 10 must-know tips for employers!

    September 14, 2012

    How to hire the right person for your small business. 10 must-know tips for employers!

    Learn how I apply my grandmother McCabe’s wisdom, “The proof is in the pudding”. Google all prospective candidates.

    By Maureen McCabe

    One of your most important responsibilities as the owner or senior manager is to hire the right people. I have made mistakes and offer a few tips to help you avoid what I learned first-hand – the cost of hiring the wrong person.

    Recently, I wrote a job description for a client. Marcel felt that my two-page comprehensive write-up had too many details; it was far too long. He trusted my judgment and it was posted. After reviewing the resumes, he commented that he had never seen such high quality candidates in his 35 years of hiring. The following tips are proven!

    You know the success of your business is dependent upon the staff’s ability to deliver excellence customer service, consistently, and your product and/or service. By hiring the right person you can raise the competence of your entire company and help Generate More Profits (my tag line).

    1. Comprehensive Job Description

    My golden rule is to be very descriptive to enable people to de-select themselves. This will maximize your time and minimize your risk of hiring what I call a “short-term” employee. Specify the Job Duties/Accountabilities, Education, and Core Skills in detail.  Where possible, indicate the percentage of time by job duty or group of duties. For example, 50% answering phones, 20% administrative, 15% website support, and 15% other. Specify the skill level expected, and what is mandatory vs. optional.

    When I worked at IBM a manger once told me that his decision was based on the candidate’s skill set, experience, and long-term potential for management/executive level. In a small business, there isn’t the opportunity for multiple promotions, perhaps only one, or none. Be honest in the job description, otherwise you may end up hiring what I call a “job-hopper” someone who stays long enough to get some experience only to leave in 12-18 months because they don’t see a long-term career or opportunity for growth.

    TIP 1: Specify that a cover letter is required and they must provide three reasons as to why they would be an asset to your business. This will force them to reflect on the job description and their skill set. It will enable you to screen the applicants for their ability to think and communicate their value. You want “thinking” employees – don’t you? (A letter enables you to evaluate in part, their written English proficiency, which is often different than the resume where most people have had some help.)

    TIP 2: Include the following or similar statement in the job description: Attitude is everything. There is no such phrase as, “This is not my job.” You will read later why this is recommended.

    2. Communication Skills

    Can they read and follow instructions? I know this may sound simple but if you request the following (TIP 3) in the job description to reduce the possibility of getting a Trojan Horse when you open a file – you will be shocked by how few people comply.

    TIP 3:
    We request that the resume be sent as a PDF vs. MS word document or other format.

    I was shocked by the number of people who sent resumes without their name on the document. One woman impressed me: she indicated in the email that she didn’t have the ability to save it as a PDF and copied and pasted it into the email. She automatically earned a 10-minute phone interview.

    NOTE: You might even want to refer your applicants to my blog when they don’t send a PDF; there are likely other tips that will help them which will maximize your time. Part 2 – Nine Olympic job search tips to help you get the job of your dreams.

    TIP 4: Avoid a plethora of calls by including this phrase: No phone inquiries, please.

    You will still receive a few calls; however, you are not obligated to return them. It can be difficult when they catch you “live” so to speak. I always explain that due to the dozens of applicants, unfortunately, I’m unable to respond to any calls out of fairness to all. I always respond to the first follow-up email regarding their application – but only the first. Like you, I’m a busy business owner working evenings and some weekends; we need to maximize our time to generate more profits.

    3. How to Find Applicants

    If you have the time, I recommend that you follow these steps, sequentially. The more serious job searchers monitor job boards daily or have “alerts” set up so that they are automatically updated.

    Step 1: Ask your staff, other business owners, friends, and families. You will be surprised by the number of excellent candidates that you will find.

    Step 2: Identify job boards that are typically free such as universities, colleges, Craigslist and Kijiji. If after five to seven business days you have not found any strong candidates then I would suggest you move to step 3.

    The campus job boards are ideal if you are looking for a new graduate or someone with limited work experience. The most serious job searchers check their campus job boards daily.

    Regarding Craigslist and Kijiji, I have found that 90% of the applicants send a resume without answering the “3 reasons” question, however; there were some excellent candidates who did make the time to tweak their resume and cover letter and were interviewed. These job boards are great for administrative and customer service roles. I had a client who hired two registered massage therapists from Craigslist; I can attest that they were wonderful hires.

    Step 3: If you are willing to spend a few hundred dollars you can post the position on a large job board such as Workopolis and LinkedIn.

    The price to post a job varies upon the board, for example to list a position for 30 days in only Ontario, Workopolis charges $725 and LinkedIn, $300. I find that although Workopolis is slightly more expensive than Yahoo/Monster it yields more applicants. I prefer LinkedIn for senior positions (over $75,000) as business professionals are actively engaged on this site.

    If you want to spend big bucks, seek an employment agency or executive search firm. There are definite advantages to “investing” the money with the option. The quality of the candidates presented is strong because they provide a comprehensive screening process. You will likely only need to meet with a handful of candidates which maximizes your time. However, I wouldn’t explore this option until you have tried the previous steps.

    4. Social Media – Google them!

    Have you Googled the candidate’s name?  Do they have a profile on LinkedIn, twitter, or Facebook page? What are they saying on Yelp and other public review sites?

    You will likely learn more about the candidate than what they included in their resume and cover letter, again which may helpful to select or de-select them. You may choose not to interview a candidate based on some of their public comments which is your right as an employer! Google is an employer’s best friend.

    5. Pre-screening Interview

    A short 10-minute telephone interview is helpful to determine which candidates are most suitable for a face-to-face interview. How they answer the phone or recall applying for the position (you’ll find that some do not!) and their overall response to an unexpected call are helpful indicators in your search for the ideal employee.

    If they ask to schedule the phone appointment – that’s great. It means that they are professional and realize that your call requires their undivided attention. Perhaps they want to look at the job description to ensure they are prepared for the conversation and communicate their key skills. 

    6. The Interview

    It’s best if you start the conversation by exploring a hobby or interest that they referenced on their resume, something that you learned about them when you “Googled” them, or something equally innocuous. The objective is to help them to relax and be at their best.

    When the formal part of the interview starts, ask very specific questions about their skills, always request specific examples, and continue to ask questions until you have no lingering doubts. Probe deeply.

    Years ago there was a standard “where do you see yourself in 5 years” question. Today, it should be phrased as “three years” – you’ll be surprised how many people are candid and share their goals. As a business owner do you think it’s realistic to hire people who will be happy in essentially the same job for five or seven years, or even longer? Even in this economy retaining employees is still a challenge for many small business owners which is why I suggested being clear about long-term growth and opportunity in the job description.

    In the following example you will see that I did not probe deeply, but in the end I had the luck of the Irish…

    I asked the candidate about his university program and was told about his 4 years on campus and courses studied in the BA program. I never asked – did you graduate, what degree did you earn? Shame on me because during the reference check I learned that he was one credit short of graduating. Although I like legal books and movies, I’m not Perry Mason cross-examining the applicant on the stand – but maybe we should be???

    Technically speaking, I did not ask the pointed question and he didn’t indicate that he had a “BA” on his resume. I would have still offered the position, if he had been more forthcoming. I pulled the offer because I felt that if he were more forthcoming, I would be confident to trust him. He tried skating too close to the line; he wasn’t sufficiently candid and he lost.

    TIP 4:  Confirm their attitude.

    Since you indicated in the job description: “Attitude is everything. There is no such phrase as “This is not my job” – ask a question that requires two examples where they did something that was not their job. Probe to find out how it made them feel. Anyone can give one example, but two requires more thinking. 

    This type of question is more useful than an interviewer asking a philosophical question such as: “If you were a tree, what type of tree would you want to be?” The answer isn’t important but rather how the candidate approaches the answer is key. It demonstrates their ability to think on their feet, how they will deal with the unexpected such as an unusual inquiry from a customer, and yes their attitude.

    I was once asked, “Maureen, can you stand on your head?” I smiled warmly and said, “No, I can’t but if it is a job requirement I can learn – or – provide the resource to ensure it’s done by the person with the most appropriate skill set.” I was told that it was the best answer ever given. The manager had been asking that question for years and was infamous for it.

    Attitude is everything! Oh, and yes, I did get the job.

    7. Body Language

    Watch their eyes closely. If they look you straight in the eye they tend to be telling the truth. If they move their eyeballs upward toward their eyebrows or forehead they are typically trying to remember something.

    Caution – if they look down toward the lower eye lashes or out of the corner of the eye, it’s accepted wisdom there may be some exaggerating or lying. In some cultures it is difficult for people to look you in the eye. Should you exclude them as a candidate – the choice is yours.

    Forget about the open and closed body language gurus who state if the arms are crossed over their chest they are not open. Sometimes I am cold while other women may be self-conscious.

    8. Involve Others

    Larger companies and big corporations have hiring panels. Multiple perspectives help with selecting the right person. As a small business owner it’s key to engage your employees in the hiring process; I think it’s a better process having been on both sides of the desk.

    Ask co-workers to meet with the final candidates – it’s important for good teaming. Let the team determine if they will be able to get along well and play nicely. The new employee must fit into your workplace environment, not the other way around. As well, in a more relaxed atmosphere the prospective candidate will likely be more natural. This is healthy for both parties. To hire great people that will fit into your culture is vital, that’s why multiple interviews and formats are best.

    9. The Proof is in the Pudding

    To quote Grandma McCabe, “The proof is in the pudding”. If you need specific skills provide a short test to confirm the proficiency level before you make the job offer. A 30-minute assignment such as typing and format a one-page document in MS Word or updating a flyer in Photoshop provides a preliminary and typically accurate skill assessment.

    Can you tell that I hired a receptionist who said she could type? After 25 minutes of watching her use 4 fingers to update a template letter, I let her go. However, this occurred 10 weeks after I hired her. I didn’t spend time at the front desk watching my employees work; I assumed incorrectly that she was efficient at performing her duties. My error in believing vs. seeing her demonstrate the skill set prior to making a job offer.

    10. Trust Your Gut.

    As a small business owner you know that time is money; you often operate by trusting your gut. At this point in the interview process, you have spoken to the candidate on the phone, met with them face-to-face, and have had your staff provide feedback.

    If you are not 100% sure that s/he is the right person to join your team, it’s time to re-look at other candidates. Or, take 30 minutes and invite them to Tim’s for a coffee. Get to know them a little better – then trust your gut.

    The Bottom-line

    If you have not Googled your prospective employee yet, since you are about to present an offer – do it now! Who knows what you will learn and if it will reinforce or negate your decision to make the job offer.

    P.S. The job offer and reference checking are the final steps; there are many excellent checklists available from governmental agencies. Yes, the government can be helpful to small business owners at times!

    P.P.S. (short for post-post script) – If you would like help to write a detailed job description or for ideas on how to enhance your write-up, please let me know.

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