In business, why is hiring your first employee the most important skill to learn? Because this person will either make or cost you money. If you do not take the time and energy to master this ability, it can cost your business a great deal.
When I am launching a new business idea, and working 70 hours a week, I don't have the time it takes to advertise, take phone calls or resumes, schedule interviews and meet with dozens of prospects. Sometimes I can get lucky, but the odds are like winning the lottery. And while there are very expensive programs and techniques that one can invest to find the right employees, the following is the best of the tried and tested during my many hiring scenarios.
First, let's take a look at companies like Nordstrom, Microsoft and Disney. They receive 100's of applicants for every position. When I started out, I would get two, maybe three applicants for any one position I was trying to fill. These are not very good odds. Why would a hundred applicants be better than three?
The answer is pretty obvious: The more choices you have, the better the odds in finding the right person for the job. And I can just hear, "But I don't have the time to interview 100 people!" My answer: You don't have the luxury not to. Let's take this from a gambling game to an 80 - 90% sure thing by using some techniques I've learned over 50 years as an entrepreneur.
Here are five questions to be answered:
- Be specific ~ What is the ideal employee for my kind of business/company?
- How do I get a large number of prospects to apply?
- How do I interview all these applicants with my limited time?
- What kinds of questions should I be asking every applicant?
- How do I finally select the one I am looking for...that great match?
1) Be Specific: Profile Your Ideal Employee/Associate.
Write down the ten values/characteristics you want this person to have. Ask for the moon as you have nothing to lose at this point.
Example: Self-motivated, high integrity, high energy, optimistic, adventurous, enthusiastic, fun-loving, people-person, loves travel, likes new challenges.
I almost forgot the most important one which I look for every time, "must be teachable". On the skill level, the following description also determines how much you are willing to pay: Product knowledge, equipment knowledge, bookkeeping, computer skills, and years of experience. The more specific I can be, the greater my chances of attracting my idea employee.
2) How Do I Get a Large Number of Prospects to Apply?
Before the internet, I always placed the largest ad I could barely afford in the Sunday edition of the most-read newspaper in the area. It's still not a bad idea as all large news journals are now on the internet. Signs such as "Now Interviewing at Your Place of Business" are good. I never use the word "hiring" for reasons explained later.
Whenever I opened a restaurant, my goal was to have 500 show up for interviews, whatever the cost. I would hire from 40 to 70 employees from that number, depending on the store requirement. Sound overwhelming? It can be if you don't put some of the techniques to work in the following question, No. 3. In order to get the maximum number of prospects to show up, I would use the following terms: "A FUN place to work"; "Part of a growing team"; "Opportunity to learn the business"; "Bonuses and rewards for outstanding work"; "Appearance counts". We also listed benefits, but the thing that always outweighed benefits was the need to be acknowledged.
3) How do I Interview All These Applicants?
In 1981, I was hired to recruit a Publicity Director for a large shopping center in my area. I interviewed the shop owners in the mall to build a profile of the kind of person they wanted, wrote an ad based on their input, and had some 200 people show up for interviews. I hired two people to assist, and we had two days of interviews that lasted from two to five minutes. In this short time, we rated them from 1 - 10 and brought back the 10's. From this list, we selected ten finalists and on the third day, with 30 and 60-minute screenings, we found our ideal candidate. By spending time and resources to accomplish this task, the shopping center acquired a director far above their expectations.
Rules for Interviewing:
- Never answer the question for the applicant.
- Never ask a question that can be answered 'yes' or 'no'.
- Always be asking yourself if this person fits the profile.
- Always be evaluating this person on a scale of 1 - 5.
- Be sensitive to body language and signs that indicate addiction.
- Be checking appearance as this will be the best they look during their employment.
Give a questionnaire that you have prepared for them to fill out before the personal interview in order to make the best use of your time. On one sheet, create a self-inventory list. Have the applicant rate him/herself on a scale of 1 - 5, with 1 being the least.
On the left column, use the following words: caring, honest, integrity, sensitive, enthusiastic, calm, high-energy, aware, stable, confident, can make quality decisions, healthy sense of humor, teachable, creative, enjoys working with a team, Initiative, able to work independently, works well under pressure, stays rational in crisis, organized, outgoing, like yourself, and playful.
From this list, have each applicant select 5 words that best describes who they are. Separately, list all the technical skills and processes that are needed to do this job. Have one column for 'no experience' and five columns from 1 - 5 titled 'minimally proficient' to 'very proficient'. This will save valuable time during your interview.
4) What Questions should I be Asking?
Always ask open-ended questions. Here are some examples that will give your applicant the opportunity to tell you more of who they are, and what they bring:
- How did you decide on this kind of work?
- Of your past jobs, which one did you like the best...the least? Why?
- Why should we hire you?
- What strengths do you bring to this position? Be specific.
- What are your career goals for the next two years? Five years?
- If you could have made two improvements in your last job, what would they have been?
- What are your plans for self-improvement?
- What is it in your life that gets you really excited? Your passion?
- How often were you absent or late at your last job?
- Describe for me the amount of supervision you prefer?
- Who was your best employer? Your worst? Why?
- Tell me 3 of your life goals.
These are a few examples. Your particular business may require that you adjust this list. Of course, as the employer, throughout the interview, I am also asking myself the question if I would enjoy being with this person? Would I trust him/her with my home, my customers, my wallet?
At the end of the interview, I suggest we see if the applicant likes working with us, and if we would like working with him/her. A trial period of one week, or in some cases, one month, will be enough time to decide whether or not this will be a long-term hire. This gives each of us an out during the trial period. It is the same wisdom used in dating before committing to a long-term relationship.
5) How do I Select the One I'm Looking For?
Through the past 50 years of selecting employees, and doing it currently with a new company, I have discovered that it is not really that complicated if you have invested the time and energy to go through the first four questions. After the trial period, they will have selected you, and you them, and you will discover that it occurred organically.
Now, that wasn't so hard, was it?!
With practice, trial and error, and using these techniques, you will find yourself improving rapidly at the skill of hiring. The first four managers I hired didn't work out. I was in a position of needing to learn how to hire with more skill, or my business would never have been able to grow. I believe these proven ideas will take the fear out of choosing your next hire.
Good luck and good hunting!