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Leadership at All Levels

Employee Acquisition: Listen, Learn, Hire

Lisa Harrington | September 30, 2016

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Introducing new employee

Have you noticed how the unemployment rate has been bouncing around a lot over the last few years? Up, down, up again, so that we might even be lulled into a sense of apathy—or aggravation.

From an employer's perspective, this could either be good news or bad news. Are there employees out there or not? Are they any worth hiring? Why are they unemployed? How do I know which ones are worth the effort to consider?

Wouldn't life be grand if we could retain all the fantastic employees that we currently employ? Reality sets in, though, and attrition is one of those realities. Hiring is a necessary business inevitability.

You have probably interviewed scores of candidates over the years, and for some, it's much easier than others. Here's a quick checklist of ideas for handling hiring: you have to "listen."

L Is for Locate

We have many options for recruitment: trade magazines, online services, recruiters, social media, or online sites via our local newspapers. The trouble is that relying on these options is scattering seeds into the wind. Where will they land? Who will read about the job? Will they have the very specific skill sets that you need for the position? Remember the old life insurance prospecting joke? "Who's a prospect? Anyone who can fog a mirror!" That's no way to find candidates for your open positions!

You'd be better off to target markets for new employees similar to the way you do for new customers. Prepare well, of course. Update the job duties, and make sure the job descriptions are up to date before you do anything else, then look for prospects in some creative new places. For customer service reps (CSRs), look at places where you have experienced great customer service. I once hired someone from a pizza joint; she was a great waitress. A few from our office were regulars at lunch, and she always remembered us. She turned out to be a terrific CSR. Or hire from within your customer prospect base. If you sell to garden stores, you might talk to the vendor's representative that sells them their lawn mowers or fertilizer. That vendor knows the industry, has connections, and just might be ready for a change or know someone who would be interested.

When advertising, it goes without saying these days that you have to go beyond the newspaper. One of the best places is the appropriate trade magazines. If the candidate is an avid reader of one of our industry publications, then you know you have someone who is serious about a career in the field.

Employee referral programs can be terrific because you'll be hiring someone who should fit your culture. It also helps you identify the people in your office who are boasting about their workplace to their friends! Some recruiters have had success at colleges: career days, alumni groups, business clubs, and so on.

I Is for Interview

Preparation is also critical at the interview stage. Consistency in the list of questions that you'll ask each person is helpful. This will give you a good basis of comparison when all the interviews start to muddle together in your head. Many of the profile services such as Omnia, Caliper, and ZeroRisk HR provide the questions. Try using a phone interview first to give you a quick snapshot of a candidate's abilities with clients on the phone. Screen well, and don't be fooled by a great résumé. These days, many are written by a service and don't show you much about the writing talents of the candidate. Look for great cover letters. Even online, there is almost always an opportunity for a cover note. How well does the candidate do with grammar and syntax? For many positions, a test of skills is in order, too. Do they really know the systems or programs they claim to know? I know of a candidate who said, when asked about Excel, "Oh yes, I know that one; it's the one with the gridlines, right?"

Always have more than one person interview the candidate. People react differently to different settings, too. One final warning about interviews: watch out for inappropriate questions. If the question isn't directly related to the actual work to be done, don't ask. Small employers are not exempt from this rule.

S Is for Select

Try to hire to your company's unique culture. You want the person to be a solid fit with your staff. If you haven't read First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, now might be a good time. It discusses why that fit, and having a friend or two at work, can improve productivity. One caveat: if you hire a bunch of people that are all "like each other" when it comes to skills and talents, you can run into different issues. Stagnation and rot set in. You need a diversity of personality types and talent pool. You have clients of all different types; employees are no different.

Finally, when you are sure you have the right candidate, make an offer they can't refuse.

T Is for Train

The very first step is orientation to your company. Give the new employee introductions all around, the grand tour, and a little history. Allow each department manager a few minutes to explain how their group fits into the whole. Review mission statements, values, vision, and even the corporate strategic plan.

Make an education plan early in that first few weeks to round out whatever skills are needed for the new employee to function well. Include professional skills in addition to the requisite continuing education and coverage classes. There are many wonderful sources for training. Ideally, you can also ask a senior staff person to walk the new employee through the firm's best practices for the position.

E Is for Engage

If you won't make an effort to keep an employee, why bother hiring them? Turnover costs are too high to ignore—30 percent of salary, according to an estimate by the American Management Association. Some industries are better off than others; the hospitality industry and telemarketing industries generally have higher turnover rates than office jobs, for example. Articles published on discuss how to calculate turnover rates and interpret the results. The Center for American Progress,, also discusses the increasing cost of turnover, averaging from 16-21.4 percent of the employees' annual salary. In extreme cases it can be over 200 percent of salary.

When employees care about the firm and its mission because you are committed to your industry and your community, you have a better chance of high employee retention. Engage everyone in the firm in the growth of the business, and ask their opinions frequently. Every generation wants to be included, and some are keen on making a difference and being heard. They want to make a contribution. Make use of all that fresh energy, and let them create a plan to position your company as a community leader.

N Is for Nurture

There should be a growth plan for each employee, and it should be shared. What do you see as this employee's future? Share it with them, and discuss it frequently. I know of a business situation that was surprising: the owner had planned to perpetuate his business with a certain employee for many years but didn't discuss it with her. Just a year before he wanted to retire, he brought it up, and she wasn't interested; she had a whole different path in mind for her midcareer stages!

You'll also need to monitor the employee's progress and maintain a personal growth plan for them. Even if you are a small firm, and there aren't promotions to pass around, incremental increases in responsibilities within the same job title can make a big difference in someone's sense of growth and value.

Listen well, and hire well!

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