Hiring and training quality team members is challenging for even the best managers. Spending a little time in an interview setting doesn’t provide much insight to how people will react to others. Very few people walk into an interview with a bad attitude. Even if they hate the company, the need for a job turns the most outspoken critic into a raving fan.
The best employees are the ones who genuinely care about customers and like the company’s products and services. Top notch training is no substitute for true feelings. The way team members feel about the people and company they serve is communicated in every interaction. The trick is finding the right people in a sea of applicants.
Ballard Designs experienced some of the company’s peak growth when the economy was down and unemployment was high. This was a buyers’ market of sorts for companies seeking employees. The responses to every job listing were so huge that it could be overwhelming. Overall, our hiring of frontline team members was very successful. We picked from the cream of recent graduates. Most were glad to have a job that offered an opportunity to learn and grow with the company. Our success didn’t prepare us for the nightmare to come.
It takes time to groom people for management. When a company is in high growth mode, new positions are created. I’m a huge proponent of hiring from within but managerial positions have to be filled with outsiders if no one in the organization is ready. Part of our growth included extending customer service hours. This created the need for an assistant customer service manager. Most of the people in our service department had less than two years in the work force. They weren’t ready for management.
We knew that advertising the position would yield hundreds of resumes. In an effort to reduce the time spent filtering resumes and scheduling interviews, I suggested that we have an open call. I can’t truthfully say that was one of my best suggestions, but I wouldn’t trade the learning experience for anything.
The advertisement was very specific about the job and background requirements. Anyone who arrived without the right credentials was turned away. Over three hundred people came to apply. Almost a hundred had the right resume. Having the right resume is very different from having the right credentials. A good resume doctor can create an illusion that misleads unsuspecting managers.
Eastern Airlines had closed the previous year. The airline had a massive hub in Atlanta. The former employees had been jobless for months. Many of the applicants for the assistant manager’s position came from Eastern. You could feel the desperation for a job, any job, in the air.
Someone with the ability to handle irate travelers would be a good candidate for our position. I was initially excited about the applicants. That excitement turned to dismay when I found that not one of the people applying for a customer service management position had customer service or management experience. They were about equally split between pilots and baggage handlers. When everything was over, we did not have one viable candidate for the position.
The search continued and we ultimately made a great hire. We found someone who cared about the customers, company, and employees. Lessons were learned along the way. Here are some of my takeaways:
- Screen on paper before the interview. Facing a stack of resumes is easier than dealing with a line of job seekers. The upside of the open call is that it helped us identify the key questions to ask when screening the applicants. There were two questions that helped clarify credentials: “What did you do for Company XYZ SPECIFICALLY?” and “How do we get in touch with your immediate supervisor?” The answer to the first question often changed after the second one was asked.
- Speed interview the first round. Bringing someone in for an interview is time consuming. Talk with him or her on the telephone before scheduling a face-to-face meeting. Asking key questions (like the ones in the first takeaway) will help screen applicants. Your objective is to find a good match that fits your corporate culture. Hiring mistakes are very expensive.
- Check more than references. The people listed as references will not tell you the whole truth. Everything they say will be slanted in favor of the applicant. When possible, discreetly ask others about the applicant. You don’t have to mention the application. Questions like, “Do you like working with Jane Doe?” can provide unexpected insight.
- Consider hiring the person for a project. Spending time with people in a work environment allows you to how well they fit in the organization. If the time is project based, there is less paperwork and fewer ramifications if they don’t work out.
- Make an extended probationary position mandatory. People can easily put their best faces on for thirty, sixty, and even ninety days. Six months is much harder. If your company is a good place to work, people will accept the longer probationary time. (Note: Make sure that all of your policies are consistent with legal standards in your state. Labor laws vary.)
For guidance on building a good business foundation, email Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org.