Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Hire Hourly Team Members part 5… Starting the Interview

I find that I think a lot differently than most people hiring for hourly workers.  As we’ve already talked about, most hiring managers like to concentrate on task experience, or experience in a job title.  I do not find those things to be very good predictors of success in the jobs we are hiring for.   The definition of successful differs so much from company to company; and I’ve hired team members with years of experience at another company who were terrible workers.  Remember our ‘clone worthy’ team members?  It's not about tasks.  We're hiring the whole person, and they bring all of themselves to work.  So let’s get down to business…

We can start with the resume’ or application you are looking at.  A poorly filled out application can mean a poor team member, or it can mean our educational system failed this person who will end up being your team member of the year.  Unless the job you are hiring for demands wonderful spelling and English skills, I suggest you don’t make decisions based on those things.

So… we might just be ready to meet the applicant.  From now on everything the applicant does can carry some weight in the decision making process.  How much weight is up to you.  I’ll tell you my concerns and leave it to you to decide how you will act in your interviews. 

You will be meeting applicants who may have never worked before.  In fact, you might be their very first interview!  What kind of expectations should we have?  Should those expectations be the same as for someone with 10 years of working experience?  I have actually made an applicant shake my hand a second and third time… until he shook my hand properly!  Granted, he was 17 and I was indeed his first interview.  I would not do that with a 24 year old.  So… how do we weigh a handshake?  Again, I remember being taught how to shake hands at home.  Did everyone receive this training?  If they didn’t, does that really mean they won’t or can’t be a great worker?

I would say no, it does not mean they can’t be a great worker.  I would however make a small note to myself… a red flag if you will.  One red flag won’t keep me from hiring you, and too many will certainly reduce your chances of getting hired.

How did the applicant dress?  This is an important topic… style of dress, tattoos and piercings may make the applicant seem a lot like you, or very VERY different from you.  It is imperative that we not focus on hiring people who are like us.  Diversity is generally a good thing!  People with different backgrounds are likely to see things a bit differently than you, and so can see fixes, ways of accomplishing a task, and possibilities that you might never see.  The point is to surround ourselves with great people!  What they look like, what accent they have, or how they dress or adorn their bodies has nothing to do with their ability to help our team achieve greatness!  That said, clothing should be clean, and should show some effort was made.

Introduce yourself and your apprentices to the applicant.  It’s your show… you are the team leader, so it’s your job to guide the process and expect the applicant to follow your lead.  It would be great if the applicant pulled out copies of a resume’ for everyone present and proceeded to outline key areas on which they wanted to focus.  It is much more likely however for your applicant to show up nervous, unprepared, and empty handed.  It’s perhaps as likely in this economy that the applicant will show up disheartened or even a bit sour by yet another interview, after so many that seemed to go well (from their perspective) and where they were told they’d get a phone call (that never came) and they are doing their best to be hopeful and put on a happy face.  All of these things are well within the bounds of normal, so let’s move on with the process of deciding whether or not this person can be a great team member on our team.

So here we are, siting at a desk or table, with our applicant and hopefully one or two of our apprentices.  We’ve greeted the applicant and introduced ourselves.  The purpose of this process is to get to know the applicant.  To really get to know them!  And… we have a pretty limited amount of time.

Let’s take a side step and talk about how much time should be spent on an interview.  Ask yourself a few questions before answering…  And actually answer the questions. 

How important is hiring the right people?  Not really?  Most important?
Is there a position/role/job in your place of business that is not important to your overall success?  Where having the poor team member won’t make any difference?
How important is it for the person you hire to get along with the rest of the team? 
How costly is it when we end up with the wrong people on the team?
Does hiring the wrong person negatively affect the morale of the team?
How long does it take, and how much time and energy does it cost to repair that morale?  How much money does it cost?

I’ll answer these questions later on.   For now, if you were honest with yourself in answering them, you’ll probably agree that it’s not a good idea to put arbitrary rules about time limits for interviews in place.  This is arguably the most important thing you do!  Is it really a good idea to say each interview will be 30 minutes and no longer?  45 minutes?  It’s absurd to put arbitrary lime limits on this process!  Take as long as you need to be really confident that you are hiring someone who will be a great addition to your team!

Now back to our discussion.

We want our applicant to volunteer all of the information we need to get to know them.  It’s imperative that we know how they really are in their day-to-day life.  Anyone can show up for an interview and put on a show for us.  If you have been hiring hourly team members for any length of time you know that there are many applicants who know how to tell us what we want to hear.  I’ve interviewed so many people over the last 30 years who talked a great game in the interview, and then after they were hired turned out to be terrible team members.  After enough of those mistakes I decided to drop the ‘how to interview’ lessons I had been taught by others and come up with my own method of hiring.

The key to this method is getting beyond any ‘script’ the applicant has, and in addition get past fears and nervousness.  We can and will talk about some of their experiences at past jobs (if they have a work history), however we need to get past their guard, and to do that we need to make them comfortable.

So… the interview should NOT be a scary thing.  It should NOT be adversarial.  It is NOT the place to show the applicant who is boss.  In fact, if you disagree with these last three sentences I would urge you to purchase or borrow a copy of How to Win Friends & Influence People ; Developing the Leader Within You ; or listen to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast.  Work should not be a scary place; it should not be adversarial; and if you are in fact trying to be a Leader, there is very little need to show anyone ‘who is boss’.  Sorry… off the soapbox.

So… we need to put the applicant at ease.  We want to have a fun and friendly talk about the applicant’s life and that simply will not happen if the applicant is feeling intimidated in any way.  This is where your ability to empathize comes in.  If you had a friend over to your place how would you want them to feel?  I bet you would have no trouble deciding if they were feeling uncomfortable.  It’s the same way in an interview.  We can’t get to know the truth about someone unless we make him or her feel comfortable with us.  Remember, every great team member does not need to be an extrovert.  Nor do they need to bold and fearless in an interview.  It’s up to us to put them at ease.

Uh oh… we’re out of space and still not sure what we’re even looking for.  I guess that’s a good reason to come back, huh?

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

How to Hire Hourly Team Members Part 4… Getting Ready for the Interview

So… we’re ready to meet our applicant.  Well almost.  We have some preparing to do.  Have their application and resume printed and ready, and re-read them before meeting with the applicant.  You should also have scheduled and planned to have one or two of your assistant/apprentices attending the interview with you.  If you are hiring correctly, these are the future leaders in your company, so you need to take every opportunity to teach them the skills they will need.

Before the interview coach them on some questions to ask if they are brand new to this, and set the expectation that they WILL be asking questions!  Don’t forget to talk about the kinds of questions they can ask (ones that have to do with the applicant’s ability to do the job) and questions that they cannot ask, such as anything to do with a protected class.  For instance, we need to know whether or not the applicant will be able to get to work for any of the needed shifts.  Depending on your work place the start times could be unusually early or late.  It is NOT appropriate to ask HOW the applicant will be getting to work, as that has nothing to do with their ability to do the job.

Remember that it’s not a good idea to write or take notes on anything that will be going into the applicants file (should they be hired), so if you are going to take notes do so in a notebook or a separate piece of paper.

I think it’s always a good idea to take notes.  I take notes so that I can reference them if we happen to end up with more than one great candidate for the particular job.  I also use them as teaching tools.  After the interview I take the time to sit and talk to my apprentices about the interview.  Talk about the questions they asked as well as any you think they should have asked as follow up questions.  Question each of your apprentices about their thoughts on the applicant’s fit for the job, and whether or not they would make a great addition to the team.  This is the time to bring up any mistakes made during the interview.  What kind of mistakes?  Like leading the applicant… I have found that most people who are new to interviewing and leadership make decisions about applicants much too quickly, and then tend to unknowingly guide the applicant toward the answer they want to hear. 

For instance, asking a question (or making a statement) like ‘here at XYZ company we think everyone should arrive at work 10 minutes early to get ready and be at their workstation with plenty of time to prepare… when do you think team members should get to work?’  We are telling the applicant exactly what we want to hear.  I also find new interviewers giving applicants queues by nodding their heads when the applicant is saying something the interviewer wants to hear.  When we do this we are not getting an honest picture of what the applicants thinks… merely a reflection of what the applicant thinks we want to hear.  I feel it’s much better to ask your question, put on a poker face, and allow the applicant to answer as he or she sees fit.  Then feel free to ask follow up questions to dig deeper into the applicants thinking.
Before we go too far though… we should talk about what we are looking for and what we are do not care too much about.

What are we NOT hiring for?  Qualities or skills that we hear a lot about in blogs or even in school, and yet have nothing to do with the applicant’s ability to do the job…  Like what you say? 
Success in just about any job will probably not depend on:

Resume’ writing
Interviewing skills
Networking skills
Innovative abilities
Specific level of education
Specific amount of experience

Remember that we’ve come to the conclusion that success has very little to do with the ability to excel at tasks.  We are (probably) not hiring a resume’ writer, or interviewer, or someone to develop our next hit product.  Yes, we want our new hire to be able to get along with everyone at work, and not everyone has to be a graduate of “Toastmasters”.  We do want them to make an effort to dress for success, and we cannot turn our backs on applicants simply because they lack fashion sense (or don’t have the body of a fashion model).  Neither of these things will likely impact their ability to be a great asset to the team.

While different companies may have varying rules about tattoos or piercings, these things also have little to do with the applicant’s ability to help the team achieve greatness.  I’ll say it again; we all naturally like those who are most like us, however as leaders hiring for greatness, we have to remember that the best teams have people of different backgrounds and varying experiences that help the team adapt and stay ahead of the competition.

Crap!  Another post and we still haven’t met our applicant, or come up with a list of exactly what we are looking for.  Well, I can leave you thinking about those ‘clone worthy’ people you have (or wish you had) on your team.  What qualities do they share?  What is it about them that makes us value them so much.  I’ll bet that after some thought you’ll agree it has something to do with how they see the world; how they see themselves in their world; what they see as ‘possible’; what they see as ‘fun’; and how they navigate their world.  Those kinds of things make the ‘clone worthy’ valuable, and we just have to learn how to interview for those qualities in order to end up with a team full of great team members.

Until next time…

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to Hire Hourly Team Members Part 3… The Phone Interview

So, we’ve pared down our list of candidates through our phone interviews, and we have a list of people we are going to interview, right!?  No?

Maybe it would help to talk about how to phone interview for a bit…  It can be difficult since we know that a large percentage of communication (80% or more) is non-verbal.  On the phone we can’t see the other person, we are limited in how much we can ascertain about the applicant.

I think we start with how the phone is answered.  Some people still have a home phone which might be shared by an extended family, so it’s prudent to be understanding of the family in the background.  I’ve also found myself being very judgmental about how the phone is answered.  It’s easy to expect someone who sounds like we do to answer the phone politely, with a quiet background, who might ask who is calling, and then ask us to hold while they fetch the applicant.

I’ve found that it’s much more likely to catch people off guard, perhaps busy with kids or out in public, with a noisy background, perhaps expecting a different call, and yelling for the applicant (or confused and asking ‘who is this again?’).  In my experience I’ve found that the circumstances around phone calls are not a good predictor of future success, so let all of this go!

An important lesson I’ve learned is that I was very lucky to have parents who coached me along the way.  Before I went to the see my doctor, my mother would talk to me about how to describe what was bothering me.  When I went door to door asking neighbors if they would hire me to shovel their snow or pull their weeds we would talk about how I should act and speak.  Before job interviews we would talk about how to present myself (stop in the bathroom and tuck in your shirt/comb your hair, remember to sit up straight, make eye contact, ask questions, etc.), as well as what questions to ask.

Many people did not have the benefit of this coaching; so understanding that not everyone grew up under the same circumstances is needed.  Neither poor phone manners nor imperfect language skills reflect a lack of intelligence or a poor worker.  It’s best to look past these things.  I’ve hired a number of team members with less education that I had who were much better natural leaders!

So just what CAN we judge through a phone interview?  For my part, I’ve culled through the applications and picked out the ones I want to talk to in person.  The phone call is just a short talk to be sure this person actually filled out their own application and can answer some straightforward questions about their background, as well as why they’ve applied for my job.

Why they want to leave/have left their last job can be very telling.  And here I want to state a couple of things very clearly
I think it’s OK to want to leave a job because of unpleasant working conditions.  I worked while in college, and one job I had was cleaning the meat cutting room in a supermarket.  It was an awful job and I was ready to leave after my first day!  I ended up working there for the whole semester since the pay was pretty good and it was an easy bike commute, and yet had anyone asked I would have been happy to tell them how much I disliked this job.

I think it’s OK to want to leave a job because of a poor manager or because of the way you are being treated.  I have worked for people whose default communication style was literally barking out orders.  For some reason they felt that threatening the job of everyone who worked for them would be motivating (I can tell you that it is not!).  At one workplace I really enjoyed the tasks of the job as I learned to weld; fabricate things out of steel, and troubleshoot machinery!  I loved the things I did at work!  And yet my horrible boss made it very difficult to stay there, and eventually I had to leave to find less stressful working conditions.

You have most likely had the same types of experiences in your life, or you know people who have.  There are a lot of unpleasant workplaces out there, and a lot of very poor bosses.  As leaders we (hopefully) know not to talk smack about our current or previous workplaces during an interview, and a lot of people have not received that guidance.  Again, this does not show a lack of intelligence or necessarily mean they will be poor workers!  I’ve found that it pays to delve a little deeper and try to find out more about the working conditions or the boss and make a decision from there.

There is a difference between very poor working conditions and one’s (bad) attitude about work.  You should quickly be able to tell if the conditions are indeed bad enough to need to leave, or if it’s just a relatively normal workplace and this applicant has a poor attitude.  Who are they blaming?  How did they attempt to make a positive change?  I’ll keep asking questions until I feel I have a good understanding of the work situation.  If it’s their attitude, I thank the person for applying for the job and state that I have a lot of very qualified applicants to call.  If it is indeed a bad boss or poor working conditions, I’ll bring them in for an in person interview where I can learn more about them.

Remember, up to this point we’ve been weeding out the people we do not want on our team.  I’m going to leave you with a thought to chew on…  The number of possible great hires is not as small as you might think.  A relatively large percentage of our applicants can be great team members with the right leadership and team culture, and we’ll get to that later.

Next up… the actual interview!  This is where it gets exciting, so stay tuned!

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