Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How to Hire Hourly Team Members part 13… What to Ask Applicants With No Work History

People between 16 and 18 (even older?), who may have no work history, can easily do a lot of hourly jobs.  Many jobs are easily taught to just about anyone, so we don’t need a long work history or a lot of experience.   These younger people might need more training, since they don’t have the work experience.  They might also take even more of our time and energy because not only will they not have experience doing the simple tasks that make up many jobs, but they may not have many of the social skills that are learned in the workplace.  One plus is they probably don’t have many bad habits we need to overcome or help them unlearn.

If I meet an applicant much older than 18 who has never worked, I need to find out why before considering hiring them.  A big red flag goes up if their parents have money, have always given them everything they wanted, and so they didn’t have to work.  In my experience, these people do not make very good hourly team members.  Many of them think they are above doing the kinds of jobs hourly team members do.  Many of them know that their parents will still provide for them even if they are over 18, and so they don’t have any really negative consequences should they lose this job.  I have not had good luck with hiring these young people.

There are many young people who have not worked for other reasons, and as a rule they do not have the same issues as the people whose parents provided for them.  Some people have to take care of siblings, or even adults who need care at home.  Some are so involved in sports, the band, or some other activity that there simply isn’t time for work.  Some parents won’t allow their children to work until they are out of high school, as they feel working interferes with studying and grades.  I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of reasons why someone would get to 18 or 20 without ever having a job.  All we need to do is ask questions and we’ll find out all we need to know.

Once we’ve established that our applicant could not work (rather than didn’t have to work and relied on their parent’s money) we can move forward with the interview.  We still want to choose people with the right attitudes and mindset, and so we may have to dig a bit deeper to get the answers we need.

I have found that these applicants are likely to be much more nervous than someone who has a work history and has been through a number of interviews.  As usual, this does not mean they can’t or won’t be great team members, so just help them get past it.  Remember, we want our applicant at ease so they will tell us everything we need to know to make a good decision.  These applicants in particular may take more small talk and reassurance.  I think it’s pretty natural that these applicants will be less confident, and have a very hard time coming up with examples of situations to answer our questions.  You can take this as a negative, or simply the way things are when a person has little experience and finds himself or herself in an intimidating situation like an interview.

 You are the Leader.  It’s your job to make these people feel comfortable and as relaxed as possible (and no, they don’t need to have their feet up and a Mai Tai in their hand!).  Remember that this should not be an adversarial process.  Make sure you provide them, and really every applicant, with a glass or bottle of water.  When we get nervous our mouths gets dry.  That makes us even more nervous and annoyed that we didn’t think to bring along some water.  None of this is necessary, nor does it help to get the best answers out of our applicant.

OK… so they are settled in and we’re asking general questions and making small talk.  We need to get the same information with these applicants as we do with everyone else, and to do it we might have to ask different forms of our questions.  For instance, people this age who have not been working have not had a lot of money to spend.  They probably don’t have the breadth of customer service experience that an older applicant might have.  So… they may look at the “ketchup question” from a different perspective.  It may be very confusing to them since they don’t have much real world experience buying groceries, much less returning food items for their money back.  We might have to take it slowly, and explain it in detail to them.  We still need to know their ‘default’ level of customer service.  And, since they have little real experience we might have to settle with the level of service they would hope for.

When we ask them what job they would choose if every job paid the same we may just be asking them what job they dream of having.  At this point in their lives they may not even be thinking of classifying jobs by what they pay (keep in mind these people are not that far away from childhood, so we’ll have a lot of future musicians, programmers, and artists).  So… we can get the same information by directing them towards their dream job, and now why that job?  Don’t get frustrated by the change in details or the way a question has to be asked.  We can still get the same results, and these people are just as likely to be great additions to our team as someone with a lot of work experience.

We can get an idea of how they would define a ‘good job’ by setting up a question making them partners with us in a business (maybe something they mentioned in the last question?).  We need to hire us up some workers, so let’s us decide what qualities those workers should have.  How many times can they be late before we do something about it?  Are there good reasons for being late?  How many times can a person use one of them there good reasons?  Should they do just the minimum they can to get by, or can we expect them to do more than the minimum?  Do we expect them to speak to us if they see some unsafe condition?  What if they think we could improve a task or general conditions?  Should our workers let us know when their plans change and call out of work with plenty of time?  Should they give us notice before leaving, or is it OK for them to just stop showing up?  How should we determine if and when our workers deserve a raise?  How should we decide how much to give them?  How should we define whether or not our workers are ‘doing a good job’?  You can ask them how to deal with any issues that come up in your particular business.  Use your imagination…

If I like the applicant after a long round of questions, I don’t hesitate to tell them my answers to all of the questions above.  I want them to know my expectations for them, without giving away the answers to any questions I have yet to ask them.

Is it important to know if our applicant feel the company that hires them (or the government, or anyone for that matter) owes them anything?  YES, it is.  Ask them.

Some of our applicants, really most in my experience, will have a hard time with many questions.  This is often because we, as a nation I think, don’t really value anything other than paid work.  Even after so many years now a ‘stay at home’ parent still doesn’t get much respect.  So… these younger applicants come into the interview thinking that any experience they do have is pretty much worthless.  If you ask, you will find that many of them have been responsible for siblings, or older family members, or have done baby-sitting.  That may mean getting them up and ready for school, feeding and cleaning up after them, making sure they are safe, and getting homework done.  Many of these are responsibilities we would associate with parents, and yet these young people are doing them.  By asking the right questions we will find that they have learned a variety of things through these activities.

Some of our applicants have mowed lawns, pulled weeds, shoveled snow, and done other jobs that we generally don’t really value, and yet teach many of the same skills, and build the same character that a ‘real’ job would.

We can still find out if our applicant has something in which they take pride, as well as determining if they are well adjusted.  The examples we ask about or look for will probably be different, and there are plenty of things that happen in our lives outside of the workplace that could easily annoy or anger us.  I’m not sure who said it, and… “if you think you are well adjusted go live with your parents for a week” reminds us that just living with our well intentioned family can terribly be frustrating.  That should easily lead us into the same questions we would ask a more experienced applicant about what they are, or were feeling.  Remember, while we also want our applicant to own their feelings, younger and less experienced applicants might not have learned some of these lessons as well as an older applicant.

Asking these applicants ‘what they want to be when they grow up’ is still a great idea.  You’ll encounter some whose souls have yet to be crushed and it can be a refreshing experience.  They are often hopeful and overflowing with energy, and can be a great addition to your workplace for this reason alone, as long as within reason they meet our other requirements.  I’ve found with the right attention and mentoring they can be shaped and molded into great workers.  If, however, we currently have a mediocre team, and they are left to the team to shape, you can expect that they will be no better than average. 

That thought bring us to the end of interviewing (I think), and the next step in hiring.  Some call it ‘onboarding’.  Indoctrinating is a much better term.

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