I just finished watching a chilling HBO documentary Hard Times Lost on Long Island.
It talks about the deep problems of unemployment and the fact that the fastest growing area of poverty in the US is the suburbs. Pretty much the end of the American Dream for so many. In it, unemployed middle class families struggle to survive in a time of few jobs and blatant age discrimination. In the end, you realize that no job is secure, nor is the American Dream. The solution is to be self-reliant and the last person anyone wants to let go. Regardless of your age.
The comments on the HBO website run the full gamut. Lots of finger pointing and blame. Sadly, I don’t think any of these people had the realization that their career was truly at risk…until they got fired. None spoke of contingency plans. None had secondary sources of income. I also didn’t see a lot of self-reliant thinking. It was still all about getting a job instead of how can I think out the box and get money.
Last thought: Employers who are hiring should open themselves up to the opportunity represented by the older work crowd who are hard workers and willing to work at a job where they are over-qualified. It remains amazing to me that anyone gets such an objection. I’d rather have someone overqualified working for me for 3 months until they get the right job than a mediocre employee that may hang around a year longer.
No matter who we hire, there are a number of critical steps in the process; all of which should be familiar to you:
- Specifically identify the need and then reduce it to a good start is the free O*NET website.
- Be very clear what skill sets and personality traits would most likely result in performance given the job expectations. For example, if you’re hiring a CFO, you can test them on their GAAP knowledge, QuickBooks knowledge, and assess to see whether they have the detailed knowledge for the position. Not doing so will introduce unnecessary variance into the hiring process. Go to www.shl.com
- Conduct extensive background checks – there is no excuse today to not know who you are interviewing. You should conduct a criminal background check on every hire, credit background checks on those where permitted, past employer checks on everyone, degree checks where necessary, and immigration status. As always, I recommend you outsource these tasks to www.globalhrresearch.com.
- Conduct extensive interviews – this includes prescreening, multiple individual interviews, as well as group interviews.
- Prepare necessary offer letters and contracts.
- Lastly, conduct any drug tests and pre-hire physicals.
The above is excellent Hiring 101. I find that people engage in nonsense for illogical reasons. Not following these steps is nonsense and driven by emotional garbage. Sometimes that garbage is desperation, other times it’s infatuation, and other times it is flat out exhaustion. The best way to fight against these variances is by having your hiring process in writing every step of the way and make sure no manager hires anyone without checking off every box in the process. Then you know you have your hiring act together.
One of my favorite questions to ask in the hiring process is “What is one thing that felt unfair to you in your last job?” Of course, if they tell you “nothing” they are lying. When they do tell you what felt unfair, do as a Six Sigma trainer would do and ask “five whys”. Doing so will put their personality on full display. Things are going to feel unfair to an employee at some point in a relationship, just as things have felt unfair to you at work. What you want to know is how people deal with what feels unfair to them before you hire them. Here are additional questions I would ask if hiring a sales person:
- What’s the most important thing you do every day? How do you know if you’re doing these things well or not?
- Who do you like selling to best?
- Have you only blown a sale where it made no sense to lose that sale?
- Did you ever surprise yourself with a sale where you didn’t expect to get it?
- How do you prepare yourself for a prospect meeting?
- How did you get good at ________________________?
- What’s more important to you: making money or making a difference?
- What do you consider to be your greatest weaknesses? What have you done about them?
- Who is the most successful person you’ve met in your position (ask why they didn’t answer themselves).
- Why should I trust you?
- In a perfect world, where would you like to be in five years from now?
- How would you describe your ability to communicate?
Remember this: The cost of a poor hire can be substantial. For example, one of my agency partners made the wrong hire of a sales manager. Not only did they have reduced sales for two straight years, when they fired him they were hit with a lawsuit that cost them thousands more. Even the poor hire of an account manager will cost you $50,000 or more. The point is this: Take hiring seriously. If you’re not willing to take it seriously on your own, then hire someone who is willing to take it seriously on your behalf. It will be worth your time and expense in the end. Remember to also think like a marketer. When we market, we think about the long-term benefits of having a customer or client. If their lifetime value is $5,000, then we would have no hesitation spending $1,000 to land them as a customer or client. Likewise, if an employee is expected to net you $20,000 over the next five years, question what you’d be willing to spend to get $100,000 in return.
Watch this short video of Don Phin discussing the single most powerful interview question you should ask every applicant in the hiring process.
Because of my background, a number of public relations firms in New York send me copies of their advanced books to see if we’d like to invite one of their clients on as guests for our Webinars. A few weeks ago, I got a promotional copy of Harper’s Rules by Danny Cahill, which will appear in your bookstores soon. It is an interesting book, really aimed at the managerial or executive level person looking for a six-figure job. To that end, it is an excellent book. Like other authors today (including yours truly), Cahill attempts to bring his pointers to the reader via a story. In this case, it’s an out-of-work and out-of-love 35 year old software sales executive. Of course, she lives alone with her cat and gets conflicted between the professionals who help her, the young guy at the gym, and anyone else who might be interested in her.
Here’s the bottom line: If you work with recruiters, this book can give you great insight into the way they think. If you are looking to get placed in a job and work with a recruiter, this can also give you an excellent insight into how they work. If you’re primarily interested in reading stories about drama and dating lessons, you’d be better off with something written by Nora Roberts.
Here are a few interesting insights I came out with from the book.
- Hiring is just like dating. Something I’ve been preaching in my workshops since Day 1. This guy even writes a book about it so it must be true. My guess is there is as much misinformation being disseminated on Monster.com as there is on Match.com.
- Cahill asked an interesting question: “Is your job one that you should stay at or leave?” He encourages us not to settle for “good enough.” In other words, don’t let your life go wasting by. What he doesn’t mention is that you have the opportunity to make that difference at your current job. I can tell you story after story about how individual employees have caused significant change within their organizations.
- Employers must always understand that “something else is going on” with the people they are either hiring or managing. The character in this story has a lot of self-talk which affects how well she sells and relates to others. When she starts comparing her dating life to her job, I’d start being worried…because you can’t do anything about her dating life.
- “Salespeople know a lot about making money. But what I couldn’t admit to Harper, what I have never admitted to anyone, is that I am terrible with money.” And so are two-thirds of all Americans. You can be a high-ranking executive and still be as dysfunctional with money as any rank and file employee. Very few of us outside of the financial profession or accounting position have a true understanding of accounting and finance. Remember, accounting is the number one most dropped and failed course in college. When I go in to companies and see a 50 percent utilization rate of their 401(k) plans that have up to $3,000 in matching funds, I know these are a financial failure on the part of the company and its employees. Bottom line: There is no excuse for not teaching your employees numbers. How they work at home and at the company.
- Throughout the book, Cahill provides an excellent outline step-by-step of what you need to do to be prepared for finding a dream job. Quite frankly, it is as good as anything I’ve read in this regard. Like I’ve said, you can read the plot to amuse yourself if you choose, if not, you can get to his bottom line about what you need to get done.
Towards the end of my active litigation career I can remember a woman coming into my office that wanted to sue the law firm she had worked at for wrongful termination. Long story short: she worked for a named litigation partner at a local firm for 15 years. Feeling a bit unappreciated, she put her word out to the grapevine that she was hoping for greener pasture. Apparently, at the same time, a partner at another firm lost his legal secretary with little notice. He was desperate for a replacement and put his word out to the grapevine and therein they met. A few days later they met for lunch. She is a pleasant woman and obviously knew what she was doing given her work history. So he hired her on the spot.
Then the “problems” began. Apparently she wasn’t as quick as his previous legal secretary. Within 3 months she was let go for her non-productivity. That’s when she walked into my office.
So here was a woman over 40, raising some kids on her own, steady job for 15 years, promises of green pasture and then out on the streets 3 months later without so much as a “sorry.” How would you feel if that was you…or your sister? How do think 12 jurors might feel about law firms who treat people this way?
The “old” Don would have loved to mess with this firm. They weren’t especially nice to me on a case I had litigated against them a few years prior. If I could have somehow squeezed past all the motions to dismiss, etc. and taken it to a jury it would be game over. However, this being the kinder and gentler me, and someone who has learned that litigation is a poor substitute for the taking of personal responsibility and moving on, I asked a different set of questions. Like “What was your responsibility in all of this?” “Were you crystal clear about what it took to be a success in this position or did you simply have your fingers crossed?” (As Mary Kay so famously stated “Most folks spend more time planning their vacations than their careers.”)
What does a litigation secretary do 80% of the day? Type. Did the firm or partner have a typing test requirement? Of course not. So what do you think the typing standard was for that job to be a success in it? The client was astute enough to say “My guess is the speed met by the previous legal secretary.” And what was that? Who knew? When I asked what her typing speed she said approximately 80 words per minute in a test she took herself some years ago. (Just an OK typing speed for a high-end legal secretary. I never hired under 100 wpm.) When I tracked down the previous legal secretary she said at least 100 wpm. So there you have it. This legal secretary was a failure the first day on the job and nobody knew about it!
How many employees, not just legal secretaries, are failures on their first day of hire? Fact is, there is no substitute for testing on all aspects of employee performance. For example, you can do an online typing test of your existing secretaries to generate a hiring benchmark and to see who may need some additional training. Here’s an example of one such test: http://www.previsor.com/pdf/FactSheets/Fact_Sheet_Typing.PDF. While you are it, have the attorneys and legal secretaries create a substantive knowledge test too. If it’s a litigation secretary test their procedural knowledge. If it is a secretary to an estate planning attorney you can test for the relevant knowledge there too. I bet half of all applicants and half of all employees will do better than the other half.
There you have it. A simple formula: Test for it if it’s important to you. The failure to do so will guarantee failed employees.
The IRS has issued form W-11 to use when employing someone under the HIRE Act. To view the form and learn more about the law go to http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=221036,00.html.
We often think about preparing questions for an employee in an interview, but spend little time on being ready to answer questions that they might ask us. Consider these samples:
- How many employees do you have?
- What are your annual sales and profitability trends over the past three years?
- What percentage of managers are promoted, rather than recruited?
- Why is the position open? Did someone quit or get fired? Is this a new position?
- How would you describe your company’s culture?
- Where do you get your greatest satisfaction in working at the company?
- What frustrates you at times working for the company?
- How does your performance appraisal system work?
- What training programs do you offer employees?
- When is the last time you faced an employee claim?
- How often does the CEO meet with the management team?
- What type of office parties and social events do you have?
- Do you publish career ladders for the position?
- What effort have you made to find out about me before the interview? (i.e., have you done a Google search?)
P.S. As a fringe benefit, preparing these answers will tell you a lot about your company.
Demographic studies reinforce our daily experience: It’s getting harder and harder to find good employees — but not for everyone! Whether you’re a local contractor or national airline, there’s an employer of choice in every market; these companies find good people knocking on their door because they enjoy a high “Attractiveness Factor.” For example, Southwest Airline and Jet Blue are probably getting far more qualified candidates than United, American, and Delta because they have a business model and culture that attracts employees, rather than repels them.
Survey after survey reveals that one third to one half of the employees in any industry are looking for a better employer — a far higher figure than the 5% to 15% unemployment rate in those industries. Why would these people, who already have jobs, leave them to come work for you? Your Attractiveness Factor is related directly to the job satisfaction of your employees. As we stated in a recent newsletter, Baldridge Award winners have approximately a 66% job satisfaction level, while Great Places to Work Institute Award winners are up to an 82% average. You can bet that the recruiting offices in these companies have a far easier time than their competitors.
To improve your Attractiveness Factor, we’d recommend these steps:
- Put the right people on every seat of the bus. No excuses. Nothing upsets team members more than management placing the wrong employee on their team — especially without their input.
- Have your employees market on your behalf. Referrals from existing employees are a great source of leads. Also, get employees involved in the hiring process by using such tools as group interviews.
- Show employees that you care by asking them what they need to be successful and to take pride in their work. This applies even when they’re leaving. On average, one dissatisfied customer will tell seven people about their grievance — and it’s no different with dissatisfied employees. When you terminate someone, do it with grace and understanding. Conduct exit interviews to correct any potential resentments that might fester into a lawsuit.
- Brand your company as a great place to work. For example, many Circuit City stores have a banner over their entrance that states, “We’re Always Looking to Hire Great Employees.” Southwest Airlines brands the fact that their employees Love the Work They Do Every Day. What’s your brand? How do you show it?
Lighten up. Whether you label it fun, joy, love, or nonsense, find a way to enjoy! Many of us are looking for that something extra out of our daily grinds. What’s yours?