One of the most challenging and complicated aspects of being a manager or business owner is staffing. Having the right people in the right places is a crucial part of any business and not achieving it can cost your business dearly. I thought that I would take a minute to share a few hiring techniques that have helped me throughout the years both in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur.
As we explored in a previous entry, mindset is key. A surefire way to set yourself up for failure when trying to fill a position is by not giving it the importance it deserves. Too often, we treat filling a position as an extraneous task that we throw on top of our daily duties. Because we’re already busy, this results in us not having enough time at the end of the workday to focus on it, or working on it after-hours when we’re already burned out.
If we recognize just how important staffing is to the business, we must take this task very seriously and understand that as a business owner—or manager—this is a key aspect of our jobs not a secondary one. For that reason, I recommend delegating some of your daily duties to one or more people during this period and make filling the position(s) a priority. In so doing, you’ll find that you will have more time to devote to this process and you will get a better pool of candidates, and ultimately, hires.
Once you’ve given the task of filling a position the proper significance and afforded yourself enough time to focus on it, it’s time to get to work. Allow me to share with you some of the most important considerations that many hiring managers miss which result in hiring the wrong person, or not filling the position at all.
Technical Skill vs. Cultural Fit
Technical skills are simply how well someone can do the actual job from a technical standpoint (i.e. do a set of nails, repair an engine, write code, etc.). While this is a very important factor of any technical job, it has been my experience that most hiring managers put too much emphasis on this; they expect that hiring the candidate with the best technical skills will solve all their problems only for the person to end up clashing with their new co-workers or being a negative influence on the culture/work environment.
Culture is created by many factors working together consistently over time, but rest-assured that a culture will exist in any business, group, team, etc. whether you want it to or not. The key is to manage it so that you get a culture that supports the values and goals that are important to you and the business. One of the most important ways to impact a culture is with the staff you hire. It’s important to note that, in general, it is easier to help someone improve a technical skill than it is to make them a good cultural fit. Therefore, part of your culture should include setting up a process in which you can provide some training for new-hires, or where they can receive a significant amount of cross-training from fellow employees.
When it comes to a business’ culture there are a lot of factors that shape it, but in terms of staffing, my top three areas to focus on are: customer service, teamwork, and personality. Let’s look at these in more detail.
Customer Service - The frequency with which this position interacts with customers will determine how important this aspect is to you and the business. Someone who works behind the scenes and hardly ever deals with customers doesn’t need to have the best soft skills (e.g. empathy, communication, patience, etc.). However, in a service environment where most of the job is dealing with customers, this is a key aspect of the role.
Teamwork - A business can be structured where employees are lone-wolves and responsible for their own duties, work tightly as a team, or anywhere in-between. This will determine how important it is for the candidate to have good interpersonal skills and willingness to work with others. As with customer service above, this is a function of soft skills except in the context of working with peers and internal customers.
Personality - Everyone reading this has been part of a group—whether high performing or not—that had one or a few people bring down the energy of the rest of the team or create a noxious environment. It’s important for the hiring manager to determine exactly what environment they want to create or maintain and try to filter out those whose personality would work against it. No need to do a Myers- Briggs personality type assessment for this (although it can help), it’s only a matter on observing the candidate’s demeanor and interactions during the screening/interview process (more on that shortly).
The Job Listing
The way you list your job openings can go a long way in attracting the right candidates. Most hiring managers don’t give the listing itself any thought because it doesn’t seem like an important aspect of the process. Often, we think that simply announcing that we’re hiring will attract a lot of candidates and the bigger the pool the better, right? We addressed the fact that we’re all already quite busy with our daily tasks so wouldn’t we prefer having a smaller pool of higher-quality candidates? Consider the two listings below. Imagine if we’re trying to hire a new nail tech for a very customer service focused salon where teamwork is essential. Which one do you think would attract better candidates?
The first listing clearly communicates that there is a job opening but it is so open-ended that it would probably result in a huge pool of candidates inquiring about it, and it doesn’t create any excitement around the opportunity. The second listing, on the other hand, would do a better job in filtering out many candidates who might be more introverted, want to work on their own, are looking for a slower paced environment, or whose hearts might not really be in nails. Moreover, it might motivate an excellent nail tech in another salon from leaving their current position to join your team, not just the ones who have been recently let go. What that means to you as the hiring manager is less phone calls and reading through less resumes from candidates that you probably would not want to hire in the first place.
Once you’ve determined, from a technical and cultural standpoint, the kind of employee(s) you need to fill a position and you’ve created the listing accordingly, the next step is sifting through your candidate pool. I recommend always starting with a phone screen. Before committing to an in-person interview that might take up hours of your time, a ten to fifteen-minute phone conversation might be enough to further filter out some candidates. This should be an informal conversation where you merely get a little bit of the candidate’s background and gauge their professionalism, demeanor, etc. in a more casual setting. At the end of the phone screen you should inform the candidate that you will be calling back the top three prospects for an in-person interview.
Narrowing things down to the top three is a good rule of thumb given that we have limited time and resources. However, if you happen to have a pretty good pool you can give yourself another 2 candidates as alternates in case someone falls through or if anyone ends up not interviewing very well. In any case, the in-person interview process should consist of a technical component and a cultural component for the same reasons we discussed earlier. Let’s go over what they should look like.
Determine two or three of the most crucial technical skills/abilities necessary to be successful in the role. Set up a scenario in which the candidate performs a service on a current employee that requires the use of those crucial skills you identified and set a reasonable time limit (it doesn’t matter if they finish the service completely, you just need to see how far they got and with what level of quality). Depending on the situation, you might not need to observe the entire service, only come back once the time has expired and scrutinize the work. It is perfectly acceptable at that point to provide the candidate some feedback about their work and time-management. If you were not present for the whole service, you should de-brief the assisting employee after the candidate leaves and get their observations (this might shed some light on both the technical aspects and the cultural fit).
Unfortunately, many hiring managers’ interviews only consist of the component above accompanied by a short conversation about the candidate’s work history. Here, I want to share with you a simple strategy that I learned in a three-day staffing seminar many years ago: the one question interview. Now, the name is a bit of a misnomer since you will not be asking just one question, but the whole concept is based around just one question: What do you consider to be your biggest, or one of your biggest accomplishments? For cultural fit, this is the perfect question to ask since we can use it to mine for a lot of the soft skills we’re looking for, including the important areas I highlighted above: customer service, teamwork, and personality.
Since we already should have gotten the technical portion over with, the question should not be limited to anything related to the job or the industry (winning an industry award, getting employee of the year at a previous salon, etc.); it can be from their personal life (losing a lot of weight), school (winning a science fair), hobby (winning an award at a crafts expo), etc. The beauty about this strategy is that whatever the candidate decides to discuss, it will be something they are passionate about and unlikely to be able to make something up (as often happens in interviews) because they should be intimately familiar with it and able to provide details. In addition, you can follow it up with more probing questions that directly address the soft skills or cultural aspects you’re interested in such as:
- Problem solving/motivation - What was one main challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
- Teamwork - Did you work with others to accomplish this? If so, tell me how you worked together to achieve a common goal.
- Critical thinking - What was the biggest lesson you learned from this experience? What would you have done differently?
The options here are endless. Whether you only focus on the cultural areas I pointed out or you add/replace some, you should come up with probing questions ahead of time that you think will give you insight into where the candidate stands in those areas. I recommend taking notes as the interviewee tells their story and answers your questions or making a column on the paper for each of the culture areas you’re looking for and put notes there as you hear good examples of each category. After the interview is over you can then review your notes, de-brief any other employees that were part of the process and compare them to other candidates that have gone through it. I think you’ll be pleased with how much more effective filling open positions will be going forward if you follow a more structured process like this.
There are a lot more moving parts when it comes to hiring, but I hope this at least gets you pointed in the right direction. Remember that culture happens, and you have a big say in what it becomes. If you put more of an emphasis on hiring the right people, the culture in your business will be one that you’re proud of and that works with you, not against you. If you find this information helpful and would like more of this kind of content, please let us know and send us ideas for future topics.