Hiring Smart in Today’s Challenging Economy

The Challenge

When being chided about why she had never married, the not-quite-old maid replied, “It takes a really good husband to be better than no husband at all.”  Most employers feel the same way about employees: if they aren’t really good, the company is better off without them.  Sadly, a bad employee can do damage that seems far beyond what one person should be capable of!  But finding – and keeping – good people are a persistent challenge. This post deals with the issues surrounding how you go about finding and hiring just the right people.

One Man Band

Many e-businesses get started with only one employee – you – and maybe a couple of others – your partners. In the beginning it may only take the one or two of you to keep the music playing, but it doesn’t take much company growth to create a need for more help.

So now, you are faced with a situation that you probably have always wanted anyway – the opportunity to select your own coworkers.  No more having to work with people with all those annoying habits and poor work skills that who-knows-who hired; you can pick and choose just who you want!  Hopefully, that is exactly how the hiring process always works out for you, and your chances for success only increase with some knowledge of what’s involved and some time spent in planning on the front end.

Employee Leasing

Instead of shouldering the entire burden of hiring, managing payroll, paying employment tax liabilities, and filing quarterly and yearly reports, you might want to consider using an employment service.  For a fee, usually from 10% to 40% of payroll, the agency actually employs the people who work for you, and handles all the payroll and tax issues.  You let them know each person’s wage and how many hours worked that week, and the agency creates the paychecks.

As a small employer, you may not be able to offer your employees health benefits, but you can provide them through the agency.  In addition, an agency can supply worker’s compensation insurance coverage for your business, which is often difficult for a small employer to obtain, and it is quite expensive.  The agency locates people who meet your criteria, and lets you interview and approve them before hire.  If you enter “employment services + your city” into your favorite search engine, you can find your choice of local leasing services.

Or, a temp may be just the thing.  Manpower (http://www.manpower.com/) is perhaps one of the most widely known temporary employee agencies, and you may find that hiring a temp fills your need quite nicely.  You can usually hire a temp full-time down the road if things work out well.  Go to Manpower’s website to find local affiliates.

Get Ready, Get Ready, Get Ready

Now is your chance to show that you never would have hired those bozos you used to work with.  Or, perhaps you will find that hiring good people is not as easy as it sounds.  Not only must you know what position needs to be filled, and therefore what skills and traits you need to hire, you must also be aware of your company’s particular personality.  A super-efficient juggernaut of an administrative assistant may ruin your laid back department.  But being a super-efficient juggernaut is not a requirement for being a good admin; good administrative assistants can be laid-back, too.

So spend time up front deciding what skills, abilities, and traits are important to you, and how you are going to recognize them.  Large companies generally have implemented HR (Human Resources) systems complete with job descriptions, compensation schedules, interviewing and hiring procedures, and performance evaluations.  You may feel that you are not big enough for this (yet), but you can glean some of their best practices, starting with job descriptions.

What’s in a Job?

Basically, a job description outlines the purpose of a particular position, the duties and responsibilities involved, and the reporting structure.  Even without a formal job description, you still must outline the responsibilities so that you have a basis for seeking candidates and planning to interview them.  This outline also helps you later, after you have hired the person, as a first point of communication about what job performance is expected.  A helpful website is http://www.businessballs.com/jobdescription.htm, which lists many generic job responsibilities for a number of positions, from which you can pick-and-choose what you really need.  Once you recognize what you are looking for, then you are ready to begin looking.

Finding the Seekers

If you need a local person, it’s best to advertise locally, or use your network of friends and business associates for word-of-mouth referrals.  The Classifieds section of the newspaper is almost certainly being read by those locals looking for jobs.  Usually, a Classifieds ad is short (you are charged by the word or line) and just hits the highlights – job title, level of experience, type of work environment (laid-back, fast-paced, detail-oriented), a few words about duties, a place to send a resume or a number and time to call, and a person to ask for, if applicable.

The current ads that are running are a good resource to pattern your ad after.  Often, the staff at the Classifieds office will help you write your ad, and help you determine when it should run and for how long.  Wednesday and Sunday are typically heavy readership days.  Many newspapers are now online, an extra convenience for you and the potential candidates.  Plus, online local listings are valuable to web based companies since most of the candidates that search these sites are computer literate.

Although the traditional model is to have employees who work with you in your location, it is very common for web companies to employ people who work out of their own offices, which may be hundreds of miles away.  In fact, you might never meet these people face-to-face, and they are not employees, per se, but independent contractors. But more on that later.

You source both employees and independent contractors the same way. Let’s discuss the procedures for hiring on-site employees first.

If a local search has not yielded sufficient results, you can certainly use the internet to attract candidates.  Career Builder (http://www.careerbuilder.com/), Indeed (http://www.indeed.com/), and Monster (http://www.monster.com/) are some of the well known job search sites.  Log into the Employer sections where you can find out their particular requirements and costs.  In addition to the usual info needed for creating an account (name, address, tax id, etc.) you will most likely also need:

  • Info about your company (your chance to sell yourself!)
  • A job title
  • A pretty well developed job description
  • A listing of job duties
  • Required years of experience
  • Job level (Management, Executive, Administrative, Independent Contributor, etc)
  • Salary range, but this may be omitted entirely
  • Whether you will cover travel expenses for an on-site interview
  • Whether relocation is paid for (If you don’t intend to pay for relocation, you need to let candidates know this up front.  Relocation can be quite involved, so check out a site such as http://moving.move.com/ for some valuable info.)
  • Procedure for submitting resume and cover letter.

The sourcing company forwards resumes online to you for review, and then you decide which candidates to contact for interviews.  Your phone calls to set up the interview appointment and to make travel arrangements probably will not be lengthy, but you can conduct a ”mini-interview” to get a feel for the candidates before you commit to the time and expense of bringing them in.  You can begin the conversation by saying something such as, “I was looking over the resume you submitted for my XXXXX opening, and I just had a couple of quick questions for you.”

Then ask something specific about a statement in the cover letter or some of their relevant job experiences.  If you like what you hear, make arrangements.  If not, thank them for their time, remind them that you are still reviewing candidates, and cordially sign off.  You don’t need to promise that you will get back to them, but it is polite and many employers send form letters to all unsuccessful candidates, such as those offered at http://www.4hb.com/letters/.

If you are seeking independent contractors, you can follow the same sourcing procedure, except that relocation is not an issue.  You generally don’t need to bring them in for an on-site interview, unless you simply would like to meet them.  For them, you conduct a phone interview and work out the details of how work gets passed back and forth, what your expectations are, how to submit invoices for payment, etc.  There are wonderful online services that make this process possible and painless such as Basecamp (http://basecamp.com/.)   Independent contractors are generally paid after submitting invoices and are issued a Form 1099-MISC instead of a W-2.

Another place to search for potential employees is in trade journals and industry websites.  You can place journal classified ads in much the same way as in a newspaper, although these ads tend to cost considerably more, and usually have to be submitted a month in advance.  You can find pretty quick turn-around with a trade website, however.

The Employment Application

Once you have selected candidates to interview and made appointments, you want to have your employment application ready for them to complete when they arrive.  There are some questions which you can’t ask on the application, which are the same ones you must avoid during the interview – mainly those that could result in discrimination based on age, gender, disability, national origin, race, religion, or pregnancy.

A couple of solid sample applications are listed at http://jobsearch.about.com/od/jobapplications/Job_Applications.htm.   You can print these out and personalize them with your company info, if you like, or use them to pattern your own.   Also, there are a number of other sites and print materials that contain sample forms – check out Amazon’s business section.  Notice that you can ask the candidate to voluntarily answer some of the sensitive questions, but don’t hold it against them if they choose not to answer.

If you employ 15 or more people, make sure you keep applications and employee records for at least a year, as a requirement of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.)  Fewer than 15, you may choose to keep them for a time, in case of other openings, or if this position comes open again.

The Interview

After the candidate has completed the application, it’s time to meet him or her face-to-face.  After the pleasantries – make sure you don’t small talk any of the taboo areas – you are ready to begin.  Review the application and ask any questions that occur – any gap in employment history, more details about a previous position, etc. Take note of the salary history for future reference.

Also note how quickly the candidate advanced in the company or whether he changed companies every couple of years.  If he rose quickly in one company, it can indicate that he is either a top producer or very political – find out which.  If he is a job-hopper, he may get bored easily, be difficult to work with, or come across better in interviews than he actually performs on the job.  Or it may be that this was the only way that he could advance and grow his salary, due to the characteristics of the companies he worked for.  It is up to you, by the quality of the interview questions you ask and your sound assessment of the answers, to determine if this is a good hire. It is good practice to have a prepared interview form or at least a prepared list of questions, if you find a form too confining for your style.  Having a list helps ensure that you ask everything you feel is important.  You may make notes during the interview, or shortly after while responses are still fresh in your mind.  A good list of typical questions can be found at http://www.datsi.fi.upm.es/~frosal/docs/25mdq.html.  Choose those that will help you accomplish your purpose, but make sure that you include some behavior-based questions.

Behavior-based Interview Questions

This type of question helps you get at what a person has actually done in previous positions.  The basic premise behind behavior-based interviewing is that people can answer ”what would you do if…“ questions any way they think will impress you. That’s not true with ”what did you do when…“ questions.  To answer these, candidates have to stop and think of something that really happened, and the way they proceed to answer gives you a good indication of how well they think on their feet and process information, in addition to how they have managed some real-work experiences.

You may want to include a mix of question types, but be sure to ask some that require the candidate to relay some actual experiences.  Behavior-based questions typically begin with:

  • Describe a time when you had to…
  • Tell me about how you were able to…
  • What did you do when…

A website to visit for a good listing of behavior-based questions is http://www.seekingsuccess.com/articles/art108.php3.

If you are hiring a young person for an entry-level position, he or she may not have work experiences to relay, but very likely has participated in school and volunteer groups.  Women who have been out of the workforce while child rearing also have many alternative situations to describe, which will give you a read on their abilities.

Two Good to be True

Suppose you find two really good candidates.  You can arrange for them to come back for second interviews with others in your company.  Then you can take them out to dinner, or to a meeting, to see how they act in a different setting.  This is also a great time to have them take a personality assessment such as the tried-and-true DiSC assessment at http://www.thediscpersonalitytest.com/ or http://www.resourcesunlimited.com/.

A Word About Discrimination

Discrimination in hiring and Affirmative Action are still very much in the headlines, so perhaps these few comments will give you a useful perspective:  The very fact that you intend to choose one candidate out of a field of possibilities means that you have to discriminate among them.  So, discriminating is necessary.  However, it is the basis for discrimination that is at issue.  A person’s age, gender, religion, disability, or race does not give a clear picture of his or her skills and abilities to perform the job, so a fair hiring decision can’t be based on any of these.  The good news is that behavior-based questions help you make a good, sound hiring decision and keep you from venturing into the murky waters of unfair discrimination.

Preparing to Make an Offer

Now, you and your hiring team, if others are involved, have reviewed all the resumes, applications, and interview responses, and you have zeroed in on one or two top choices.  Your next step is to call the employers and references listed on the applications.  During the interview, be sure to ask candidates if it is all right to call the present employer because they may not want to make it known that they are considering leaving.

Many times, previous employers will only confirm dates of work, job title, and salary; do not be surprised if they do not even tell you why the person left, much less what kind of employee he or she was.  This is true of even great employees, so you can’t make any assumptions about the candidate based on this company policy.  If they do share information, find out what you can about the candidate’s specific job duties, how they got along with coworkers, their attendance and tardiness, and use some of the behavior-based questions you also asked the candidates (What did she do when…).  Make sure to record the answers and keep these in the candidates’ application files.

When calling references, find out how long and under what circumstances this person has known the candidate.  If the reference is a former coworker, ask the same as of a former employer – specific job duties, how they got along with coworkers, and some behavior-based questioning.  Several websites contain good lists of questions to ask a reference; http://jobsearch.about.com/od/referencesrecommendations/a/refercheck.htm is a good one to check out.

Background Checks

Before you make that final decision, it is a good idea to perform a background search, mainly to find out about things such as criminal record, driving record, workers compensation claims, and credit history.  Your employment application should contain a section to inform candidates that a background check will be performed. Have them read and sign this section, so you have their permission to do this.

There are many reputable online services to consider, usually for a fairly low fee. Sites like http://www.ussearch.com/, http://www.employeescreen.com/, and http://www.crimcheck.com/ are worth checking out.

Making the Offer

Once you have made your selection, you call the person and give him the good news!  Part of that good news includes the salary and benefits you offer.  You may have to do a bit of negotiating over salary at this point.  Assuming you get a “yes,” you may want to consider scheduling a drug test, especially for workers who may be working with dangerous equipment.

Usually, results are back to you within a few days, and when they are, you call the candidate and finalize the offer.  Then, set the date for them to start, remembering that it is customary to give a current employer two-week’s notice.

The First Day

When your new hire arrives, make sure that you, or whoever is to receive him, are available; nothing makes a person feel more unimportant than having to sit cooling his heels, waiting for someone to show up.  You can be there and show the same level of enthusiasm you want him to show as your employee.  Whether before or after the paperwork, give them a tour and introduce the new coworkers, go through the break room, etc.  If you have company materials, give him those.  Also have a job description on hand so you can go over in more detail the job responsibilities.

The INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) requires that all employees show proof of eligibility to work in the USA.  This is accomplished by completing Form I-9, and making photocopies of the appropriate documentation, such as driver’s license, birth certificate, passport, green card, citizenship papers.  The form is available for download at http://www.uscis.gov/.   When this form with photocopies is completed, do not file it with the employee’s other papers, but have a separate file for all employee I-9’s.

For the IRS, the new hire needs to complete a W-4, which can be downloaded from http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4.pdf?portlet=3. This, of course, tells your payroll department about withholding exemptions for federal income tax.

If your state requires the completion of some forms, have those on hand, as well.  Some states require that you report new hires, which can usually be done online at your state’s website for corporations.

Also have any company forms ready, which may be as simple as the form for logging everybody’s birthdays for office parties, to your insurance and 401k enrollment forms.

In Summary

Bringing quality people into your organization can be tricky, and there are many issues to consider.  By deciding what skills, abilities, and traits are important to you, you know who to look for and how to begin interviewing them.  Good paperwork practices aid the process, whether it’s the employment application, or the interview form, or the many new hire forms that must be completed.  Being ready goes a long way in making the process successful for you and your new hire.

IMPress Action Checklist

Use this checklist to guide you as you work through the hiring process.  Check each item off as it’s completed:

  • Decide the skills, abilities, and employee traits that promote your success
  • Decide whether to hire or lease employees
  • To lease, contact the employee leasing company with your requirements
  • Decide whether you need employees or independent contractors
  • Prepare a job description
  • Advertise locally or over the internet
  • Screen resumes
  • Set up interview appointments
  • Prepare company job application
  • Prepare interview questions
  • Narrow choices to top one or two
  • Arrange second interviews, if needed
  • Perform personality assessment
  • Check references
  • Check background
  • Extend offer, conditioned on passing pre-employment physical
  • Schedule physical
  • Extend finalized offer
  • Schedule start date
  • Complete necessary paperwork: I-9 & W-4, plus any others

Written by

In 1999, Lisa Rae created her first online small business eCommerce website. She successfully achieved a client base of over 15,000 active customers by implementing customer creation and retention projects. Her execution of online advertising campaigns, as well as print media campaigns that lead to annual revenue of over a million dollars annually. After six years of leadership, Lisa Rae sold the company and began offering marketing consultant and website services on short and long term contracts for businesses of various sizes. She meets her clients’ objectives through customized marketing plans using a wide range of marketing tools including WordPress website creation, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Marketing, print collateral, email marketing, and more.