How to Grow a Business
Grow Your Business with Good Hiring Practices
Hiring the right employees is not only a Best Practice, it is a key to business growth. Too Many employers get it backwards, thinking that you first grow a business, then quickly hire employees to meet the demand. Hiring, done properly, is actually a way to grow a business, because the right employees will help the business to grow. Many employers treat hiring as a necessary annoyance and hurry through the process to get it over with. Hiring the right people can breathe life into your business plan and your business itself. The opposite is also true: hiring the wrong people and your plans can be dashed. Do not delegate hiring, no matter how minor the position. Obviously, depending on the size of your organization, you may need to have some initial screening done by others, but the final decision is yours. If you administer a test, or have a lengthy application form that needs to be filled out, delegate someone to oversee this process. I wish I could say otherwise, but hiring people isn’t easy. Like anything well executed, you need to plan, to go through the necessary procedures, and to make a decision based on reason, not emotion.
Some economists thing that job growth will be anemic for many years to come. After the terrible business downturn, many organizations that had to lay off employees have chosen to purchase productivity-enhancing technology, rather than simply start hiring as business starts to pick up. As consumers start to spend and businesses start to recover, it becomes necessary to hire. Many business owners are putting off hiring until the last minute because the future looks cloudy. The bottom line: there are a lot of people out there—good people—who can propel your business to new heights. Your job is to find them.
Being Specific about Your Hiring Needs
Whether you are writing a job posting or spreading the word among your contacts, it is just plain stupid to be vague about the job opening. If it’s entry level, say so. I once advertised for an editorial assistant, a typical entry-level job in publishing. I wasn’t specific enough that it was entry level, and I spent long hours combing through résumés of PhDs who apparently thought the job was for a senior editor. If the job is high level, say so also. You are wasting your time and that of the job seeker if you don’t communicate what you want.
In times of economic trouble,getting résumés to your mailroom is the easy part. Craigslist.com has become a category killer for classified ads. It is credited, if that isn’t a poor choice of words, with putting major and local newspapers out of business in California because so much of the classified ad revenue migrated from the newspapers to Craigslist. It is widely used, probably because it’s free to post job openings. You will be amazed how many responses you get to a posting on craigslist.com. Smart job hunters make it widely known among friends to help them by being on the lookout for any openings, and this can result in your job posting becoming viral by word of mouth. Craigslist is a no-brainer. Depending on the position that you have available, you may also want to investigate paid job listing sites, like monster.com. You can also use the phenomenon of social networking to get the word out. Don’t ignore Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Imagine tweeting “Job opening for licensed property insurance agent on Long Island,” followed by a link to your website. That tweet can go viral within a matter of hours. Besides lists and social networking media, don’t ignore word of mouth recruiting; make it known to your entire circle of friends and contacts that you have an opening. There is no single magic bullet. Use multiple approaches, and you will have no problem getting qualified applicants.
Cover letters and résumés are an applicant’s opportunity to get your attention and capture your interest. As important as these documents are, it’s amazing how many jobseekers pay so little attention to getting it right. There are books, seminars, and articles on the Internet about the dos and don’ts of résumé writing. As a prospective employer, you have every right to expect that both the cover letter and résumé will be executed perfectly. Not well executed. Perfectly executed. Spelling errors, typos, and poor grammar tell a lot about the job seeker. Do you expect that, once hired, this person is suddenly going to stop making mistakes? As a publisher, I was especially critical of the submitted written word. Even one mistake would take the seeker out of contention. A cover letter and résumé are the most important project on the applicant’s desk, and if that job is botched, think about how the applicant would handle an important project or assignment. Don’t think that you are being overly hard-assed about this. The job seeker has the opportunity to proofread the résumé and to get input from friends. The word “whoops” doesn’t cut it in the world of résumés.
How Do You Decide?
What Are Your Most Important Hiring Criteria
Résumé Red Flags
Reading a résumé requires a lot of common sense, not to mention a good dose of a caffeinated beverage, but there are some critical issues that you should tune your antenna to: the résumé itself. As discussed above, if the résumé is covered with mistakes, don’t assume that the mistakes will magically go away when you hire the person. Preparing a résumé is an applicant’s first opportunity to put his best foot forward, and if that foot has the wrong shoe on it, trash the résumé.
Job-hopping. I once read a résumé where the applicant listed a new job every year for 12 years. My imagination couldn’t come up with a valid reason for changing jobs once a year, so I tossed the résumé. There is no magic formula for how many years a person should remain on a job, but don’t expect the job-hopping to stop with you. Whether it’s a problem with attention span, an inability to get along with others, or simply restiveness, a job- hopper is not someone you want to work for you. So, what is the right number? I don’t know; it’s your call. But 12 jobs in 12 years? Hop away.
Too much variation in jobs. He tried marketing for a while, then to moved to finance, followed up by a stint in IT, and then went on to the restaurant industry. What’s going on? There may be a good reason that a person has held many different jobs; it could show creativity or ambition. I wouldn’t toss a résumé based on these criteria alone, but it is a red flag. If you choose to interview the applicant, delve into his ever-changing career plan.
Total lack of experience. This is the problem for the applicant who is just out of school. I list it as a red flag because you should be concerned, but I don’t consider lack of job experience for an entry-level person to be an automatic exclusion. Everybody has to start somewhere, but it is your job to determine if your business will be the starting place. At minimum, you know that a person lacking in experience will require a lot of training and mentoring. On the positive side, an inexperienced applicant will be trained according to your requirements, and you will not have to untrain bad habits. If you see that the applicant had interesting experiences during her time in school, you may consider an interview. If the applicant did her homework, she would have listed every extracurricular activity as if it were a job. Volunteer activities, sports, school club memberships—all of these could indicate a flower about to bloom. Oh yes, don’t forget grades if academic achievement is a requirement. Ask for a transcript before you set up an interview. I’m not suggesting that a job applicant might lie on a résumé, but stranger things have happened.
The unemployed applicant. Some businesses have a policy of not hiring anyone who is unemployed. This is just plain stupid. If a person is unemployed, obviously you want to know the story. Was the person fired? How long has he or she been unemployed? As I write this, the government, in its unflagging belief that the free market cannot be left to its own devices, may soon get into the act. The administration is talking about making it a discriminatory labor practice to refuse to hire the unemployed. If this becomes law, you won’t even be able to ask questions about the period of unemployment, which shows the insanity of such a proposal. Would you be required to file a federal affidavit under oath for every résumé you look at, swearing that you did not grant an interview for other than the reason that the person is unemployed? The federal government will do what it does best (worst?) and write rules and regulations to solve a perceived problem, but my point is that refusing to hire someone simply because that person is unemployed is a bad business practice. There are a lot of talented people out there who have lost their jobs because of economic conditions. Employment status should not be an automatic trigger to refuse to interview someone.
Most experienced business and professional people that I know think they’re David Frost or Barbara Walters when they interview someone. “I have had enough years under my belt to be a good judge of character based on an interview alone.” Baloney. An interview is a surface-level exchange, and how much you can tell about someone by talking across a desk is limited. The formal job interview is important, but don’t think it means everything. Interviewees are on their best behavior, wanting to impress you, and you’re on your best behavior, wanting to impress the interviewees. It’s like asking a girl to dance. The fact that she is pretty, laughs at your jokes, and carries on a good conversation does not necessarily mean you should get married. What about shy people? Shy people should not be shy on an interview, right? Nonsense—shy people are shy, and some make terrific employees. It depends on the job. If it’s a sales position, shyness might be a real detriment. But what about an editorial assistant, a bookkeeper, a file clerk, or a computer technician? Some of my best employees were extremely shy but did a great job. An interview is a theatrical situation, with the actors playing their parts, including you. Don’t expect too much of it. A Best Practice is to have the applicant interviewed by other key employees. They might see something that you missed. Always—always—ask the applicant why he left each job. This is critical because the answers might tell you a lot about the person. And learn you will because you are going to interview the people for whom he once worked. More about this below in the references section.
The most important thing about interviewing is this: don’t hire yourself. A good organization has a variety of characters, with different personalities and idiosyncrasies, and it’s a mistake to think that all of your employees should have the same traits as you. I discuss this in more detail shortly. Too many “mini-mes” can make for a very weird organization.
References: The Gold Standard of Hiring
Are you a good judge of character? Of course you are; we all think we are. But experience has taught me that sometimes I can be a lousy judge of character, and I have made some bone-headed hiring decisions just because I liked the applicant. Be humble, admit your social fallibility, and talk to prior employers, the people for whom the applicants actually worked. If the applicant refuses to give references, politely, and for obvious reasons, end the interview. If former employers have something good to say, they will say it. Do call the references and interview them. People worry about legal liability for a host of things, and a lawsuit for defamation of character is one of them. Such people will either risk the legal liability and tell you exactly why they fired your applicant or will say “No comment.” “No comment” is a big comment. Talking to former employers will tell you much more about an applicant than you will ever get from an interview. But don’t be overly swayed by positive comments and praise. Consider the possibility that a former employer had to let go of the person because he, the employer screwed up the business and had to lay off people because of it. To assuage his guilt, he might overly praise the applicant because he really wants to help the applicant get a job (to replace the one he lost). Be skeptical and balanced when you talk to references. Good people have been fired for bad reasons. Just ask John Sculley, the guy who fired Steve Jobs from Apple. Whoops!
Hiring is critical because firing (and replacing) is difficult.It is also critical because the old adage is true: people are the heart of a business.