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When The Old Ways No Longer Work

Changing the way you interview job applicants

There was that day when one of the staff members of the store this writer previously owned asked a question. "Where did you find that last person you hired?"

While I do not remember the exact answer, it probably was that the applicant had been referred to us, had answered a newspaper ad, or simply walked in the door in response to a window sign.  I do remember my response question to my staff member. It was, "Pretty good, huh?"

The answer from my staff member was, "No. This one is worse than the last one". And while this answer did hurt, we did find out within the next two months that the staff member's initial observation was on target. Shortly thereafter, the employee was gone.

I explained how I had conducted the interview and made a couple of phone calls to check their references. Our application form was much like the one used by many businesses. You know, the one you purchase in the local office supply store.

The application asks about the past employment, military history, and if there is anything else they want us to know about them. While I am not sure what military history has to do with working retail, I do remember that the question was on the application regardless of where you bought the pad of applications.

Looking back at the short term employee, while realizing I had not hired the next super employee, I thought I had found someone we could work with. Going back to our initial conversation, I asked again, "What is wrong with this one?"

"Would you like the answer alphabetically, or according to importance?", was the response from the staff member. The back and forth questions continued. "You think you could do better?", I asked.

"I couldn't do any worse."

And somehow, that response gave the idea that caused us to change the way we hired our staff. We began by creating our own job application. We kept the basic questions of name, address, past employment, and a couple more. But we then added several new questions.

And instead of the traditional very tiny space for the answer, we provided plenty of room for essay style answers. Some of the questions were, "Tell us what you liked about where you last worked? What special talents do you bring to our business? If you were still there, what would you like to change about where you last worked? Two years from now, what do you see yourself doing in our business? What do you like to do in your spare time? What do you consider as your greatest accomplishment?"

There was also a copy of the job description attached to the job application. The job description was not a lengthy and complicated form. Instead with short sentences, such as 'Take care of the customer', or 'Maintain your assigned section of the store in an attractive manner'.

The details of these two assignments as well as all others were explained in our staff meetings which were held after hours, biweekly, and were one hour in length. In our staff meetings we practiced sales skills, discussed our advertising, and educated our staff as to the products and services we offered.

Anyone applying for a job in a business using this type of application will quickly know they are in a different type of business. The second unique technique we used was to allow our best staff members do the hiring. Our best cashier was now assigned the task of interviewing and selecting new cashiers. Our two best salespeople interviewed and selected new salespeople.

By selecting their new coworkers, our staff members had responded to the challenge they had issued to themselves when they stated they could not do any worse. We added a challenge to our old staff, and increased the chances of the success with their selections of new staff, by assigning to each new staff member a current staff member  as their mentor and aide.

We remembered a book that explained that a business would spend 40% to 60% of the first year's salary, just getting the person educated to the point where they could contribute to the business. Add to this statistic, that most of us would agree that if the new employee is going to quit, they will do so in the first four months.

The mentor was to assist the new person in mastering the various skills in our business; sales techniques, stocking the shelves, building displays, and any of the other duties that would be assigned to them.  Of course, the new person attended the bi-weekly staff meetings with all of their coworkers, and participated in all of our staff events.

Instead of the traditional scenario with the owner of the business providing all of the education, it is now a coworker. And as you would expect, the new staff member is more likely to listen to the information provided by a coworker than if it were provided by the owner.

This not all of the unique components in our new hiring technique. For while there is a benefit to the owner of the business, and to the new employee, there needs to be a benefit to the staff member who served as the mentor.

Remember the cost of educating a new staff member? And the likelihood of their leaving in the first few months? Knowing that risk and cost, an incentive package was created that would reward the mentor with a one week paid vacation if the new staff member were to achieve a superior rating on their job review after the first six months.

Now imagine the effort of the mentor knowing what they will receive when their mentee successfully completes the initial period.

Of course, we did not see the results immediately. It took time, effort, and our selling the idea to our current staff members. And we found it was the only way to go when the old ways no longer work.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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