New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is 2.6%, New England is at 4.4%; this is all great news in the short term for consumers, but it’s making hiring pretty tough for my small business clients. I have a unique hiring process that usually brings the cream of the crop to my clients’ employee roster, but the past couple of months have been a little rough, and I don’t expect the summer to improve. What can a small business owner do?
First and foremost, you’ve got to have a successful mindset. All too often, I hear business owners say “I’ll never find anyone” or they tell me how tough their industry is. The labor market may be tighter than we’d like, but as in all things, a negative attitude does not benefit us. There are employees choosing a new position, a new company every day; we just need to be sure that we are the one being chosen. Here is how a small business owner can win fabulous new employees over “the big guys”:
- Show how working for a small business, over a large or national business, is a benefit to employees. While you may not be able to compete with a large business budget, you can compete on the personal impact they can make, one-on-one leadership training (from you), hands-on learning, and growth opportunities.
- Let prospective employees know that you will rely on them. Survey after survey supports the notion that employees want to make a difference, they want to be engaged. You know how much you’re looking forward to your new hire, all the hopes of what they can give to your organization. Let them know.
- Show prospective employees how their skill set will broaden. Personal example: I graduated from college with a business degree, specializing in accounting, and then became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). I could have continued on in large corporations, most likely spending my career in accounting departments, maybe finance (yawn…). Instead, by moving to small business, I developed strong operational skills in everything from manufacturing to human resources, even sales and marketing.
- Fewer people, less politics. Americans, especially millennials, are more likely to live away from their families, so work colleagues often become our “family”. While “family” may invoke the idea of politics to some, a small business family looks out for each other, has fewer spats, and are so focused on customer and client care that politics fall by the wayside. It’s all hands on deck, and there is no time for politics.
- Share how the work they do on a daily basis will make a difference – for you, the owner and your family, your customers and clients, and their colleagues, whether other employees or key third-party relationships. Your team will know the important people in your life personally and will become a familiar face/voice to customers and key vendors; people will rely on them and that brings satisfaction on a daily basis.
If your business is growing and hiring, start with a positive attitude. You know how great it feels (usually!) to work in a small business; be sure to let prospective employees know. What has brought hiring success to your small business recently? Share your great ideas and let small businesses grow.
In last week’s post, I talked about how to start your search for a new team member. Remember, your focus is on narrowing down the resumes you’ll receive so that you can interview the candidates that have the skills and personality that will work best with your existing team. Think of it like this: if you were dating these candidates, would you ask them for a second date? At this point you already know (from their resume) where they went to school and whether or not they have any additional certifications.
That being said, you have to be ready to ask the right questions.
- Choose a set of standard interview questions based on your “must haves” and ideal qualities. The entire purpose of the first round of questions is to determine if they have your “must have” requirements. Here are some sample questions:
- Tell me about your current end of day process. (Must Have=organization skills, work processing).
- We all work better with some people more than others. If I were to speak with the person that least gets along with you at work, what would they say about you? Tell me about a recent interaction between the two of you (Must Have=team player).
Ask every candidate the same questions and record their answers. A table format like the one here will be the easiest. Note their responses, but also watch their body language. Are they open? Are they listening and communicating well?
2. As you begin each interview, let the candidate know that “this is not your typical interview.” Prepare them for the process: you have a list of standard questions, they will do most of the talking, and you have 30 minutes together. Let them know that you will bring the top two candidates back for a second interview.
3. Prepare yourself, as well, for a different sort of interview. We worry about job applicants liking us, worry about what they will think about our business and us as a business owner; to compensate, we tell them about our business, how great it is, how our customers love us. This may sound harsh, but this is not the time for that. The first interview is very much like a first date: its sole purpose is to decide if you want a second date/interview. Get comfortable with silence: don’t feel the need to fill it with your voice. The job applicants will also be uncomfortable with the silence; you will learn a lot about them by how they choose to fill the silence.
4. At the interview conclusion, let applicants know what to expect; you will bring the top two candidates back for a second interview within the next week, and that you will let all candidates know if they are being invited back.
5. Again, rate each applicant post-interview as a 1, 2, or 3. Invite the #1s for a second interview. Thank the other candidates for their time, but let them know that they are not the right fit for your organization.
6. The second interviews should run fairly similarly to the first; as close in time to each other as possible, in a set schedule, and with a list of standard questions. You are looking for those ideal qualities, the “extras” that each candidate has to set them apart from the other. The second interview is your chance to tell them more about the organization and its future, although they should have already gotten the basics from their research.
Remember the ultimate goal: you need a team member that will be a vital part of your business or organization. With that in mind, this is not a process that is to be rushed or done haphazardly. Take your time. Really focus on what your business needs, and not necessarily on what you think you should have.
My clients are hiring, and if your business is growing you are, too. While employment numbers are improving across the country (this is great news for the general economy), it may also mean it’s more difficult for you to hire your next employee. You may be in a better position to hire, with more available workers than ever, but lack the time and patience to actually “hire”. Sometimes business owners postpone the hiring process because “it’s just such a hassle” or “takes too much time”. One client recently received almost 30 resumes in the 24 hours after posting an opening. Not to worry; I have helped many of these clients hire more quickly, easily and successfully with just a few simple tips that I am going to share here.
Yes, you need a job description (most often asked question!) but I want you to break it down between the following:
- Must Haves. These are skills as well as attributes that a successful candidate absolutely must have. Consider these to be your non-negotiables. Remember, skills can be taught; what will make an employee successful or not in your organization are their values, perspective, and attitude. Business owners are often confused about how much experience to require; decide before you hire if you want someone to hit the ground running and prefer not to do a lot of training, or if you are willing to train your future hire. If you love training and grooming staff, less experience is acceptable. Remember that the more specific you are in your description, the more detailed applicants will be. You still may have applicants apply even if they don’t meet the stated experience requirement, but your specificity will help narrow down who meets the qualification and who does not.
- Ideal qualities. These are applicant skills, attributes or personal goals that would make you giddy with excitement. Although this is a personal example, it makes the point: I once hired a babysitter who loved to do errands because that was a skill that I knew would help me, even if it’s not part of the typical job description.
Your job opening posting placement can make or break your success. Think beyond skills: what kind of person are they? Craigslist.com is a different audience than your local coffee shop and LinkedIn.
Shift the hiring work load to applicants. The prospect of wading through piles of resumes and cover letters is daunting and has stopped many business owners from hiring anyone or hiring well. They just want the process over. Here’s my favorite trick: require applicants to answer 2-4 questions to send along with their resume. Well-worded questions allow you to determine which applicants are willing to put some quality effort into finding a job and which possess your “must haves”. These questions can be used to assess skills that people may leave off of their resume: are they creative, are they flexible, do they have a sense of humor? Do they look at information with a fresh perspective? Rather than plowing through resumes and cover letters only to possibly find which applicants might be a fit, ask them straight out about the attributes you need. Let me give you a couple of examples:
- One business needed an employee who worked well independently and who was willing to dig around when they didn’t know the answer. In the ad, we gave applicants a part description and asked them to find 2 suppliers, the part number, and the price of the part. We weren’t looking for perfection, only looking at their research and deductive reasoning skills.
- Another business owner for whom customer service is paramount asked applicants to describe the best customer service they had ever experienced. This let the business owner compare what the applicants described as extreme customer care to his own expectations.
Rate each applicant a 1, 2, or 3.
- 1=must speak to/must interview
- 2=acceptable if #1s don’t work out. Need more info to decide if they are a 1 or a 3.
- 3=not acceptable. Let them know immediately so you’re not tempted to bring them in.
Invite your #1 candidates for an interview. Schedule them for 30-40 minutes each, back to back. If they want the job, they will find a way to make it work. At this point, we are still making it easy for you and, to some extent, testing applicants.
Keep in mind that at this point, your goal is to find the people that you want to interview, only. Do NOT try to make a hiring decision simply on someone’s resume: some people look great “on paper”, but may be a poor fit for your business when you meet them in person. Decide early on what you want, and use this method to filter your applicants. Happy Hunting!
A “wish list” will help you know today what’s most important to your client.
Gathering client or customer information is standard procedure in many industries: chiropractors, veterinarians, interior design, heck – even business coaches! Contact information is tedious to write and collect and, for me, a bit annoying in this age of technology. I’ve found a way for many of my clients to turn it from a chore to an incredibly valuable tool for the business owner and the customer or client:
Ditch your “Client Information Sheet”
And instead, ask for a “Wishlist”.
Beyond the basics, ask customers or clients for a wish list of items and to rank them in order from #1, their Biggest Wish, sequentially to #2, #3, and so on. For example, an eye doctor’s patients might wish for using only one pair of glasses, rather than switching back and forth to reading glasses. The wish of an interior designer’s client might be to create a gathering spot for her family to play games. Understanding a customer or client’s wishes allows you to:
1.) use their language when communicating with them, and
2.) get to the heart of how you can best help them immediately, which in turn often results in sales and a more satisfied customer.
When you speak in their terms, your customer feels understood and their concerns and ideas valued. Further, having a customer wish list gives you insight into your market’s future, it gives you marketing language and tactics, it gives you a sales’ forecast, and, if used properly, an ongoing revenue stream.
Beyond products and specific services, a wish list can tell you what your customer’s current frustrations are with product/service delivery. A financial service industry client of mine learned that face-to-face account reviews was a frustration for some, from clients who wished for “Account reviews via phone or Skype”. Another client, a high-end custom product provider, learned that the wait between their custom order and delivery was frustration. This set the company to shaving unnecessary time out of the process and to providing customers with product completion updates. Customers received photos of their products in production, which kept them excited and the provider in their mind. Customers tend to show those pictures to friends who then investigate the company. Happy, regularly informed customers became referral engines for the custom product provider.
Turning your Client Information Sheet into a Wish List is fairly simple to do (30 minutes or less!) and provides you market research, sales forecast data, and incredibly satisfied customers. That’s a wish I’d like granted to every business owner out there!
Small business owners have a lot to get done; my tasks so far this week have included replacing my office chair, invoicing, initiating a new targeted-market marketing campaign, filling the bird feeders outside my office windows, client meetings, and, well…you get the picture. Some tasks are urgent, others not urgent but important, and some – not urgent and not important. Facebook and filling the bird feeders fall into that last category. Stephen Covey, in his landmark book First Things First, popularized an idea presented by President Eisenhower; we have tasks which are urgent, and rarely important and tasks which are important, but rarely urgent. In small business terms, it looks like this:
- Urgent and important tasks: Correcting errors, fighting fires, deadline-driven projects, employee crises. In Covey terms, these are Quadrant I tasks. A clear business vision and effective business systems will eliminate time spent on these tasks.
- Not urgent but important tasks: Ahhh, The Lovely Quadrant II, my favorite place to spend time. Strategic work, tasks in line with a business vision, chosen to move a business forward. I once created a “Q2” group when I was in corporate, an employee group who focused on long-term strategy and systems. These are the tasks that are often postponed because they are not urgent and there is sometimes some fear around accomplishing them.
- Urgent but not important tasks: These tasks often help someone else, or we have taken them on to be “nice”, or if we’re not clear about our own business vision. Incoming phone calls and emails can be seen as urgent, but very few are important to our business. Other examples might include networking that’s not in line with our business model.
- Not urgent and not important tasks: Most of our time on social networks falls into this category, fantasy football, Candy Crush,as does filling my bird feeders. If you’re not sure, ask yourself what the consequence would be if you did not spend time on the task.
If you want to know how you’re spending your time, use the template here.