The Hot Seat

February 29, 2016

For any potential employee, the hiring process can be long, slow, frustrating, and somewhat painful. On the other hand, the person doing the hiring needs to be methodical and strategic. Unfortunately, there’s no simple way of ensuring that the hiring process is both effective and fair – much less painless.

Over the years, I’ve been hired and have hired dozens of people and frankly, neither side of the process is particularly fun. I’m fairly certain that sometimes the person doing the hiring is more uncomfortable than the person hoping to be hired. The hot seat is often hot for both sides of the equation.

A recent Business Journals article entitled, How to Build Company Culture for the Long Haul, offers a few suggestions for creating a company built on a foundation of awesome employees. Perhaps their first suggestion should be a driving force, as you build your employee roster.

Hire slow, fire fast, and pay them to leave. That’s how they describe the process for hiring and firing. While I doubt any business is inclined to pay a severance when an employee is let go, the idea of hiring slowly and firing fast is always a great idea. Take your time to hire, but don’t let a problem stick around too long.

In any article about the hiring process, it almost always suggests skipping what Forbes magazine referred to as the “magic bullet question.” Almost everyone who’s been hired by a company has been asked some dopey question the brain trust in HR dreamed up. You know the type of question, “What color Crayola are you?” or, “If you are a tree, what type of tree would you be?” Other goofy questions include, “What Muppet would you be?”, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and, “Why are manhole covers round?” Really? The last question made famous by Microsoft HR’s department. The answer to that question by the way is because a round manhole cover can never fall into the hole… just in case you’re asked that in an interview. Who knows, maybe Microsoft is hiring.

Lately it seems as though almost everyone in the hiring role comes up with a list of questions that turn the process into a Q&A session. If that’s your approach be sure to familiarize yourself with all the questions you can’t ask a potential employee. Some are obvious like, whether or not they’re planning on getting pregnant (especially if they’re a guy), or how old they are. Just remember the hiring process can be a legal minefield. Before you jot down all the questions you plan to pose to a candidate, spend a few minutes and talk to your HR department or go on the Internet to learn what you can’t ask and more importantly what you shouldn’t ask. Remember, you’re not Oprah and this isn’t a daytime talk show.

In the retail world, most of your hiring is for floor staff. These people are your front-line, your direct connection to the customer. It makes sense that the ideal candidate be gregarious, outgoing and have a genuine interest in helping people. They should be a people person! While a little cliché, you really do want a people person.

Try this approach, create questions that lead to a conversation rather than simple one sentence answers. How do their interests fit with the mission of your store and your institution? Are they too opinionated? Will they get along with the rest of the team? Will they get along with customers? Do they have a natural curiosity about what you sell? Will they be experts? Will that high level of energy in the interview still be there during those inevitable slow times? Letting a conversation develop, even if it’s slightly off track, may just be the best way to find someone who’s the right fit for your operation.

Taking the time to hire the best possible employee can pay dividends for any store. A great employee can be dynamite, while a bad hire can simply be a dud or they can do more harm than good.

Steve White is a writer and entrepreneur based in Denver.

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