Good Help is Hard to Find...But Not Impossible

While every custom integration firm does it in their own way, recruiting good employees is more of a science than an art.
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In the 1969 movie version of the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly!, a merry New York widow (played by Barbra Streisand) is known as one who "arranges things...like furniture and daffodils and lives." Throughout the classic tale, Streisand's Dolly Levi does just that, earning herself the reputation as the best matchmaker in town.

With some well-choreographed box steps and her woman's intuition, Dolly came out on top. These days, however, matchmaking--especially in relation to recruiting for a position within a company--is more of a science than an art.

Some companies even put their job candidates through psycho-graphic testing before handing over a signing bonus. Still, ask any employer about recruiting, and they will declare that good help is hard to find--or, at least, hire.

"You have to hire for attitude and train for skills," said Ray Lepper, president of Home Media Richmond, a custom installation firm based in Midlothian, Virginia (www.homedia.com). "You can teach someone how to do things, but you can't teach them the values, sensibilities, and the kind of internal drive it takes to be successful."

Human resources texts instruct recruiters on the various types of job interviewing techniques. Indirect interviewers don't always follow a structured list of questions, preferring to get candidates to open up and talk about themselves. Others prefer a more structured approach, following the same detailed guideline for each and every interview. For high-pressure positions, some interviewers opt to put the interviewee under a great deal of stress as a way of measuring how that individual would do in a crisis.
Lepper is partial to the indirect approach. "I ask them to tell me stories about themselves and their lives," he said.

At The Audio Warehouse, a custom installer and commercial systems integrator based in Charleston, South Carolina (www.theaudiowarehouse.com), once interested parties submit their resumes, they are asked to come in and fill out a job application. "If the individual has a history that shows they have the skills and education to do what we are looking for, we will typically go ahead and check their references before we sit down and do an interview in an effort to save time, and to find out if the person is who they say they are," explained Russ Pritchard, the company's president. "That way, when the person comes in we have a better idea of who we are talking to."

Not only does this save time during the interview; it weeds out who shouldn't be interviewed at all. Pritchard estimates that 25 percent of those who initially submit resumes don't return to fill out an application.

What is included on job applications and during interviews must be carefully crafted, since employers are legally forbidden to ask certain questions. Pritchard runs his questions by his attorney to confirm that they fall within the law. Because The Audio Warehouse installs security systems, it must also conduct background checks on potential recruits; job candidates are informed of this in advance.

Ray Inglesi, president of Drake Inglesi Milardo, Inc., a human resources consultancy based in Portland, Maine (www.dimihr.com), notes that while most companies are clear about specific job functions, they are more vague about what it takes to get the job done. "They don't always have a good handle on the competencies that will ultimately determine the success of the job," he said. "At the more senior levels, the critical mistakes are almost always about fit. It could be something as specific as how the candidate fits in terms of chemistry or personality, or with the particular culture of the organization."

Regardless of what the HR manuals declare, many entrepreneurs would agree with Dolly Levi: your instincts are usually right.

"We are taught to rationalize our instincts away," said Lepper, who admits that he hasn't based enough decisions on instinct. "I believe that we all have a little voice inside, and unless you are truly a maladjusted person, that voice will tell you whether this is a good person for the job or not."

Human resources experts warn against depending on your gut too much. "It costs them money in the long run," said Margaret Munzel, senior consultant at The Arbor Consulting Group, a national human resources management consulting firm operating out of Northville, Michigan (www.arborhr.com). "Every job has certain requirements, skills and behaviors that you need out of an employee, and you aren't really assessing that appropriately if you are hiring on your gut."
Inglesi agrees. "That is one of the key mistakes that hiring managers make; they bring too much subjectivity into the process," he said. "A big reason why companies hire people like us to come in and do an assessment is because we take the subjectivity out of the process."

In practice--at least for Home Media Richmond and The Audio Warehouse--relying on instincts seems to have worked so far. Like Lepper, Pritchard bases much of the final hiring decision on instinct. "I look at how they handle themselves and their demeanor," he said. When he doesn't listen to his gut, he says, he's made a mistake. "Unfortunately, I haven't listened to it, and more often than not, it's been right."
If your instincts are wrong, however, you must carry out the entire process all over again. "What it means is that you are hiring someone that is potentially a bad fit for you, and it is going to cost you more money to re-hire the right person than if you just did it right the first time. You are better off making an investment in finding the right person than you are by hiring based on your gut or hiring according to too speedy a process. It pays to take your time."

Lepper is greatly aware of that lament. "One of the worst mistakes we have made is feeling like we were very desperate and had to fill the position," he said. "We would fill it with the best person we could find at the time, and too often that wasn't the right person. We have also pinned too many hopes on one person, thinking that this is the person who is going to put it all right, and the expectations are so high that you are instantly disappointed."

Recruitment doesn't end once someone has been hired. Part of the hiring process entails properly introducing the new recruit into the organization once the hire is made, according to Munzel. "You want to put a bit of time into orienting someone once you have hired them," she said. "A lot of people don't think of that as part of the recruiting process, but that's the way to make sure they get situated so they are happier in the long run."

While the Internet has provided employers with another way to advertise positions, many continue to rely on good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth. "The Internet is a cheap way to source a lot of candidates at once, but it's expensive in terms of the time it takes to go through that many resumes. You want to be careful about how you use it," Munzel advised. "Amazingly, even with the introduction of the Internet, a large number of positions are filled through networking."

And, if you're always on the lookout, you are in a better position when you do require someone. "The people who are very good at recruiting are constantly building relationships," Munzel said. "They are constantly scanning for good people-they may not even have an opening but they are making connections and keeping in touch. They are building a network so that when they do have an opening, they are not starting from scratch."

Carolyn Heinze (carolyn@carolynheinze.com) works from her office in Vancouver, Canada.

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