Hiring Keepers

In this economy, it is more important than ever for contractors to be careful about their hiring practices.

In the last column, we talked about ways you can expand your recruiting strategies to see more, better quality recruits who stand a better chance of lasting more than a couple of weeks. Now, let’s talk about making the process smoother and easier.

Given today’s labor pool, you need to do more recruiting. It may be time to delegate this to someone who will focus on this, as that may free you up to manage your business better. You do not have to hire a full time HR person, but you might want to delegate recruiting functions to an Office Manager or other staff persons in your office.

The Application

As a practical matter, for field labor you can probably use an abbreviated hiring process. You should use a good employment application. A good application will ask the questions and get the answers you really need, e.g., education, experience, basic background information, references, etc. You may decide you do not need education information, but it is probably cheaper to use a comprehensive application and just tell field labor candidates which sections to complete. You definitely want prior employment history and reference information.

A good application will also have important legal information that you want the applicant to know. This is an “at-will” employment. There will be a background check, drug test, credit check, and/or motor vehicle record check. Lying on the application or hiding material information will result in termination. An arbitration agreement or jury waiver provision applies to any disputes. Finally, include required legal disclaimers such as “Equal Employment Opportunity Employer.”

Always analyze the completed application carefully. Look for gaps in employment. Look for a progression of diminishing responsibilities or pay. Look for vague, unspecified reasons for leaving a job. Be wary of these classic reasons:

  • “Disagreed with policy” (= fired for rules violation.)
  • “Personality conflict” (= couldn’t get along with co-workers, supervisor, or customers.)
  • “Poor working conditions” (= fired for poor performance.)
  • “Mutual agreement” (= fired.)
  • Look for incomplete or blank responses.

If your application asks about criminal convictions (and it should), and the applicant doesn’t answer, then guess what that means? There is probably a gap in employment in there too.

The Interview

Interview candidates carefully. Do this in private where you won’t be interrupted. Ask open-ended questions that get the applicant to talk, and follow the 80/20 rule: let the applicant talk 80 percent of the time. Ask about likes and dislikes with respect to current or former job duties, supervisors/managers, companies, customers, etc. If you are recruiting students or persons new to the workforce, they may not have a former manager or supervisor. Instead, ask them to talk about likes and dislikes with sports or academics. You will get nearly the same information and “feel” about the applicant.

Spend 20 percent of the time “selling” your company and the job. You want the candidates you don’t select to say good things about your company too, especially in these harder hiring times.

Although hiring field labor through a shortened process suggests you might not check references, it is still a good idea. Don’t get stone-walled by a response limited to job title and dates of employment. At least ask if the candidate is eligible for re-hire. Again, with persons new to the workforce, you may not have prior employment references to check. Therefore, you might want to talk to the applicant’s personal references. Talk to the applicant’s coaches or teachers about motivation, attention to detail, willingness to work hard, etc.

Finally, give the new hire a proper welcome and orientation. Let the new hire meet the “boss” early in the orientation process, and make all levels of management part of the orientation process. This helps the new hire feel truly welcome and sets the stage for good communication later.

Most important, especially for workers new to this kind of work, is safety training. Make certain you train new workers carefully in safe work practices, as you do not want them to risk injury or damage. This is especially important for younger workers you are recruiting from a local school. Improper safety habits can not only hurt your current workers, but it can also jeopardize your source of recruits in the future.

With luck, following these suggestions will improve the quality of your recruits and help them stay with you longer.