How to hire, train, and maintain an hourly workforce

Archive for the tag “interviewing”

Great Doesn’t Happen By Accident… It Takes A Carefully Planned And Ruthless Assault On “Good”

Assault on horseback

What Does It Take To Build And Develop A Truly Great Team? Part 2 of a series…

So here we are back with part 2 of this series. We are starting with hiring hourly team members, everyone from no experience/entry level to Store Team Leaders. When hiring for this level we are hiring almost exclusively for Leadership qualities. This is because those qualities are the things that make people clone worthy, as opposed to skills. We can easily train for pretty much any skills needed, however we cannot train qualities. So let’s continue…

Before we get too far, we should talk for a minute about the actual interview. I’ve seen it happen enough times that want to state very clearly that the interview process is no place for us to ‘exert our authority’, make sure ‘they know who is in charge’, or work to make the applicant uncomfortable to see how they react. If you are doing these things you are doing it wrong, at least if you want to call yourself a Leader by any stretch of the imagination. Interviewing with this attitude is pretty much guaranteed to give you mediocre workers who will do what they are told to do, and little more. Mkay?

Hiring for qualities is a bit different from hiring for skills, as at least in my experience, the best way to determine what Leadership qualities our applicant has been developing is through conversation, rather than simply questions and answers… I find “tell me about a time…” much less useful than getting my applicant comfortable enough to tell me all about the things in her life that she is proud of, where she puts her energy, what kinds of things frustrate her, and what gets her into a ‘flow’ state, to name just a few. I believe that we all have Leadership qualities within us to one degree or another. The key is finding the people who have been developing these qualities throughout their lives.

I know that a large percentage of our applicants have been interviewed many times now, so a good number of them know just what we want to hear. If they are smart they probably have already thought about how to answer many of the questions they have heard before. This is another reason why I prefer the conversational approach… it doesn’t allow the applicants to stick with their ‘script’ or preformed answers.

I believe the best way to find Leadership qualities in others is to determine whether or not they show the behaviors that describe those qualities. Qualities, by their very nature can be difficult to pin down, however I think we could easily come up with a list of behaviors that describe each quality or trait. Read more about behaviors that describe Leadership qualities starting here.

For instance, I believe that the ability to hear and respond to feedback is on of the most important qualities a new hourly team member can have… In my experience it is perhaps the best indicator of future success, maybe because it means they are trainable, coachable, and humble. So… how will we determine whether or not our applicant has this quality?

I try to get them to tell me all about their experience of school, trying to get into college/grad school, involvement in sports, or any other way they may have received feedback. I don’t ask specific enough questions to allow them to fall back on any prepared answers. Since no one else ever asked them what they thought about their performance in that pick up game last weekend, how they responded to the feedback they got from their high school football coach, or the grade they got in that college class when they thought they deserved better, I generally get honest answers.

Any instance in our lives when we get feedback is fair game. What makes you think you are a good driver? On what do you base that opinion? Do you follow the advice of the personal trainer at the gym, or do you think you know better? What have you learned in your personal relationships? I can easily give many examples of when I have hurt the feelings of people in my life, and how I reacted to that feedback. Is that their problem? What’s my responsibility, if any? These are all roads that out applicant has never been down in an interview, so we are likely to have an honest and genuine conversation.

I know you are all screaming at me… how about feedback from another job? Of course this is appropriate, and can be very useful. However, remember that our applicant has been asked about this many times already, so again, if they are smart they have learned what to say about feedback from work. I also feel that my personal experience has some bearing here. I’ve worked for, and with, some really poor bosses, and at work places where honest feedback was not the rule. There are a lot of people out there who have been forced into the bottom, middle, or top third simply because that’s the way the company did things, so bosses had to come up with some reasons for assigning a person to this rung. Because of the way this is set up, the feedback that many people get at work is often not honest feedback, with the intention of helping that person learn and grow. If it happened to me, it happened to a lot of other people, so I feel we have to take feedback from past jobs with a grain of salt.

What about another quality before we call it a day? How about self-responsibility? Since we are already involved in a friendly, casual conversation with our applicant, we probably already have some example of something that didn’t go as planned. So we just need to find out a little more about the outcome… who was at fault? Did our applicant have any part to play? What about that feedback you got from your guidance counselor/coach/parents/friends/boss? What did you learn from that? How were you responsible for what happened?

Have you been late for work or some other appointment? What happened? I need to hear the applicant take responsibility… yes the train was late… not your fault. And… what, if anything did you do? Did you start taking an earlier train since we know trains will be late? Did you find alternatives, like friends you can call when the train is late? These are simple examples of self-responsible behaviors.

To spell it out, I need to hear that our applicant, at least at some point recently, heard feedback and understood that the other person’s experience of them is that person’s reality.   To be coachable, the applicant needs to have changed their behavior in response to that feedback. For self-responsibility, I need to believe that our applicant takes responsibility for the things that happen in their lives; that their choices determine what happens (not everything that happens of course) and that they are responsible for the choices they make. If I don’t hear these things, I’ll thank them for coming in and move onto my next applicant.

Self responsibility, teachability, honesty, some level of emotional intelligence, some level of self awareness, and feeling that quality work is it’s own reward are some of my make or break qualities. If I do not believe that my applicant is developing these qualities I will not hire them, no matter how skilled they might be. Remember, this is just a quick synopsis… you can find my whole 16 part series on hiring, with a lot more detail, starting here.

Wow… this takes so long to discuss doesn’t it? That has to be long enough (probably too long many will tell me) for today, and we’ll pick up next time with what to do once we decide to hire the person sitting in front of us. No… if we want great we cannot simply shake their hand and send them off to have another person take over. We need to indoctrinate them. Yes… I understand that many of you don’t like that word, and all of its connotations.   And… I don’t believe that we can get ‘great’ by using the same process (welcoming and training, the same onboarding that gave you the average team you have) you’ve been using. Great doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a planned assault on Good. Hey, that’s catchy… maybe I’ll use that for todays title huh?


How To Hire People Who Will Engage With Your Customers

I know very few, if any, people who would honestly state that the majority of their team members meet or exceed their stated standards for customer service.

Yet each and every one of us does our best to carefully hire the most qualified people we can find. We use everything we’ve been taught, and everything we’ve learned over the years to weed out the ones we don’t want, and choose the best among our applicants. We do our best to interpret and understand the information we get.

We then give team members our standards and our expectations, and we still of course, find that most of them fail to treat our customers the way we would.

People cannot be trained to have high customer service standards.

They might know our expectations, however there is little we can do to affect their default customer service standards.

What is the disconnect between our hiring efforts and the results of those efforts?

I believe it is as simple as this…

We are looking for the wrong things when we hire for customer service.

We are finding people who can run a register, unload trucks, order food and supplies, wash dishes, greet customers, paste on a smile, keep the floor clean and dry, show customers to an item, and even ask questions to narrow down on the best way to help that customer. Yet we can easily train these skills to anyone.

We are not finding people who will always meet or exceed our customer service standards.

Anyone working in restaurants or retail stores, perhaps working anyplace where customers are involved… knows that we simply do not have the time, or really the inclination to follow-up on each and every worker’s level of customer service.

We have to find people who meet or exceed our standards on their own.

How do we do this you ask?

1. Admit that while you are doing your best, you are still not getting the results you desire. That means you must be open to changing the way you think about hiring.

2. Carefully define your customer service standards. How do you expect your team members to treat your customers?

3. Define them simply, with no more than a handful of statements. It might look something like this:

  • We treat each and every customer the way we want to be treated
  • Helping customers is our work… customers are the reason we are here
  • Customers are NEVER an interruption… see above
  • Anything is returnable at any time, for any reason
  • We will do everything in our power to keep a customer from leaving unhappy
  • Always offer help and try to engage
  • If they want to be left alone, it is not about you… Leave them alone
  • We will invite customers into our store as if inviting family and friends into our home
  • When in doubt, do for the customer… we would rather ask forgiveness than wait and ask for permission

Your list should describe your own personal customer service standards and expectations. This is not a wish list for some dream world… it’s how you really want your team members to act with your customers, day in and day out.

4. Develop questions that find the applicant’s default level of customer service… that is… what are their own customer service standards for themselves?

For myself, through some trial and error, I came up with “the ketchup question” which solved my customer service problems. I would suggest reading the post and either using the question as is, or adapting it to your own needs.

5. Hired only those applicants whose own customer service standards meet or exceed yours.

Done! Oh wait… just how do we develop those questions? I guess you’ll have to read my blog. I wrote a whole series on hiring for qualities instead of skills. You can find the beginning of that series right here. Of course feel free to skip around, however it’s important to remember that hiring the best people is only the beginning. Keeping them requires a lot more work, which again, I describe in my blog. Great people will not work for a poor boss for very long…

If you have any questions on this method of hiring, feel free to ask.

Oh… and if you like my blog, would you please ‘like’ my Facebook page? Thanks a billion!

How to Hire the Best Hourly Team Members Part 10 1/2… Self Responsibility is a Must Have

So… I was just writing another blog or something, all about helping hourly team members get ready to be promoted, when I realized that I left a mandatory quality and the related questions out of the hiring series. So here it is…

One of the qualities that I believe to be pretty much make or break is self-responsibility. How much of what you do, what happens to you, and what your life is like do you own? For instance, our 11-year-old (he’ll be happy to tell you only 6 days until his birthday!) forgets to write down his homework assignments, or forgets to bring home the book needed for the homework. Now… I’m sure forgetting this stuff is pretty normal at 11, and we can still use the example.

When I ask him why he didn’t write the assignment in his homework book, he could say I got distracted, or I just forgot, however he usually says something like… I was going to, and then Collin started talking to me and… well…. or I was about to and I couldn’t find my pencil and then blah blah blah, or I was just about to and the teacher started talking and I had to pay attention to her. In the first two, he is pretty much taking responsibility, and in the others he blames it on everyone but himself.

Kids are like that, and while we need to talk to them about their responsibility in it, we expect this behavior to continue, at least until they get a little older.

Adults however, should not be like that. And yet too many of them are just like that.   They like to justify, rationalize, or otherwise find someone or something other than themselves at fault. People who cannot accept responsibility for their attitude, their actions, or what their life is like, cannot be good team members. Taking responsibility for our actions and ourselves is a quality that we cannot teach. Or at least it takes way more time and energy than most of us have.

So… we have to ask questions to find out whether or not our applicant has self-responsibility. But what questions? Well… what questions do we always ask? We get our applicants talking about themselves of course. We already have the rapport with them, so we just ask them about things that haven’t gone as planned, or about mistakes they’ve made, or about any reasons they left another job, team, or group.

If they have left a sports team, question the applicant about what happened and why. Their description will tell you all you need to know. Was it the coach’s fault? The other players? Or did our applicant play a part in what happened?

Talk to me about something that went wrong at your last job? We can see if they take responsibility for their part in whatever it was. Get them to tell you all about their previous performance reviews, and you can see if, in hindsight, they can own any of the negatives. We all, without exception, have issues with our parents at one time or another. Ask about arguments or disagreements they had with a parent, and see if again, in hindsight, they can own their part in it.

Talk to them about their grades in school. We’re not really concerned about the actual grades at this point of course. But do ask them if, looking back, they thought they could have done better? Why didn’t you get better grades? Do you think you are smart enough to get better grades than you did? Then why didn’t you? With luck they will own their behavior, admit to being immature, choosing the wrong friends, being too involved in sports, or something like that. If they blame it on sports or the like, keep digging. Could they have made other choices? We need them to accept responsibility! I mean, here in the interview our job is not to make them see that they should accept responsibility… we will only hire those who accept responsibility.

A lot of people have had their own business at one time or another. Ask all about that, and see what happened. See if applicant owns what happened to their business, good or bad, and especially the bad. If they had an employee take advantage of them, did our applicant have any blame for hiring this person? Could they have made any different choices?

I would hope that after some time, and looking back at our examples, our applicant can own up to their part in these things. If they cannot… you know the drill… thank them for coming in, and move on.

Right after the ketchup question you can follow-up with a question about one of the team members in their store. Remember it is their store, with their name on the sign and everything. So, after the ketchup customer leaves, they are walking back to their office when a team member asks if they can have a few minutes of their time. Of course they can… come up to my office in an hour. The team member shows up, and wants to talk about why they didn’t get the supervisor job last week. That jerk Terry got the job, and they need to know why they didn’t get the job.

Well, remember that it’s your first day here, and while you do now own the whole store, you don’t know anything about Terry, who may or may not be a jerk, this team member, or any supervisor job. You do want to help though, because this team member seems really upset, and you want to make him feel better about working here. It costs a lot of money to replace a team member. Without knowing anything about the actual details of this job, what might you tell him about why people get jobs, and why people don’t get jobs? Do not accept ‘I don’t know’, or the like… they must answer this question in whatever words they have.

Listen carefully to what the applicant has to say to our team member. What they say to the team member is likely what they believe to be true. The follow-up questions you ask will depend on what our applicant tells the team member. This conversation will be very telling, so listen carefully and take notes. We want to hear something about self-responsibility, or about asking for feedback and listening to it. We do not want to hear that our new owner doesn’t have time for this crap, and the team member needs to get back to work. We can get an idea of other qualities with the answer to this question, like empathy, emotional intelligence, listening skills, compassion, and relationship building. Worst case, we thank them for coming in, and move on.

You can suggest to the applicant that problems come in three categories: ones we have no control over, ones we have some control over, and those where we have total control. Then ask whether they agree or not. Either way, ask them to explain what they think about it in more detail. If they suggest that they have control over almost all of their problems, we’re probably good with this topic. If, however, they don’t think they have control over much at all, thank them for coming in, and move on.

In my opinion, self-responsibility is right up there with the ability to hear and act on feedback, so take your time and get this one right. Otherwise you will regret it for a long time!

How to Hire Hourly Team Members part 14… The Initial On Boarding, or Better Yet, Indoctrinating

Congratulations! We’re sitting here with our apprentice(s) and our applicant, or rather our new hire, and… now what?

Now is make or break time. Even when a person has answered our questions to our satisfaction there is no guarantee they will be great team members. It just means that they have necessary qualities to enable them to be great. It’s up to us as Leaders to bring out the greatness within them. Our first step, before we leave the table, is to give our new team member their first indoctrination. I use the word ‘indoctrination’ on purpose, because it doesn’t just mean introduction, or welcome. Synonyms include to train, brainwash, and programming… “to cause to believe something”.

Let me go back a few steps here and ask some questions of you. Are you perfectly happy with the performance of your present team? Do you have only one or two people on your team who are not up to your standards? Or is it the other way around? Do you sometimes hire great people only to see them leave before very long? Do you want to change the culture of your team? Are you ready and willing to do whatever it takes to have a high performing team, where new leaders are trained? Then we’ve got some work to do.

IT ALL STARTS WITH YOU!! And you must change the way you run the team. Starting right now!

Every negative thing that happens from this point forward is your fault. You will accept the blame for everything that goes wrong.

Every positive thing that happens from this point forward happened because of the actions of a team member, or the team as a whole. You will give away the credit for everything that goes right.

There are three things that can happen to this new hire sitting in front of you.

You will allow the current team to train and indoctrinate them, and I guarantee that the person you just spent so much time and effort hiring will join the crowd and be another mediocre team member for you to manage.

You will allow the current team to train and indoctrinate them, and once they see what your mediocre team is like they will leave at the first opportunity.

OR… YOU will indoctrinate them. You will train them (or at least dictate how they will be trained, and then follow up very closely on their training. This will be different from your normal training routine). And you will check in with them daily at first, then several times a week. Why you ask? Whether you like it or not, your team has a culture. Either you spent a lot of time and energy building and cultivating that culture, not settling for anything other than what you wanted, or the culture developed while no one was looking. If you put any new hire, no matter how good, into a culture of mediocrity, you will end up just adding another mediocre person to your team. If you are not happy with your team, you have a culture that needs to be changed. It’s a long and arduous process, and one that pays incredible dividends if you only see it through.

So… back to our new hire. We are going to sit here for another 30 to 60 minutes talking to them… Indoctrinating them. You AND your apprentices have to speak as one voice from this moment on. If there is a change in expectations from one shift to another (perhaps because a different person is in charge that day or shift) the job of changing your culture and rebuilding your team will be twice as hard. I would even go so far as to say if you have an assistant/associate/supervisor that is not on board with the everything you want to do and the new direction you want to go, you are better off getting that person off your team as soon as possible, and before expending a ton of time and energy in trying to change the culture of your team. My experience is they will minimally hold you back, by giving inconsistent expectations and rewards, and at worst they will undermine your efforts at every turn.

Do yourself a favor and make sure that everyone who will be setting the example, holding people accountable, setting expectations, and driving the team towards your goals is fully committed.

Crap… we’re off on a tangent, and it’s a necessary one, so I’ll carry on.

If you have read this far, and are really committed to hiring the best people, keeping them, and developing a high functioning team, then you need to not only make a commitment to yourself, but also include the high performing and trusted people you will be taking with you.

In order to get a real commitment from your apprentices (I think from now on I’ll just use “apprentices” to cover the people who will be leading shifts when you are not there, like shift leaders, associates, and assistants), you will need to involve them in the process of deciding what you are going to change, as well as how you are going to achieve said change. I would even suggest including your very best team members (only one or two), in particular if you use these great team members to train your new hires. People need to be part of a process like this in order to really buy into it. Their feelings, fears, ideas, and goals need to be heard. And perhaps most importantly, they need to really feel like they were heard (that’s your job.). Make sure that everyone contributes something, and has their opinions listened to. Otherwise your efforts will fail. This is a key to being a Leader.

Ok, so we’ll have what will most likely be more than one meeting with our apprentices, and first agree on our reality. If we don’t agree on what is actually happening we will never agree on what needs to change. You, as the Leader will probably want to make sure that everyone agrees with much of what you think is happening, and… just because you are the Leader DOES NOT mean you are the smartest, the best anything, or even the natural leader in the group. It just means you are in charge. Listen and you just might learn a thing or two…

Agreeing on our reality is akin to knowing where we are standing right now, while making our way through the woods with only a map and compass. If we don’t know exactly where we are right now it doesn’t matter whether or not we can use a map and compass to head in a certain direction. We’ll be heading somewhere… and will it be where we wanted to go?

So everyone on our staff needs to agree how things are. Are we at the needed level of quality with what we are producing? What level of customer service do we provide? Do we have workers we simply must get off the team (bad workers can infect those around them and keep you from making positive changes)? Are there processes or practices that are not working for us? What normal workplace standards like absenteeism, and tardiness are we expecting and allowing our workers to follow? Are the standards consistent from shift to shift? If you live in the same world in which I live, I would bet not. We must know where we are in order to move forward together. Again, it may take more than one meeting. This is neither the time nor place to blame, or call anyone out. In order to have an accurate picture of what is actually happening you need honest answers from your team. If you attach a negative consequence to ANY answer you get during this process you will guarantee that you will not get the true, whole story, and therefore will not have an accurate picture of what is happening.

In my experience I found that I had supervisors and assistants who were not following my instructions or holding the team to my expectations. The blame for this however, did not lay with them… the fault was mine. After thinking about it and being honest with myself, I let them both down (the whole team in the long run). I did not follow up with them enough. I didn’t work with them enough. I was asking them to have difficult conversations, and I failed to realize how scary and difficult these could be at first. I did not give them the tools they needed, nor did I train them correctly to use those tools. So… I had to take a step back and work with these apprentices to give them the means to accomplish our goals. I can only imagine that you will face the same reality. We’ve made assumptions about the skill set and qualities of our apprentices, and now we need to reassess those assumptions, and get it right from now on.

And… this is a key…If we believe we have the right people working with us, if we believe they are doing the best they can, and they are still not able to achieve our goals or meet our expectations, then either our expectations are too high, or something is getting in the way. Either they don’t have the skills or tools we thought they had, or something else in keeping them from meeting our goals. To fix it we need to get to root of the problem, and to do that we need our team to be honest with us. An overbearing, angry, emotional, threatening, or in any way scary boss persona will not get us the honest answers we need.

If you are not developing the kind of relationships at work that build trust, respect, and loyalty, then you should stop reading right now and make a plan to do some personal work. Get a recommendation for a therapist, a job/life/leadership coach… do something to discover the reality of where you are personally, and then you can start moving in a positive direction with the people around you.

Oh… and if you like the blog please like my facebook page.  Thank you!

Before I go I also wanted to link to this article about conflict at work. I’ve found that team members challenging each other, including the leadership team, makes for a much more creative and successful team. Enjoy! http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2014/03/11/conflict-collaboration-work/?iid=SF_F_River

How to Hire Hourly Team Members part 12.5… Finding Hidden Issues

So… I need to plug in some thoughts as I remember them. I apologize for not having them in a decent order, and I don’t want to go back and insert them into already published posts. So here they are in all their glory. There will likely be more… just sayin’…

When interviewing applicants on the phone, we want to weed out as many poor hires as we can. To that end I like to ask something like “when I call your last boss, how will he or she (I will have looked at the application and have either a name or at least a pronoun) describe you”? Use the word ‘when’ to let the applicant know we WILL be calling, and using the name (if you can read it on the application) or the pronoun lets them know you are serious about it. That gives the applicant a little more impetus to answer as closely as they can to what their last supervisor might actually say… closer to the truth of how they were in the last job. Some applicants might give some vague or general descriptive words so don’t be afraid to push them with additional questions. Things like ‘how many times will they tell me you were late or called out’? Or ‘What will they tell me is the one thing about you they would change if they could’? Or ‘Will they say they were sorry to see you go, or happy to see you go’? Listen carefully to their answers and you will know pretty quickly if we should raise a red flag, or if the applicant is far from a great hire.

It’s also worth your time to call for references. Many companies have policies that restrict what can be said when someone calls for a reference. And… if you had a great team member who had to leave for some reason, you would probably want to help them. What are the chances of you giving some kind of positive reference for your best team members without saying anything to specifically break the rules? Pretty good I’d bet. If, on the other hand, someone called for a reference on someone mediocre or poor, you would likely either say nothing or sneak in some obvious negatives. Reading (hearing in this case) between the lines can tell us a lot. Perhaps not always enough to make our decision for us, and certainly giving us valuable information.

The next question that can be asked over the phone is: “Why did you leave your last job”? We ask this to get an idea of what their last boss thought of them. When we have a great team member we will do whatever we can to keep them. We are much more likely to bend some rules to get them through a rough patch. We do whatever is in our power to get them enough money to keep them from leaving for that reason. I’ve rearranged schedules for great team members with short-term transportation issues. What would you do for your best team members? For not so great team members… I’m less willing to bend rules, and certainly won’t extend myself financially. So… the answer the applicant gives to this questions can give us clues as to whether the boss would have liked them to stay, or whether the boss held the door open for them as they were leaving.

I have spoken to countless applicants who look me in the eye and state that they left their last job because they weren’t making enough money. So… let me get this straight… you left a job where you were making some money, and now you are making NO money, is that right? Well it’s been nice talking to you. I’d be OK with them keeping that job, and looking to find a higher paying job, but leaving?
You will most likely encounter applicants who will tell you that they weren’t getting enough hours at their other/past job. What does this tell us? Hmmm? It tells us very clearly that they are not great workers! Do you cut the hours of your best workers? For long enough that they would need to find other work? Unless that business is going under, I think not. I would advise you to run, not walk, away from these applicants.

We should probably talk for a minute about what to look for on an application/resume’… I don’t think I’ve mentioned that at all. It’s a bit of a departure from what we’ve been talking about, and I don’t know how to determine the ‘qualities’ we are looking for by looking at an application or resume’. So we’ll have to do the best we can with what we have, mmkay?

Applications will vary from workplace to workplace, and they generally require the same information. Work history is probably the most relevant to our purposes, however some companies ask additional questions, and answers to those can also be very telling. We would love to see that our applicant worked for several years at each job, with a progression from team member, to perhaps supervisor or equivalent, with appropriate pay increases. We would love to see that. Did I mention how much we’d love to see that? More and more however, we see our applicants moving from job to job with increasing frequency. A few months here, perhaps a year there, then nothing, then 13 months over there… I don’t know if it will serve us to have hard and fast rules with this generation, and I still judge applicants with too many jobs in too short a time frame harshly. Very short times in a job, weeks or a couple of months, stands out like a sore thumb, and I will generally pass on those applicants.

That said, I listened to an episode of the Freakonomics podcast about quitting. Quit early and often was pretty much what I got out of it… don’t be afraid to quit. We generally know right away if a choice was not a great choice, and yet many of us were raised to believe that quitting was not OK. Stick it out. Don’t quit. Quitters never win and winners never quit, right? Maybe not. Looking back at all of the crappy jobs (and crappy bosses) I had when I was younger I find myself thinking perhaps I should have quit them and found something better. I don’t pretend to know the better choice, and I am having a more difficult time thinking ill of people who will not put up with poor working conditions or a bad boss.

I will also look at whether applicant lives to see how long a commute they would have if we hired them. Remember, we are hiring for our hourly job. These people will be making between minimum wage and what, low teens for very experience workers? It’s tough to live on wages that low, never mind traveling an hour or more each way. In my experience, when we have a long commute, we find it easier to make the decision to leave a job when we experience some hardship. A long commute might not be a deal breaker, and it is a possible red flag, and worth looking into. How long was the commute to their previous jobs? Why did they leave there again?

I think that’s all for today…

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How to Hire Hourly Team Members part 13… What to Ask Applicants With No Work History

People between 16 and 18 (even older?), who may have no work history, can easily do a lot of hourly jobs. Many jobs are easily taught to just about anyone, so we don’t need a long work history or a lot of experience. These younger people might need more training, since they don’t have the work experience. They might also take even more of our time and energy because not only will they not have experience doing the simple tasks that make up many jobs, but they may not have many of the social skills that are learned in the workplace. One plus is they probably don’t have many bad habits we need to overcome or help them unlearn.

If I meet an applicant much older than 18 who has never worked, I need to find out why before considering hiring them. A big red flag goes up if their parents have money, have always given them everything they wanted, and so they didn’t have to work. In my experience, these people do not make very good hourly team members. Many of them think they are above doing the kinds of jobs hourly team members do. Many of them know that their parents will still provide for them even if they are over 18, and so they don’t have any really negative consequences should they lose this job. I have not had good luck with hiring these young people.

There are many young people who have not worked for other reasons, and as a rule they do not have the same issues as the people whose parents provided for them. Some people have to take care of siblings, or even adults who need care at home. Some are so involved in sports, the band, or some other activity that there simply isn’t time for work. Some parents won’t allow their children to work until they are out of high school, as they feel working interferes with studying and grades. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of reasons why someone would get to 18 or 20 without ever having a job. All we need to do is ask questions and we’ll find out all we need to know.

Once we’ve established that our applicant could not work (rather than didn’t have to work and relied on their parent’s money) we can move forward with the interview. We still want to choose people with the right attitudes and mindset, and so we may have to dig a bit deeper to get the answers we need.

I have found that these applicants are likely to be much more nervous than someone who has a work history and has been through a number of interviews. As usual, this does not mean they can’t or won’t be great team members, so just help them get past it. Remember, we want our applicant at ease so they will tell us everything we need to know to make a good decision. These applicants in particular may take more small talk and reassurance. I think it’s pretty natural that these applicants will be less confident, and have a very hard time coming up with examples of situations to answer our questions. You can take this as a negative, or simply the way things are when a person has little experience and finds himself or herself in an intimidating situation like an interview.

You are the Leader. It’s your job to make these people feel comfortable and as relaxed as possible (and no, they don’t need to have their feet up and a Mai Tai in their hand!). Remember that this should not be an adversarial process. Make sure you provide them, and really every applicant, with a glass or bottle of water. When we get nervous our mouths gets dry. That makes us even more nervous and annoyed that we didn’t think to bring along some water. None of this is necessary, nor does it help to get the best answers out of our applicant.

OK… so they are settled in and we’re asking general questions and making small talk. We need to get the same information with these applicants as we do with everyone else, and to do it we might have to ask different forms of our questions. For instance, people this age who have not been working have not had a lot of money to spend. They probably don’t have the breadth of customer service experience that an older applicant might have. So… they may look at the “ketchup question” from a different perspective. It may be very confusing to them since they don’t have much real world experience buying groceries, much less returning food items for their money back. We might have to take it slowly, and explain it in detail to them. We still need to know their ‘default’ level of customer service. And, since they have little real experience we might have to settle with the level of service they would hope for.

When we ask them what job they would choose if every job paid the same we may just be asking them what job they dream of having. At this point in their lives they may not even be thinking of classifying jobs by what they pay (keep in mind these people are not that far away from childhood, so we’ll have a lot of future musicians, programmers, and artists). So… we can get the same information by directing them towards their dream job, and now why that job? Don’t get frustrated by the change in details or the way a question has to be asked. We can still get the same results, and these people are just as likely to be great additions to our team as someone with a lot of work experience.

We can get an idea of how they would define a ‘good job’ by setting up a question making them partners with us in a business (maybe something they mentioned in the last question?). We need to hire us up some workers, so let’s us decide what qualities those workers should have. How many times can they be late before we do something about it? Are there good reasons for being late? How many times can a person use one of them there good reasons? Should they do just the minimum they can to get by, or can we expect them to do more than the minimum? Do we expect them to speak to us if they see some unsafe condition? What if they think we could improve a task or general conditions? Should our workers let us know when their plans change and call out of work with plenty of time? Should they give us notice before leaving, or is it OK for them to just stop showing up? How should we determine if and when our workers deserve a raise? How should we decide how much to give them? How should we define whether or not our workers are ‘doing a good job’? You can ask them how to deal with any issues that come up in your particular business. Use your imagination…
If I like the applicant after a long round of questions, I don’t hesitate to tell them my answers to all of the questions above. I want them to know my expectations for them, without giving away the answers to any questions I have yet to ask them.

Is it important to know if our applicant feel the company that hires them (or the government, or anyone for that matter) owes them anything? YES, it is. Ask them.

Some of our applicants, really most in my experience, will have a hard time with many questions. This is often because we, as a nation I think, don’t really value anything other than paid work. Even after so many years now a ‘stay at home’ parent still doesn’t get much respect. So… these younger applicants come into the interview thinking that any experience they do have is pretty much worthless. If you ask, you will find that many of them have been responsible for siblings, or older family members, or have done baby-sitting. That may mean getting them up and ready for school, feeding and cleaning up after them, making sure they are safe, and getting homework done. Many of these are responsibilities we would associate with parents, and yet these young people are doing them. By asking the right questions we will find that they have learned a variety of things through these activities.

Some of our applicants have mowed lawns, pulled weeds, shoveled snow, and done other jobs that we generally don’t really value, and yet teach many of the same skills, and build the same character that a ‘real’ job would.

We can still find out if our applicant has something in which they take pride, as well as determining if they are well adjusted. The examples we ask about or look for will probably be different, and there are plenty of things that happen in our lives outside of the workplace that could easily annoy or anger us. I’m not sure who said it, and… “if you think you are well adjusted go live with your parents for a week” reminds us that just living with our well intentioned family can terribly be frustrating. That should easily lead us into the same questions we would ask a more experienced applicant about what they are, or were feeling. Remember, while we also want our applicant to own their feelings, younger and less experienced applicants might not have learned some of these lessons as well as an older applicant.

Asking these applicants ‘what they want to be when they grow up’ is still a great idea. You’ll encounter some whose souls have yet to be crushed and it can be a refreshing experience. They are often hopeful and overflowing with energy, and can be a great addition to your workplace for this reason alone, as long as within reason they meet our other requirements. I’ve found with the right attention and mentoring they can be shaped and molded into great workers. If, however, we currently have a mediocre team, and they are left to the team to shape, you can expect that they will be no better than average.

That thought bring us to the end of interviewing (I think), and the next step in hiring. Some call it ‘onboarding’. Indoctrinating is a much better term.

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How to Hire Hourly Team Members part 12… Can They Accept Feedback?

Well… IF we are still talking to our applicant, many of you will be anxious to make a decision and hire them, and I would encourage you to continue on the path. Remember, this process is much more than simply getting the next person in the door. This decision is going to impact the team in a big way. Let’s make sure it’s a long-term positive impact.

I firmly believe that the best predictor of success in hourly team members (and perhaps in life) is the ability to ‘hear’ and act on feedback. This one quality is perhaps more important than any other. If someone is able to hear constructive feedback and make the appropriate changes to their behavior, they can be successful anywhere. We want workers who are confident and take pride in their work and what they have to offer. And… we want workers who are humble enough to know they are not perfect and don’t know it all. So yet again, how do we find out where our applicant stands?

This is where many people will bring up those ‘tell me about a time…’ questions as a good way to find out how the applicant has heard and reacted to feedback in the past. After all, the best predictor of a person’s future behavior is their past behavior, right? Well, yes and no. As an example, in my work experience, I have witnessed and experienced first hand, styles of management ranging from dictatorial, micromanaging, and heavy handed bullying; to completely absentee managers allowing the team members to do whatever they wanted; to therapist style managers, running teams where everyone was good enough just the way they were, and everything was fine, just fine; and everything in between.

I’ve worked for people who yelled and demeaned, and I’ve worked for excellent leaders who were humble, servant leaders who had very high performing teams. We don’t know what kind of boss our applicant last worked for. How did they communicate the feedback? Did they get up in the applicant’s face and shout it? Did they use words that made it easy for our applicant to understand? Did they make sure they were understood? Did they give examples of behavior they wanted changed? The point being… Since we were not there to witness the reality in the applicants past it can be very difficult to know how to judge their answers to these questions. So yes, ask them. And ask follow up questions, and then filter it all through what we know, AND an understanding of what we don’t know.

We can ask about their experience in school of course. And I feel that more and more teachers are overburdened (perhaps the whole system), and students today may not get the level of feedback they may have heard years ago.

We can ask about sports… since we’re hiring for hourly team members many of the applicants will be young enough that they either are playing sports or have played recently enough to be able to answer questions about their experience. Here is one place where we can ask ‘about a time’ and be pretty sure we know how the feedback was delivered. The vast majority of coaches will get in the player’s face and yell at them, asking ‘what the hell was that’? “What were you thinking?” “Do you even want to be here?” I’ve deleted the expletives for your viewing pleasure…

Anyone who has played a sport in high school or college has plenty of experience getting feedback from a coach, and probably even from their teammates. On high functioning teams the team members themselves will often “police” the behavior of other team members. This line of questioning can give us an idea of the ego of our applicant. Many players, even on school and club teams think they are much better than they actually are. If so, we will hear them shift the blame to other team members or the coaches… Good signs that they will not be eager to hear our feedback about their work performance. Let them work someplace else.

Anyone who does any sort of art should be able to talk about feedback they’ve received. However, unless it was directly from a teacher they respect, we don’t generally expect artists to change their art because of what any critic might say.

We can ask, “What is the most important (or beneficial/useful) feedback you were ever given”? “Have you received feedback you didn’t agree with”? Be sure to ask enough follow up questions. This can tell us a lot about whether or not our applicant has really been willing to hear constructive feedback. I’ve had team members who were pretty good, and could have been great. And, they were not willing to hear any real constructive feedback, so were never able to make the leap to great. Pretty good = poor hire on my part.

Since we are talking to applicants who have made it through our gauntlet of questions, we are likely to get the kinds of answers we want to hear… stories of feedback given, how the applicant heard the feedback, and how they changed their behavior. The real key here is some of the final weeding out… some people will state that they never really received any constructive feedback. Really? Well, that’s great! Thank you so much for coming in today. I know that I stated, and I really do believe, that it’s best to be honest with people and let them know why I won’t be hiring them. However, there are some issues that would take many ‘sessions’ to work out and have the person understand, if indeed they ever did. This is one of those issues that we just don’t have the time to get into.

There will be another group who will choose to give us only the most unimportant details… some small task related feedback, that they were so happy to hear and fixed right away. I try to avoid using terms like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘everyone’, and ‘no one’, since there are usually plenty of exceptions to any rule you can name. And… I find it hard to believe that anyone who has held a job or two (or played on a sports team, or got through high school and college) has not received some constructive feedback about their behavior… it’s how we learn in our first years at work. There is so much we don’t know; things we don’t know how to do, and social skills we lack; that some (sometimes pretty harsh) feedback is arguably a necessary part of our work experience. I will try to get the applicants in this group to understand that I actually want to hear some real feedback. If they are not able or willing to share that, I often find myself torn. They made it this far, so I am probably feeling pretty good about them. And… Are they superstars in everything they did? Or were they not able to “hear” the feedback they were most likely given? If, upon further questioning and prodding, I can’t see the superstar in them, or get them to come up with some mistakes they made and heard about, I will pass on them. I’d suggest you do the same.

To wrap this up, if we get some decent examples of feedback heard and behavior changed, and they have answered the rest of our question to our satisfaction, I will generally call it. We have a new team member!

The next part will be a short focus on applicants with no work history. Then it’s on to the after party (unless I think of something else that I forgot and just have to talk about before we call them hired). What we do next, once we’ve decided to hire someone, is just as important as making the decision, in my humble opinion.

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How to Hire Hourly Team Members part 11… Ask Them What They Would Change

So… A few more questions that I find useful.

If the applicant has some work history (and this particular question is best if they are still working or were recently working) I’ll ask them this:

So let’s say that your boss (depending on where they work it could be the store manager, department manager, owner, the title isn’t important… its just important that we are talking about the person who is able to make decisions, set rules and policies, etc…) decides to run off and join the circus (I like to insert ridiculous things into the conversations to see how the applicant reacts and keep things lite). The powers that be have been watching you work and they like what they’ve been seeing, so… they decided to put you in charge! Yup… It’s all you. What would you change?

For this question I pretty much demand answers. I will not hire anyone who cannot come up with some things that they would like to change. I feel that a person who works someplace for any time at all and yet does not see anything in either their job, or in the workplace as a whole, that they would do differently has no place on my team. This person either does not look at the activities in their life with a critical eye, in which case they will not be a great addition to our team; or they are not willing to open up and tell me anything they would change, which again means they will not be a great addition to our team. A great team member will look at their new role on the team, and the team as a whole with a critical eye (a new broom sweeps clean, right?) and help us to make the incremental improvements that make us great. They must be able to speak up, tell us what they see, and ask a lot of questions. If they cannot, thank them for coming in and move on.

If they can come up with things they would change you will have to judge their choices for yourself. In my experience applicants who have made it this far in our questioning are not likely to be the ones who would want to do things like ‘double lunch hour’ or ‘make it OK to be late’. If people would ask for larger discounts or more money, try to understand that most companies have no transparency (yours?), so most workers in most workplaces have no real concept of sales, margins, or profits. In fact I’ve found that a lot of people (more than I would have guessed) believe that the company they work for makes 30% or more profit on each dollar. So… why wouldn’t they want a little larger piece of the pie?

I almost always ask applicant what they want to be when they grow up. Yes that’s right… what do you want to be when you grow up? I have found that people who had a crystal clear idea of their long-term career goals when they were young are few and far between. And… they are probably not the ones sitting there interviewing for you hourly job. The ones that knew exactly what they wanted are probably out getting the degree or training they need. For the majority of us it takes us into our twenties to really start to get comfortable with ourselves and start to get some realistic career goals going.

I ask this question for a variety of reasons. First, as a leader, I feel that my goals for my team members should align with their goals for themselves. Team members will care about your goals if they know, really know, that you are concerned about their goals. How else would we know our team members goals other than asking them straight out? When else are you likely to get time when both of you are sitting having a nice conversation? This is the perfect time to really get to know and connect with the applicant (and really, at this point it’s looking more and more like your new team member). Ask them all about these goals, timelines, and what they will need to accomplish them. This also gives me a chance to assess a bit about how well they know themselves and the world around them. If their goals are out of sync with their reality I have to dig deeper. Will they be willing to accept and agree on my opinion of the reality of their job performance?

This question also gives them the opportunity to tell us about their plan to move to Cambodia next year, or whatever other plans they might have. Are they in a band, and even though they stated they would be available for the shifts we need, do they plan on asking for every weekend night off? Are they planning to start school next semester (which will completely change their availability)? Talking about themselves and their plans will often allow them to open them up with us, and you’ll be surprised how much people will volunteer about their lives (the good, the bad, and the ugly). If you want to be a good leader and really connect with your team members it helps to know a good deal about them. And they will volunteer things that you could (and perhaps would) never ask about (and some things you might have been just as happy to not know).

I think that may be it for the specific questions I ask people applying for hourly positions. I feel that with this list of questions, and appropriate follow up questions (which are dependent on the answers given) we can get a very high (70% or higher) probability of getting only great team members on our team.

For positions that will require the applicant to be responsible for the behavior of others we will have to add another set of questions.
What I am providing here is only the basics. I am finding it very tough to write down all of the nuances that make up these questions and the decisions that follow them. There is really so much more to it… I’ll get part 12 up as soon as I can.

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