Four tips for hiring, and keeping, the best job candidates

By Debbie Hogue
For the Bellingham Business Journal

I don’t know about you, but I like to be continuously learning. I’m always challenging myself to grow. I’ve spent more than 20 years in retail banking, and recently decided I wanted to try something new. After taking an executive development program course, I was approached by the human resources director who said, “Hear me out, you might be a good fit for our department.”

Even though I don’t have a traditional HR background, my new position has been a dream, because it’s everything I enjoy doing – interacting with people and finding out what they want and need to thrive. Here’s what has worked for us at Peoples Bank when looking to hire — and, most importantly, retain — employees who are fulfilled and give their very best to the organization and our customers.

Think outside the box: I believe in promoting and hiring from within, even if the candidate may not have the exact skill set match. What’s more important is that they are a good fit for our culture. My manager demonstrated this firsthand — she took a chance on me even though I had no prior human resources experience. But she also knew I was a hard worker and a quick learner. I believe we can always train someone for the job, but the soft skills – like an employee’s attitude or dedication – are sometimes the more important criteria to evaluate.

Understand your employees: It’s critical for organizations to know what’s important to their employees. Is it paid time off to attend family events or for community service? Is flextime important? While compensation matters, I’ve found that it’s not often the primary motivator for attracting and retaining employees. That’s why we assess our benefits many times throughout the year to ensure we’re aligning with what employees are asking for. For us, that includes team-building events, a popular wellness program, and paid time off for personal and community commitments. I always ask candidates I’m interviewing, “What’s the one thing you need in a work environment to be successful?” We seek people who value and fit well in a positive environment, and we’re always looking at new ways to provide this.

Ask neutral questions: I prefer conducting interviews that are more like a conversation. I also like to ask neutral questions and then I listen to see if the candidate answers with a positive or negative response. For example, “Tell me about your most memorable experience,” or “How would you describe your personality?” I ask questions about what candidates like to do when they’re not working. I find these types of questions give you a good sense of a person, more so than traditional questions that people can readily prepare for ahead of time. And I always encourage candidates to ask questions in the interview. If they don’t show any curiosity, it’s a red flag that maybe they’re not as passionate about working with us as we would like.

Find creative recruiting techniques: I’ve had great experiences with training programs that assist those who may not have traditional educational backgrounds for careers in banking. We’ve been very impressed by a program called BankWorks. In addition to providing core banking training, it also teaches important skills like professionalism, confidentiality, customer service, and how to prepare for a job interview. No matter what industry you’re in, I’d encourage you to seek out these types of programs to expand your hiring pool and diversify your workforce.

Peoples Bank has been a part of the community serving local businesses and residents for nearly 100 years. We believe that offering customers full relationship banking with the highest level of service starts with hiring motivated professionals. It’s now been nearly a year since I transitioned into an HR role. The many conversations I’ve had with employees and job candidates has made one thing perfectly clear: creating a positive culture where employees can grow and thrive is the absolutely essential to building a positive, committed workforce.

With more than 20 years of experience in retail banking, Debbie Hogue serves as vice president, talent acquisition manager at Peoples Bank.

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