Hiring: Take the time to do it right

Michelle Bergman, a human-resources consultant and owner of Bergman HR Services in Ferndale, said bad hires, especially at small companies, can be a huge drain both fiscally and in terms of time.

Dan Hiestand
   So you have to hire a new employee.
   This concept often creates a wide variety of emotional responses from employers — from concern to frustration to sheer exhaustion.
   However, with the right plan in place, bringing in new staff can not only be made easier, it can also improve your business.

An important decision
   "Running a business can bring challenges, but one of the most important challenges is hiring the right employee," said Michelle Bergman, a human-resources consultant and owner of Bergman HR Services in Ferndale. "The smaller the business, the more impact, positive or negative, the person you hire will have on your success."
   Because of its importance, employers should take their time and do it right, Bergman said.
   "As most hiring managers will tell you, the process of hiring a new employee can be time consuming," she said. "But don’t skimp on that time. Make it your priority. Push some other things aside, and take the time to give the hiring process the effort it deserves so that you can make a good decision for your business."
   Bergman should know what she is talking about, as she has been involved in the business of helping companies hire staff for about the last decade. After working as a human-resources manager in Denver for companies ranging in size from 100 to 40,000 employees, Bergman moved to Whatcom County more than two years ago, and started her Ferndale-based business in January 2006.
   Her past clients have included the City of Bellingham and US West (now Qwest), among others. Whenever she would assist her clients with finding new employees — no matter the size of the business or the type of position to be filled — her message to hiring managers was always the same, she said: Take your time and do it right.
   "It pays to take the time at the beginning to find the best candidates for the position," she said. "When you hire a bad employee, you are wasting an incredible amount of time, resources, energy and possibly starting the whole process over again. Take the time to do it right, and you’ll be happy in the end if you can do that well."

The roadmap to a successful hire
   Bergman suggests that employers follow four basic rules when it comes to bringing new faces to a company. Keeping these rules in mind should help employers make a good hire, she said.
   "Hiring new employees should not necessarily be dreaded, but it should be taken seriously," she said.

1) Know what you’re looking for.
   Before you can begin to find good employees, you need to be sure that you know what you’re looking for. Wanting someone who has "good people skills" isn’t good enough, Bergman said.
   "This can be the biggest mistake a hiring manager can make," Bergman said. "You might take anyone who has a breath who comes in the door."
   Rebecca Wiswell, owner of Rebecca’s Flower Shop, said personality is key.
   "The last thing I look for is someone who is ‘supposedly’ qualified, because that’s trainable," Wiswell said. "What I look for first is personality, someone who appears to have common sense and good reasoning ability, and — this is a difficult one to find out — someone who appears to be ethical and has a good work ethic."
   Bergman laid out the following points to consider:
   • Determine specifically what you want a new employee to do. How much responsibility will they have? Where will they fit in your company?
   • Written job descriptions, although some managers dread writing them, can really lend some needed focus to a recruiting effort. A good job description can identify the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities you need.
   • What educational background is necessary? Extra training? What work experience? Specific skills? Computer experience? Customer service experience?
   • Prioritize the "must have" qualifications for the job; the important qualifications; and the preferred qualifications. What can be learned on the job and what must they walk in the door with? Be honest with this assessment.
   • Does the company need full-time or part-time workers?

2) Set yourself up to make an "informed hiring decision."
   "The more you learn about each person’s knowledge, skills, abilities and experience, the better chance you have of making a good hiring decision," Bergman said.
   This isn’t always easy, Wiswell said.
   "There are ways around all of the questions," Wiswell said. "You can fill out a resumé and make it sound like you can run for president, but it doesn’t mean anything as far as whether you have the brains to do the job or have common sense, or can reason or can take instruction or any of those qualities that are really the most important."
   Mike Montgomery, head golf professional at Bellingham Golf & Country Club, said he depends a lot on his network of contacts when making a decision.
   "Word of mouth and talking to references that aren’t necessarily on someone’s reference sheet are probably the most important sources of information for me," Montgomery said.
   Bergman recommended the following ideas:
   • Come up with a strong set of interview questions. If there are multiple candidates for the same position, ask the same questions of each person. This will allow you to be more objective and compare candidate responses.
   • Ask behavior-based questions where you’re asking the candidate to provide you with examples of their behaviors in past work environments. The idea is that you can predict future performance based on past performance.
   • Probe for specific examples. Hiring is highly subjective. When possible, have at least one other person interview the final candidates for a position.
   • Job interview questions should focus specifically on the applicant’s ability to successfully perform the duties of the job.
   • Get references, and check up on them.
   • Background checks should be done only if they’re relevant for the job the candidate is applying for.
   • Conduct at least two interviews with a candidate before hiring. Candidates often present a more relaxed version of themselves in a second interview.

3) Hire the candidate with the best "fit" for the job.
   Fit includes a lot of things — values, culture, experience, etc. It’s the whole picture, Bergman said. You want to hire the best candidate for the job — not just the person who interviews the best or has the nicest resume.
   "Great businesses focus on hiring people who fit with their values, and with their culture and who they are," Bergman said. "Be careful to hire the best candidate for the job based on fit, not just the best job seeker."
   Wiswell said she relies a lot on her own instincts.
   "It’s a gut thing for me," she said. "I use the tools, along with the gut."
   Bergman suggested the following:
   • Go back to knowing what you’re looking for. Knowledge, skills, abilities all count. But so does your culture, your management style, your customers, the product/service you sell, your values, etc.
   All this is about "fit." And it does make a difference in making a bad or okay hiring decision and making a great one.
   • Make sure you know enough about a candidate before you hire that person. And, perhaps most important, never hire a so-so candidate just because you need someone right now.
   It can be tempting to get a body in the door, but don’t do it. Take the time and do it right. Make a good hiring decision, even if it means more time. Find someone who "fits" with the job. This is the success of your business we’re talking about.

4) Retain your star employee
   Once you have hired someone, help them to know what is expected of them and how to do their job right, Bergman said.
   Considering the time and effort it takes to find new people — as well as the additional time it requires to train them once they’re hired — employee turnover is one of the most expensive costs that small businesses have.
   "Once you’ve put all that effort into it, retain that person. This is your star employee. This is your ideal person," Bergman said.
   • You hired that star employee because you believed there was a "fit." Take the opportunity to tell the employee that. Guide them in their first months as they adapt to their new role in your business.
   • Clarify your expectations, provide them feedback on their performance, recognize them, and welcome them into your culture. After all, you hired them so that they can help you succeed. Give them the tools they need to do just that.




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