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Friday, December 11, 2009

Hiring choices

If you client experience is the most important element in construction marketing -- and for most of us, it is, because of the vital importance of repeat and referral business -- your front-line administration and reception employees are indeed among your most important marketing representatives.

So choosing who you hire for this work is vitally important, but never easy.

Of course, many more people "qualify" to be receptionists/administrators than competent sales representatives, designers, or tradespeople. The "entry level office position" is akin to the construction labourer -- yes, you need some important skills, but this isn't an area where you normally think of "labour shortage".

Indeed, with the recession still impacting the economy, a single posting on the Canadian government's free Internet job bank resulted in more than 100 resumes, within a couple of days.

We've developed some systems to manage the process.

First, everyone who sends a resume (unless they are obviously unqualified), is sent a questionnaire with math and grammatical puzzlers. The prospective employee is also asked whether all references from immediate previous supervisors can be verified, and if not, why.

Many don't bother completing the questionnaire. We had a laugh when one candidate sent an email with spelling and grammatical errors saying, effectively, "Why are you asking these questions -- they aren't necessary for the job." Well if you can't understand basic grammar and arithmetic, how are you going to add up the daily deposit, or send a client a letter reflecting well on the business?

We simply scan the questionnaires, and throw out all the applications who answer incorrectly.
Then we review the resumes for inconsistencies with the questionnaires. I only read the resumes AFTER the questionnaire -- we ask candidates to resend their resumes with the questionnaire responses so we don't have to fish through the big pile of initial inquiries.

Here is where things get trickier, however, and here is where I had a tough decision last night.

After a screening phone interview, we invite finalists in for a few hours of paid work. This is real work, reflecting operations, but varies day to day.

As its, I stopped reviewing resumes and sending out questionnaires after three days; we had three finalists in for work. The first candidate worked well through the day, but my "sixth sense" had real doubts. The second person showed up, looked at our messy offices, and told me that he doesn't think he would like working for us, and left. (Frankly, that rejection was painful.) The third person arrived yesterday but unfortunately I had to leave the office before the outgoing administrator and the prospective new employee could actually do any work.

At 4:30 p.m., my departing employee recommended the first candidate. But in my heart I sensed the third would be best. Nevertheless, I needed to make a decision.

I called the two candidates (rare evening phone calls) for final interviews and talked with a key employee who is staying. In the end, I decided to invite the first candidate in for a few days temporary work (she is available now) and possible on-call support later, but went with the third candidate, subject to reference verification.

What weighed my decision?

Recommendations from departing employees always carry much less weight than current and new employees
People leave an organization for a variety of reasons; maybe they have a much better offer, but maybe they simply don't fit into the culture. Their recommendations then carry the weight of their values. Sometimes they are angry and they want you to work with someone who will make things worse (I don't think that is the case here).

If I am wrong, what are the consequences?
We will have some business/operational disruption, but there is no shortage of administrative employees now. By offering the first candidate temporary work, I can fill some immediate needs and create a back-up should the second candidate not pan out. But a wrong decision here won't be a disaster.

Has the candidate met all the essential qualifications?
Bending the rules on references is never wise, equally hiring someone just because they look good or say the right things is dangerous. Here, I had a yellow flag as the outgoing employee said the person I thought best didn't understand some basic job-related requirements. But again I looked through the assessments, and concluded in my final interview that these problems would not weigh heavily on my decision.

What does my "gut" tell me?
Yes, intuition counts -- and when things are in doubt, can be the most important tie breaker.
Note that wise and selective hiring is never easy -- and you need systems to handle the process. I hope I have it right this time.

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