A continuation of the article series on how to find and retain quality employees, this month's piece focuses on the hiring process.

Last month, I introduced some key ideas about trade recruitment and training from my friend Al Levi, who heads Appleseed Business Inc. (www.appleseedbusiness.com; 480-205-5164). A key component of last month’s article was the notion that it’s not hard to find good people, it’s just hard to find them in a hurry. I discussed the advantages of having an in-house training program in place so that you can constantly be recruiting new talent rather than always doing so out of desperation.

This month, we’ll get more specific by focusing on what ideally should be three phases of the hiring process. You risk costly mistakes by taking shortcuts in the critical decision about whom to put on your payroll.

Phase 1: Prequalification

Face it, job interviews are a distraction. They take time away from revenue-generating activities. It’s not what you’re trained to do, and the temptation simply is to rely on your gut instincts and get them over with.

One way to reduce the number of job interviews you conduct is to first instruct job applicants to contact you or the designated contact person by e-mail or over the phone. Then develop a prequalification questionnaire to ask of all prospective job candidates. The purpose here is to inform applicants of potentially troublesome company policies and expectations, and find out if they are able and willing to abide by them. If not, you don’t want them, regardless of their credentials.

Here are some examples of the type of questions to ask over the phone:

  • Everyone we hire must submit to a drug test. Are you willing to comply?
  • Our company policy requires all employees to be clean-cut and without facial hair. Are you willing to comply?
  • Our employees sometimes are called upon to work overtime on short notice. Is this acceptable to you?
  • Do you have reliable transportation to get you to and from work each day on time?
  • Our normal work hours are xx am to xx pm, but are subject to change at any time. Can you work these hours, and are you able to transition to a new schedule if required?
  • Where do you live?
  • We perform a criminal background check. Is this something you’re willing to submit to?
  • We check driving records. Is your license clean?

Add any questions you deem advisable based on your company policies and practices. It makes no sense to proceed to a face-to-face interview with an applicant who will have trouble complying with company policies.

The prequalification interview can be performed by an administrative assistant or other junior staff member. Just be sure the interviewer asks the questions from a preprinted questionnaire and records the responses.

    Phase 2: The First Interview

    People who pass muster with prequalification may be invited to a face-to-face job interview. These interviews should be scheduled at a time of your convenience, although you may want to make allowances for early morning or late sessions to accommodate persons who may already be employed. Once you settle on a time, if the applicant arrives late for the first interview, don’t grant the interview. You already know everything you need to know about that person.

    You may grant some slack if they call ahead and let you know they’re delayed in traffic or such. Use your judgment with excuses that sound lame, though. (I once had a job applicant call ahead telling me she’d be late for an interview because she overslept. She earned points for truthfulness, but I decided not to hire anyone stupid enough to admit that.)

    Make sure that all forms are preprinted and ready for the applicant to fill out as soon as s/he arrives. To help identify the best candidates, use an extensive employment application. It’s a good idea to have separate application forms that can be told apart at a glance for experienced persons and another for those applying for apprenticeship positions. Have the applicant completely fill out the correct application for the job opening within a specified amount of time. The time limit will help identify persons with literacy problems or those who simply are slow.

    While the applicants are filling out forms, fax a photocopy of their driver’s license to your insurance company, and ask for immediate results about their Department of Motor Vehicles record. This is especially important for those who will be driving company vehicles.

    One person should perform all the initial interviews for a given position. Typically, this might be a foreman or other field supervisor.

    Decide on the sets of interview questions that you will ask every applicant. This is the only way to compare apples to apples.

    A mistake often made is spending more time selling the applicant on the company than letting the applicant sell you during the interview. You should adopt the following attitude during hiring:

    “Business is just fine and dandy without you. But we always are on the lookout for good people, so we’re happy to talk with you and see if you’ll fit in.”

    The only way to become proficient at the interviewing and hiring process is to write up the procedure, and practice it through role-plays to become excellent.

    Why all this effort to hire the right person? Nothing is more important to the success of a company than getting the right people on the team - and the wrong people off.

    Phase 3: The Second Interview

    Ideally, you will have numerous candidates selected for the first interview. Choose only the best among them to come in for a second interview.

    At this stage, you’ve identified at least one person you think will be an asset to your company, but you need to make sure. The second interview should be less a matter of you asking questions than inviting the best candidates to show you what they know, and to gauge their enthusiasm about working for a company that acknowledges their skills and talents.

    Here are five items to cover in the second interview:

    1. Take a lot of time to explain under whose direct supervision the candidates will be working. Introduce each applicant to that person if it hasn’t been done already. Let the two of them talk for a while, inviting the applicant to ask questions.

    2. Make apprentice applicants aware that the work will be very hard and dirty at times, but that this is part of what it takes to build a career with your company.

    3. Show all applicants around your facilities – especially the training center if you have one.

    4. Set up and do some hands-on testing of their skills if they claim to have experience.

    5. Let them know that once you have made your selections following the round of second interviews and testing, you will call the selected applicants to let them know they have a job opportunity, subject to passing the drug test.

    What if you have only one position to fill and two terrific applicants? Don’t be afraid to hire and train more than one applicant at a time.

    You will very likely need that second person’s expertise in the near future. Moreover, the competition between the two employees makes them both better.

    The effort it takes to train two is nearly the same as training just one. If you only train one person for a position, there’s too much job security. Training more than one person allows the trainees to work together to help one another improve.

    We’ll continue with the final part of this series next month with an analysis of orientation.