I recently hired three customer service reps for our higher education software products division. Every round of hiring provides an opportunity to learn from wins and losses of previous rounds in the pursuit of the 'perfect fit'... Here are some key learnings from 15 years of those hiring experiences broken down into two areas:
1. Take the time to make sure we hire right and only once.
2. Investing often in the success of a new hire is worthwhile and usually overlooked.
BE CLEAR FROM THE START: Many job descriptions and posts contain general commentary and laundry lists of skills and requirements. Too often a poorly written, or abstract description brings too many people into the mix, 'YES, that sounds like something I could do, I'll apply.' NO! Screen OUT, not IN.
- Define clearly what an ideal candidate must have done and can do. Think about specific work scenarios and high standards of performance that you have seen and will expect. When you have that clear picture of the ideal candidate, build detailed descriptions and interview questions that help you confirm that this candidate has all the relevant skills and experiences you need. 'Strong communication skills' and 'Good computer skills' are not going to help weed out the weak links from the start...
HAVE AN INTERVIEW PLAN: Now that we have a clear picture of what we are looking for (customer service: Attitude, Empathy, Listening, Problem Solving, etc.) and are sitting across from someone who thinks they really want this job. Do you have some established best practices, areas to improve based on the insight you and your team have gathered from previous interviews?
- I've always had good success with the SAR (situation- action- result) method of digging into past experiences of a candidate. Most of them can get through the first example, they're prepared, but it's the second question, 'thank you for sharing that, can you give me another example?' That's usually when we start getting into the good stuff!
- A real hot button for me is that I want someone who wants THIS job, not just A job. It has been said, in many ways, that we should hire people who do this work for the love of this work, not for the money. That might be a little much to ask but I try to get as close to that as I can. I get a sense for that by digging into the research a candidate has done on the company and the job. How well versed are they about what the job actually is and their ability to convince me that their experience and who they are lines up with what we need done and how they will add value and solve the problems that we have. When you hear someone talk in those terms, like they've already been working in your company, you know you have a serious candidate!
- 'Gut' isn't good enough. I'm disappointed when I hear an executive talk about their 'gut feeling' on a candidate. I believe that feeling is simply a collection of observations they have made but cannot identify in detail. You didn't walk into the room, sit with the candidate with your eyes and ears closed and, walk out 10 minutes later and say, 'I had a good vibe!' You see and hear things that tick certain boxes that you know are important to the position. A well defined job description and deep understanding of the skills and experience needed lead you to know what the right candidates needs.
Now you've made your hiring choice, let's make sure they succeed! It takes more than a basic 'new hire training program' before you send them out into the organization to sink or swim.
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS: Every employee survey on job dissatisfaction or why they leave a position consistently has one thing at the top, 'I wasn't clear on what I was supposed to do.' Take that off the table from the start. Let them know what 'great' performance looks like.
ESTABLISH CONFIDENCE: This is the bulk of most new hire training, product knowledge and procedures. Don't forget to go through every possible scenario they might encounter and practice, practice, practice! If they have a feeling of, 'I can handle anything that comes my way today', you will have one confident and positive customer facing employee.
EMPOWER: Let them know they are not alone, they are a valued member of our team, and it's ok to ask questions. We're all on an ongoing journey of continuous improvement. They need to know that you believe in them to do the right thing and it is ok to make mistakes, they happen to the best of us!
IMPROVE: Speaking of mistakes, they are great teachers. Each one of us owns our improvement and we expect that we all learn from our mistakes and get better every day. How can I help?
REWARD and RECOGNIZE: Happy employees create happy customers. Take an active role in finding what your team is doing right, so they will do more of it. What usually jumps out at us are the things that are going wrong and we spend a lot of time there... There is a lot of good that goes unrecognized and that's a missed opportunity. Small touches (awareness, attention, hand written notes, etc.) go a long way when it comes to morale, engagement, and overall job satisfaction.
These are all worthwhile investments in your major investment of a new hire.
Do them often to protect your investment.
What else do you do to ensure a successful choice of and start for a new hire?