Expert Strategies For Hiring The Best Employees

A few years ago I wrote a column in which I compared managing employees to herding cats: just when you think you have everyone organized in a happy little group and going in the same direction one cat breaks from the herd and heads off to do its own thing. Then another cat falls out of line, then another, then another. Finally two more cats ask to go home sick and three others just wander off after lunch, never to be heard from again.

Do you think managing employees has gotten any easier since that column was written? Have cats gotten any more obedient? The truth is, managing employees is the easy part: attracting (or finding) qualified employees is the really hard part. You’ve heard the old saying, “Good help is hard to find.” You didn’t think someone made that up just to hear their head rattle, did you?

Like a buyer’s market in real estate, it’s an employee’s market in the job world. With more options than ever, top talent can pick and choose the companies they want to work for and in many cases, can set their own price and compensation package rather than having to settle for the offers made by prospective employers.

One of the companies that I have an interest in provides hiring management software to employers and the number one complaint that I get from clients has been the same for years: we can’t find enough qualified candidates to fill the jobs we have. Some of my clients have had open positions for months and unfortunately, I can’t offer them much solace because the competition for the best employees is tough; and only going to get tougher.

According to a survey 40 percent of American companies say they plan to increase staffing levels in the first quarter of 2007. Health care, food services, commercial banking, transportation, construction and many other industries are begging for new candidates. And I’ll bet you a ton of Cat Chow that every one of those employers is as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof about having to find qualified people to fill all those slots.

How about your business? Will you be adding new employees to the herd this year? Are you having a hard time finding good help? If so the following strategies will help make your job a little easier.

Take advantage of the Internet and new technology. Like it or not, we live in the age of the electronic, online application and if you don’t allow applicants to apply to job openings via your company website you’re missing a large percentage of the best applicants. Top candidates are computer savvy and Internet reliant. The sharpest candidates do everything online; buy cars, meet dates, pay bills, socially network, etc. Give them the tools they demand to get their information to you quickly and conveniently. And use software on the backend of the process to manage the flow of applicant data and the hiring process. I speak from experience here: the ROI in time, money, and top talent will be multifold.

Hire the experienced old pro over the young rookie. Every potential employee you consider should have a track record of success in the kind of position with the kind of product he’s being hired for. If it’s a sales job, only hire someone who has proved that he can sell the type of product you sell. If it’s a service position only hire someone who is a master at servicing whatever it is you service. Don’t hire a vacuum cleaner salesman to sell airplanes. Choose “experience and performance” over “eager and willing to learn” every time.

Screen everyone. Screening and background checks should be a part of every hiring decision you make. There are lots of applicant-screening tools on the market that range from simple paper forms to complex web-based applications. Find one that suits your needs and use it on every applicant that you seriously consider hiring; from the janitor to the CEO. A good screening process will help you weed out problem employees before they are ever hired.

Perform drug tests without exception. I beg the pardon of those “right to privacy” do-gooders who tell me that a person’s personal life and urine contents are none of my business, but if I’m going to be paying someone’s salary you can be sure that I will exercise my right to check out that person as far as the letter of the law allows. If you have an aversion to little plastic cups, don’t apply inside.

Check references. This is a huge mistake that many employers make. They ask for references, but never check the quality or legitimacy of the reference. Surveys have shown that most job application references are either false or just family and friends who are willing to say how great the applicant is. Forget references from family and friends. Ask for the names of their last three employers, then call to verify the information on the application. By law, past employers are limited as to what they can divulge about the applicant, but if you simply ask: “would you hire this person again given the chance,” you will be amazed at what you can learn.

The presence of a pulse does not quality you for the job. Many employers are more concerned with just filling an open slot than filling it with someone qualified to do the work. Never hire someone just because you have an opening and they have a pulse. It will always come back to haunt you.

Will these strategies guarantee that every employee you hire is a winner? No, but they will help you avoid hiring those crazy cats.