Posts filed under ‘Human Resources’

Hiring Employees: The Interview

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This week, we are discussing the process of hiring employees.  Today, we are going to tackle the interview.  Now, that you’ve narrowed down you choices and have invited your favorite candidates to meet you, what are you going to discuss?  How are you going to interview them?

For me, job hiring and job seeking is all about finding a “match”.  It’s not about filling a position.  It’s not about getting a job.  It’s about ensuring that what I’m getting out of hiring someone is as valuable as what they are getting out of working for my company.  It has to be a “match” or it won’t work.  You’ve done a lot of groundwork in your preparation for the job search, in writing your job ad, and in reviewing resumes.  Now, is time to see if any of these candidates are a true match.

Things to know going into the interview:

  • Have 3-5 key question prepared.  You’ll be asking more than that.  But, these are the questions that are particularly important to you.  The other questions will naturally evolve out of a curiosity.
  • Study their resume beforehand.  You want to make the best use of your time with this person, so be prepared!  You’ll want to ask them about their experience, so make sure you did your homework.
  • Let the conversation flow naturally… like you are having coffee with a vendor you are getting to know.
  • Take notes!  If you have to go back and compare your favorite people, you’ll want to make sure you can distinguish between them.
  • The candidate is naturally going to be nervous.  It’s best to make them comfortable so that you can see what they are really like.  Small talk and general “sharing” helps to establish trust.
  • You are trying to find a match… not someone who is going to solve all the mysteries of life.  You are also looking for someone that you can mentor.  If you can find a good mentee, then much of your employer-employee relationship will be much easier.

Like I said, you’ll need to find 3-5 key questions that are your core “deciders”.  All of your other questions will give you a general feel for who they are.  These 3-5 questions are the “make it or break it” type questions to help you determine if they are a match or not.  They will largely be dependent on your business and the position for which you are hiring.  But, here are some tips…

Things to consider in writing your core interview questions:

  • Think about situations that they encounter while working for you.  For example, invitation assembly can be repetitive and at times tedious.  I want to make sure that people can handle that.  I always ask, “Share with me an experience you had where the work was tedious.  How did you motivate yourself to get the job done?”
  • Ask a problem-solving question.  Every business has issues that can arise out of nowhere.  You want to make that people who work for you can think on their feet and be innovative.  Ask them to give you an example of time when they were faced with an issue and how they resolved it.
  • Ask specifics about their job history (taken from their resume) that interest you.  Ask them to make the link between that job and the job your are offering.
  • Ask them about their customer service and client experience.  Even if they are not interacting with clients face-to-face, everything about our industry is service-related.  They need to have the drive to host and serve others, regardless of where they fall in the process.  Also, an employee who is good with clients is also good with their co-workers.
  • Ask questions to determine whether they are open to learning and good at listening.  You want to ensure that this person is a good mentee.  You want to make sure they are trainable.  Ask questions to judge whether they can take direction or whether it’s their way or the highway.  It’s difficult to mentor someone that doesn’t want to be mentored.

Wrapping it up…

At the end of the interview, you should let them know that you are interviewing a few candidates and will let them know within a couple weeks (or whatever your timeframe is).  Generally, I know during the interview whether I’m going to hire the person or not.  I just have a strong gut feeling about these things.  But, I still hold out to make the offer until I’ve interviewed everyone.  And, I make sure to review my notes.  If you are stuck between a couple candidates, you may want to bring them in for a second round.  Or, have them come into your office for a “test day” and see how they do.

When you have made your decision, give them a call.  I always follow up a verbal offer with one in writing.  (I like to make sure everyone is on the same page and it is good for everyone to see employment terms on paper.)  I also make sure to send rejection letters to people to which I did not make an offer.  (It’s awful to leave them standing, waiting.)

And, there you have it… the hiring of your first… and several more… employees!


July 30, 2009 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Hiring Employees: Cover Letter & Resume Review

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This week we are talking about hiring.  On Monday, we laid the foundation to finding good people to work for you.  Yesterday, we wrote the ad for your job.  And, now the resumes have started to pour in.  It’s time to meet some of these people!

I have a process by which I review resumes.  It goes something like this:

Scan & Email Review

  1. Email comes in; quickly scan their letter and resume.  Move onto something else.
  2. At the end of the day, there are usually several emails that have arrived (of which I’ve scanned for a minute).  Of those, there are usually a handful that stand out in my mind already from my previous scan.
  3. I go through the emails once more and read in a little more detail their information.  If they didn’t include a cover letter, answer my question(s), or clearly are not a match, I skip them.
  4. For those that answered my question(s) and something about their resume intrigues me, I print out the letter and resume.  (It helps for me to see it and make notes.)

The Cover Letter

What the candidate says in the cover letter is the most valuable piece of information for me.  Think about it: many people can write a resume and make any job look good.  But can you clearly communicate your thoughts in letter form?  Study the cover letter and pay attention to what this person is telling you about themselves.  This is what a good cover letter tells me about the person:

  • I know how to follow directions and have answered your questions.
  • I have taken the time to put thought into my answers.
  • I am confident enough to speak thoroughly about my strengths.
  • I know how to write well (much more important than a superstar GPA!).
  • I can communicate effectively and express my thoughts in an organized manner.
  • I can write a letter, should the occasion arise that I need to write one to a client.
  • I am extremely interested in this job because I sat down for an hour to write this letter.
  • This is not a cookie-cutter letter that I send with every job application.
  • I am passionate; this is evident in my tone.
  • I am detailed; this is evident in my writing.
  • I am a problem solver; this is evident in the examples I have given you of my work.

The Cover Letter is sooooo important!  (Now, you understand the value from yesterday’s exercise of writing the job ad so that people answer some soul-revealing questions in their cover letter?)  By the way, if someone sends me solely a resume (no cover letter) I immediately delete their email.

The Resume

At this point, I generally have 5-8 cover letters that I love.  Now, I take a look at the resumes.  The candidates’ resumes usually confirm what I’ve learned in the cover letter.  The resume acts as a “cross-check” for the letter.  Here’s what I mean:

Cover Letter tells/hints me                     Resume confirms

I am a leader                                               I was President of my Spanish club
I am articulate                                             I have good grades
I am committed                                          I have long histories at previous employers

I circle and mark up the resume, highlighting the things I like about this candidate.  Here are some of the other things I’m looking for on a resume.  (Keep in mind, I’m generally interviewing people that are in college.)

  • Good grades; but not necessarily a 4.0 – I want to make sure this person has work/life balance; it’s important to the culture of my organization
  • Some involvement in an organization – They don’t have to be President of their class, but they should be interested in something outside of their schoolwork.  They should have “real life” learning.
  • Strong job history – I don’t like to see job hopping, but I do understand that college kids generally have a slew of summer jobs, each year it’s different.  Those candidates that have gone back to the same job each summer stand out a bit more than others.
  • “Hard” work – I like to see people who have hard jobs, this shows that they have perseverance and commitment (and that they won’t walk out on me after assembling 1125 invitations by hand in one day)
  • Experience that fits the job they want – If they are going to be doing invitation assembly, it helps if they have “paper” or crafting experience, even if it’s just a hobby.  If they are going to be working with clients, I like to see that they have retail experience or have waited tables.
  • Not necessarily an artist – I don’t necessarily hire people with art backgrounds (for invitation assembly).  I want to be able to train people who want to learn something new.  And, I want to be able to teach them the mmm… paper art, not have someone who is reluctant to learn.  (This is specific to this position; if I were hiring a designer I’d want someone with design experience.)

Scheduling Interviews

I generally have 5 people that I interview.  I schedule the interviews to take place a couple weeks after placing the ad.  I begin setting up interviews within a few days of receiving resumes.  And, continue to set them up as resumes trickle in.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss: The Interview!

July 29, 2009 at 7:20 am 2 comments

Hiring Employees: The “Wanted” Ad

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Creative Commons License

So, you’ve decided to hire an employee… Congratulations!  Now onto the recruitment process: How do you find that lucky person that is going to join your team?  You’ll have to create a Job Ad.  Now, keep in mind that you may not necessarily need to advertise if you can find that person through word of mouth, but going through the process of writing the ad is still important.

Writing Your Ad

Your job ad will have five key components.  Keep in mind, that I’m all for brevity.  Less is more, when you are trying to capture people’s attention.  Below are the 5 key components with an ad that I’ve used at mmm… paper and some additional hiring notes:

1 – A company description – What do you do?  What makes your company different?

mmm… paper is a custom designer and manufacturer of wedding invitations, baby announcements, party invitations and stationery.  We are cool small business located in Capitol Hill, and we are seeking people to help us grow in leaps and bounds.  Find out more at:

(Hiring note: make it fun!  We are in a fun industry.  Write about it like you love it.)

2 – The Ask – What are you looking for?  What is this position called?

We are seeking an Assembly Lead to work part-time (10-20 hours/week).  You must be a college sophomore or junior enrolled at one of the local universities.  We are interested in people that are eager to learn and enjoy art and crafting as a career or hobby.

(Hiring note: I have always been very successful in hiring people at the sophomore and junior level in college.  This college level student is generally eager to learn and can usually work for 2-3 years before graduating college.  It gives me a few years to mentor this person.  If there is a full-time position at my company when they graduate, they’ve already had a few years training under their belt.  Also, if it’s a match for both you and them, sophomores and juniors don’t job-hop a lot.  They stick to the job that offers them the income they need and the flexibility they desire.)

3 – Qualifications – What characteristics and traits should this person possess?

YOU should possess:

    • organized thinking
    • positive attitude to learn
    • analytical mind to do business functions
    • creative talents to assist in product assembly
    • a love for going above and beyond for clients

(Hiring note: I am more interested in hiring someone who is an “out of the box” thinker and problem solver than I am in hiring anyone that is a visionary artist.  I can train someone to do the art.  I can’t train someone to think quickly and clearly and have a positive attitude.)

4 – Responsibilities – What (in greater detail) will this person be doing?

The Assembly Lead has the following responsibilities:

    • Meet with Production Manager weekly to discuss production plans for the week
    • Train / Teach 1-3 assembly people production for each job
    • Ensure timely completion of jobs, from beginning to end
    • Documentation of assembly procedures
    • Communication with Production Manager of any setback
    • Hand-assembly of Wedding Invites

(Note: Yesterday, I had you define the role that this person will play in your organization.  You should have identified responsibilities and jobs that the employee will be responsible for.)

5 – Call to action – How can the candidate apply for the job?

Please email your resume and a cover letter which tells us about one of the following:

    • your creative talents
    • your project management or leadership skills
    • how you’ve gone above and beyond for a client or employer
    • what makes you a team player

(Hiring note: The questions are the most important part of my “pre-interview process”.  By having the candidates respond to one of these questions, I am learning much more about them that their resume can tell me.  I am also weeding out the people who don’t answer the question (don’t follow directions), don’t include a cover letter (aren’t professional), and don’t have the characteristics that I’m seeking (eager to learn and out of the box thinker).)

Where to Look for Candidates

My recommendation of where to find good candidates is the same recommendation that I have for people who are looking for jobs, clients, and boyfriends: talk to people.  Networking is the best way to find people that are a good match for your business.  Spread the word.  You’ve written the ad, now you are able to communicate to everyone you know what exactly it is that you are looking for in a potential employee.

Never to downplay the need to advertise, you should also do that!  Place ads at local colleges and Craig’s List.  You can try some of the job boards such as monster, careerbuilder, and hotjobs.  But, in all honesty, if you have a good ad and know what you want, you will find aces on Craig’s List.  I’ve hired every one one of my employees from Craig’s List, or from an employee referral.

Go get’m!

July 28, 2009 at 9:30 am 1 comment

Hiring Your First Employee

Over the years, I’ve spoken with a number of small businesses in the wedding industry who are scared of hiring that first person to help them with their business.  Aside from the financial investment it takes to hire an employee, it also takes an investment of your time and energy.  I can proudly say that I have had 5 amazing people work for me in the last 3 years.  And, each one of them has been outstanding.  I would do it all over again

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I hope to share some of my successes in hiring people with you.  This week we are going to talk about taking on that first employee. (If you have already hired a few employees and haven’t had much luck, this week of blog posts may apply to you as well.)  Today, we’ll talk about how to prepare for hiring someone.  Tomorrow, we’ll discuss recruiting (placing your ad.  Wednesday, we’ll talk about resume review.  And, Thursday we’ll wrap it up with a discussion on interviewing

Are you ready to hire?

There are two major considerations to take into account when hiring a new employee.  The first is financial: can you afford this individual?  Here are some thoughts on being financial ready to hire:

– Do you have cash reserves for 3-6 months of your business?  (This would be your emergency savings.)
– Do you feel that your personal financial needs are being taken care of?
– Will the work that this person does enable your business to grow?  (Either they have direct impact on sales or will free you up to increase sales)
– Will this person be full-time or part-time?  Will they be seasonal or year-round?
– Can you afford their payroll and their payroll taxes?  (People always question me on the additional payroll expenses.  For a part-time employee in the state of Washington, the payroll taxes equal ~20% of payroll.  For other states it can be as high as 25-35%.  If you have full time staff and want to offer medical insurance and vacation, this can be even higher.)

The second consideration in hiring someone is whether or not YOU have a commitment to this.  So many people go into hiring an employee with fear and trepidation.  They aren’t sure of the specific training and the specific responsibilities of that employee.  Others don’t truly understand the ongoing mentorship that goes into hiring quality people.  And, there are also a number of small business owners who aren’t ready to give up control.  You must be willing and prepared to surrender.  Allowing your employees to share control of your business makes them invested in your dream.  Without that, you cannot have a successful organization.

What specific role will this person fulfill?

The book that changed my life (and my business) is E-Myth by Michael Gerber.  In it, he discusses how small business owners often burn out after a few years because they are managing so many responsibilities as a small business owner.  Think about your day.  You are the President, CFO, VP Marketing, Sales Manager, Assembly Person, Technical Support, Customer Service, File Clerk, Copy and Coffee Girl, Errand Boy, Janitor, and Dishwasher.

In the E-Myth (Entrepreneurial Myth), Gerber discusses how we must define specific roles in our businesses.  He recommends doing this even if it is just you.  This is important in defining how your company works.  So, try it out: Make a list of every role and responsibility in your organization.  From there, create an organization chart.  Or, if that’s a little daunting, create responsibility lists.  For example a “Sales Manager” would be responsible for responding to client inquiries, setting appointments, meeting with clients, educating clients, writing proposals, and making the sale.

Once you’ve defined these responsibilities, you’ll have a better idea of where you can fit that first employee.  For me, when I made my first hire in 2006, I really needed someone to help me with the hand assembly of wedding invitations.  This person would be my “Assembly Lead”.  I clearly defined the responsibilities and made certain that it fit with the overall structure and strategy of mmm… paper.  This would help me later in placing my employment ad and eventually in training the new hire.

I was also able to crunch some numbers and determine whether her part-time hourly pay fit into my financial plans.  Because her job is part of my cost component of building an invitation, am I appropriately pricing my goods?  Does her pay fall reasonably within my profit margin?  And, does her employment, free me up to work on other revenue building opportunities?

Do you have procedures in place to train and mentor this individual?

So, you are all set.  You can already envision your first employee.  You have already dreamt of how he or she will greet you at the door with coffee.  This person will make all of your entrepreneurial ambitions come true!  (Or maybe, they’ll make it so that you aren’t working until 3am every night.)  But, how are you going to get from A to Z?

I think the largest mistake people make in the road to hiring an employee is not preparing procedures for training this individual ahead of the actual hiring.  Most people think they can wing it.  Or, that they’ll get through the interview process, and then work on the training procedures.  It doesn’t work that way.  You must have an idea of how you are going to train and mentor this individual before you begin recruitment.  It’s an important part of finding the right person.

Here’s why you need to have training procedures in place before hiring… You will find a handful of people in your interviews who can do the job… but, what you need is someone who is eager and willing to learn.  So, you should be looking for someone who can fit into your training plan.  Anyone who is not willing to learn will not embrace your vision.  And, you need to be prepared to teach them.  I recently talked about being a mentor not a manager.  This is most true with that first employee.  You must be prepare to coach them in all there is about your beautiful little business.  This relationship will lead to a mutually beneficial partnership.  By having procedures in place before the hiring process, you are recruiting people who would be good mentees.  You are recruiting individuals who fall in to your training plans, not just someone who fulfills a role in your business.

When I hired my first employee, the following below is what I did to create my training plan.  It worked for me then, and I use it with every new person I hire.  (That’s another great thing about having a training plan, it’s easy to use if your company is seasonal and you need to hire and train people on a frequent basis.)

– Create a list of everything you want to teach that person.  If you can clearly define processes, then it will be easier to communicate what they should be doing.
– Now take a step back: I know you want them to do everything, but stick to the role that you defined for them.  Compare your list to the list of responsibilities that you defined for their position in your company.
– Look at the list again: You’ve listed what’s in it for you… but, what’s in it for them?  What life and careers lessons can you give this individual?  (By emphasizing that you want to give this person training that will be useful for their life-long career, you are building upon that mentor-mentee relationship.  This is important in creating a mutually beneficial partnership.  This isn’t just about you.  Trust me, this will pay off in the long run!)
– Create a schedule of the times you are going to sit with the new hire and teach them these things; allow for “independent study” and “work time”

A question of Your Time vs. Your Commitment

The commitment to take on new employees begins long before you place that first ad.  You have to take a hard look at your business and determine how it is organized and how you foresee the future of your organization.  Training and mentoring do take time.  (I often hear from people that they are scared of taking on employees because “in the time it takes to train and manage someone, I could’ve just done it myself.”)  But, the time it takes is not what you think.  You commit of your time and energy into mentoring the person.  If you do this properly, you will spend far less time managing the person.  If you put in the heavy investment to build that relationship, you will spend far less time training, overseeing and supervising that individual.  And, you’ll have a team of people that love your business nearly as much as you do!

July 27, 2009 at 7:35 am 3 comments

People Lessons I’ve Learned…

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This week I’m sharing with you some of the lessons that I’ve learned in my five years as a small business owner in the wedding industry.  Yesterday, we covered “Productivity Lessons“.  Today, we’ll discuss the “People Lessons” I’ve learned.  They are lessons about communicating with, working with, and collaborating with people.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned about People

1 – Be a Mentor, not a Manager

If you have employees and/or if you plan on having them someday, my best recommendation is to mentor them, don’t manage them.  I’ve had the same message for everyone that works for me: “You may work here until you are 92.  You may move on in 3 months.  Regardless of the length of our relationship, I want to give you life lessons that you’ll use in your career.”  With that mindset you will both have a mutual relationship of support and understanding.  Communication will be much more open.  Training will be much smoother.  When you see your role as a mentor and educator, your employees will be eager to learn and become invested in everything about your business.  And, you’ve got a better chance at them working for you until they are 92 if they are invested in what they are doing and learning.

2 – When issues arise, address them immediately

One bad apple can spoil the barrel.  If someone on your team has a poor attitude or is not bringing what he or she committed to, then it is time to face the issue.  Not doing so will sour the experience of everyone who works for you.  This will ultimately lead to a decline in your business.  Confronting a problem employee is an extremely challenging thing to do.  But, it’s an important lesson to learn… and practice makes perfect.  And, if you’ve been the mentor then your job will be made easier.

In my 12 years of managing individuals the best approach has always been one of concern: “I’ve noticed a change in XYZ. I’m concerned about ABC.  What is your perception?”  The fascinating thing is that often times it is something personal and the person is completely unaware that it is affecting their work.  By having an open line of communication and by acting as a mentor to the individual, you’ll have a lot better chance at breaking through.  I always end with asking this question, “I need to know that you are committed to ABC.  Can I count on you?”  You’ve clearly communicated the expectation and it’s time for both of you to move forward in a positive direction.

3 – Collaborate don’t Compete

I recently touched upon the magic of embracing your competition, so I’m going to take a different angle here.  Those who collaborate in this industry have a team of people to support their business.  Those who fixate on competition only have themselves.  (It really does take a village to have a successful business!)  I’ve heard horror stories of vengeful-cliquey-venemous battles between wedding vendors.  Hey – there are plenty of brides to go around for all of us!  By collaborating with your competitors you are bringing a strong unified collection of wedding professionals in your segment.  You are strengthening the industry as a whole.  Everyone has something different to offer, so find out how you can work together and how the industry as a whole can rise to the top.  If you see someone who is doing something similar to you and it makes you nervous (I’m not going to lie that this doesn’t make me nervous) find out how you can work together, not apart.

4 – Communicate!

I said it in yesterday’s post and I’ll say it again: GOOD communication is 80% of getting anything done.  (No I didn’t do a study to come up with that 80% number… it just feels right. 🙂 )  If you want to be successful in this industry communicate efficiently and effectively with everyone you have contact: vendors, clients, employees.  I am blown away when I don’t get a response to a phone inquiry or an email for a week or sometimes longer.   By returning phone calls and email promptly you are already doing what many people do not.  Let people know what you are doing every step of the way.  If someone asks you a question that you cannot answer immediately (it requires some research or additional work) let that person know that you are working on it and will give them an answer by X date.  It’s that simple.

5 – Listen

If you pay attention and listen carefully, people will express their needs to you.  This is most prevalent in a sales meeting with a potential client.  It’s natural to want to be the dominant person during a sales meeting.  After all the client has come to you for your expertise.  The danger is in jumping too soon.  By exploring and really listening to what your client has to say about his or her wedding, you’ll better be able to educate them about the best match between your business and their needs, wants, desires.  The first step is to listen.  The second step is to define a need.  The third step is to educate.  The last step is to introduce a potential match.

And with that… I leave you to go off in the wedding world with so many wonderful people!

July 22, 2009 at 6:00 am 1 comment


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