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7 suggestions on hiring new employees

Jul 1, 2003 12:00 AM

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The economic malaise of the past several years has made job candidates a dime a dozen. Earlier this year, a friend — who knew I had a knack for successful hires — asked me to give him a hand replacing two recently departed salespeople. He had already advertised and had a stack of about 200 resumes. I said I had a knack for successful hires, not a skill — but I agreed to help.

I've rarely used hiring sources, such as HR or head hunters, because I believed I knew more about the business than they did. When going through the hiring process on your own, keep in mind that there are two basic types of supervisors: The dictatorial type who have a hands-on approach with employees, and the type who give employees free rein. Knowing my friend relates more to the latter philosophy, we began to sift through the resumes.

Sometimes, it's beyond your control

As we sifted, we reminisced about the hiring decisions we've made over the years. My friend told me of one sales rep he had hired. He liked the candidate from the minute the interview began, but after some small chitchat, the applicant dropped a bombshell: He was a recovering alcoholic. But he had glowing references, and previous employers confirmed that this applicant was an exemplary employee, so my friend hired him. Just six months later, the new hire fell off the wagon and had to be let go.

I've hired dozens of salespeople and other staff and have been fortunate with my decisions — with one exception. I hired a sales rep who was outstanding for two years. His territory grew significantly during that time, and all was going well. Then, without any warning, his performance began slipping. When I asked if he needed some help, he told me he was having some problems at home, but that they would be resolved. Several months later his wife left him, his sales began to fall off the chart, and I was forced to let him go.

The art of hiring

Remember, there are many factors that can't be controlled. Here are seven suggestions, however, for selecting the best prospects and actually hiring a new employee.

  1. Be specific when advertising an open position

    Don't be afraid to spend a little more money to better define the position and the company in your classified ad.

  2. Carefully analyze the resumes

    Look for creative resumes that stand out from the stack. Most importantly, look for individuals who have had no less than three years in any one position.

  3. Make sure you have a connection with the applicant

    Look for someone who asks questions, someone who is as interested in learning about the job and the company as you are in learning about that applicant. Good questions usually indicate good communication skills, which are vital in most positions.

  4. Check references thoroughly

    My favorite question to ask of previous employers is: “Would you hire this person again?” A “yes” or “no” answer can be very revealing. It's also a good idea to ask a sales candidate for three or four former customer references, as they, too, can provide valuable information about the individual. Remember, it's costly to hire and train new employees, so don't rush into making a decision. Do as much checking as you can.

  5. Be sure to train the new employee

    No matter how much experience an individual has, he or she has to learn about your company, its products and its customers. Introduce the new hire to others in the company to create a team atmosphere and to help with the education process. If the new hire is a sales rep, have his or her supervisor accompany the individual on the first few sales calls. This is a good way to evaluate how quickly the new hire acclimates to the products, clients and territory.

  6. Give the new employee a six-month review

    Discuss specific accounts and any progress that is or is not being made. Make sure the new hire is happy and on the right track.

  7. Face up to a hiring mistake

    Hiring and training an employee is an expensive proposition. You can't afford long-term mistakes. If the individual is not living up to your expectations, rectify problems immediately.

My friend ultimately hired two people to fill the open sales positions in his company. So far, they have done extremely well. He still has his fingers crossed, though, and now all he needs is a little luck.