By Rick Mullen
Maintenance Sales News Associate Editor
In his presentation, “Hire Smart: Hire Right,” given to a group of cleaning industry professionals, sales training consultant Troy Harrison explored the ins and outs of how to build an employee base that fits the needs and the culture of an organization.
“Hiring is different than it used to be,” Harrison said. “The problem is many people don’t know who they are looking for in the hiring process.”
What Makes A Great Employee?
■ The person hired is “trait fit” for the job;
■ Skilled enough to do the job; and,
■ Value and principle aligned with the manager and the organization.
Harrison outlined the above points while discussing what a good hire entails.
“First of all, the person should be ‘trait fit’ for the job,” Harrison said. “Traits are those things that we just are — they are not things you can coach. I’m 5 foot 9 inches tall, and no amount of coaching is going to make me 6 feet.”
Other traits to be considered include the ability to learn things, the ability to assert oneself, the ability to multi-task and the ability to work at a high level, Harrison said.
“Traits are who we are by the time we get into the world of work. You can’t coach those things,” Harrison said.
The second step in a good hire is to make sure the prospective employee has the skills to do the job.
“Skills are those things that are part and parcel of the job,” Harrison said. “For example, for a salesperson the ability to communicate well with other people would be a key job skill. The ability to persuade and to ask good questions are also key job skills.
“For somebody in the warehouse, the ability to run a forklift would be a key job skill. The cool thing about skills is they are things we can teach. So, if someone doesn’t have them, and they are trait fit for the job, we can train him/her.”
The next point in making a good hire Harrison discussed, concerned the importance of the prospective employee’s values and principles being in line with the company’s, and the job he/she is seeking.
“If you have somebody who is primarily interested in artistic endeavors, and you give that person a job as an office clerk, he/she is probably not going to be value and principle aligned with the job.”
Harrison asked the audience if the top performers in their companies exhibit the characteristics being discussed.
“These are the things that make for a successful and engaged employee. An engaged employee is somebody who does the job because he/she likes it and remains excited about doing the job. Here is the problem, we don’t look for these characteristics when we hire.”
Why Hires Fail
Harrison discussed three primary reasons why companies do not make good hires. They are:
■ Not hiring for traits or value alignment — only focus is on skills and knowledge;
■ Entire interview process based on experience, skills and knowledge; and,
■ Gut instinct hires.
“Many times, when we hire, we don’t hire for traits or value alignment, rather we only hire for skills and knowledge,” Harrison said.
Harrison said when discussing the hiring process, there are three words that sometimes enter into the conversation that will predict a hiring failure.
“The three words are: ‘industry experience required,’” Harrison said. “I can almost guarantee failure any time someone hires based on this criteria, because he/she is hiring on the easiest thing to teach an employee. The easiest thing you can give is knowledge about your business and industry.
“Again, a predictor of a failed hire is when the entire interview process is based on experience, skills and knowledge.”
Harrison said the worst hiring tactic is going by “gut instinct.”
“One of the things I have noticed about business owners and managers is there are some who like to brag about the accuracy of gut instinct,” Harrison said. “They might say, ‘Man, I can smell a great sales person when he/she walks into my office.’ They base hiring on gut feel and then wonder why the hires go wrong.”
Harrison told the audience there is a number to remember — 63.
“A Wall Street Journal survey, conducted six years ago, found that 63 percent of all hiring decisions for highly-compensated positions, including sales, management and executive positions, were made within the first five minutes of meeting a candidate,” Harrison said.
In making the determination that 63 percent of all hiring decisions were made within the first five minutes, the surveyors noticed the trajectory of the interviews changed after five minutes, Harrison explained. Furthermore, the researchers found the primary determinators of the trajectory of the interview were based on whether the interviewer liked or disliked the candidate.
“What can a person realistically determine about somebody within five minutes of meeting him/her? Not much,” Harrison said. “A person can probably decide, however, after five minutes if he/she likes a candidate.”
The Wall Street Journal found the type of questions asked were often based on whether the interviewer liked or disliked a candidate.
“If the interviewers liked the person, what questions do you think were asked? — total softballs,” Harrison said. “On the other hand, if the interviewers didn’t react positively to the person, what kind of questions did they ask? — hard questions to trip up the candidate. What kind of questions should every candidate be asked? — the hard questions.
“Interviewers didn’t ask the hard questions if they liked the person, because they wanted to validate that gut, emotional, ‘I want this person to work for me,’ judgment.”
You’re Using The Wrong Paradigm
■ Have a winning process and follow it;
■ Seek to exclude first — then include;
■ Don’t get emotionally involved; and,
■ Use tools.
“You need to have a winning process and follow it every time,” Harrison told the audience. “The interviews The Wall Street Journal surveyed failed because the interviewers weren’t following a process.”
The first step of a winning process, Harrison said, is to seek to “exclude,” rather than “include.”
“Have you ever walked up to a nightclub where there is a big burly guy with a clipboard and the velvet rope out front?” Harrison asked. “When you walk up to that nightclub, the first thing that big burly guy is looking for, is a reason to not let you in. You don’t look right. You don’t act right. You don’t smell right. You’re too young, too old, too tall, too short, whatever — he is looking for reasons to keep you out.
“I want you to be that big burly bouncer. When you are first encountering a candidate, seek to exclude him/her first. You will have time to include that person later. Failed hires come from trying to include someone at first.”
To be able to seek reasons to exclude a candidate, the interviewer must remain emotionally uninvolved, Harrison said.
“Refrain from liking or disliking someone all the way through the first interview. Stand back — be emotionally detached,” Harrison said. “It is not easy. We are people. We want to like each other. We are social creatures. Nonetheless, turn that switch off.”
Harrison urged the audience to use good tools to help validate hiring decisions.
“Over the past 12 years — up until a year ago — I did retainer-based recruiting for my clients,” Harrison said. “What that meant was they outsourced their hiring to me. My hiring accuracy in 106 searches was 88 percent. I’m not telling you this to brag, but rather to validate the process. That means the person hired ramped up to productivity in the expected amount of time.”
The hires who were at a company long enough to meet productivity expectations stayed for at least three years, Harrison said.
“That is my definition of a successful hire — at least three years of productivity,” he said. “I wasn’t successful because I’m a genius, rather I was successful because of the process.”
Establish A Process
■ Build a wide candidate pool;
■ Phone screen;
■ Resume focused interview;
■ Due diligence;
■ Behavioral interview; and,
■ Third-party assessment.
In building a wide candidate pool, Harrison said he is a believer in advertising for open positions, using such platforms as CareerBuilder and LinkedIn, among others.
“Craigslist works well in some markets and it doesn’t work at all in others. It is very market dependent,” Harrison said.
A phone screen, Harrison explained, consists of three or four questions designed to prompt a person to tell why he/she should be a candidate for an interview.
“I lose one out of four prospects at this stage because the person simply couldn’t tell my why he/she should be a candidate for an interview,” Harrison said. “A phone screen only takes a couple of minutes. It is a very efficient use of time.”
The first interview is resume-focused and includes very detailed questions designed to determine the truth of the candidate’s resume, Harrison said.
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“A resume is a narrative of the candidate’s career — where he/she has been and where that person is going,” Harrison said. “Some people exaggerate. Some people actually lie. If you can’t spot the lies, then you are the victim. Due diligence involves reference and credential checks.”
Harrison said the resume-focused interview should contain detailed questions about the candidate’s work history going back 10 years.
“I typically don’t go past 10 years, because the last 10 years is a good snapshot of who a candidate is,” Harrison said. “There are a lot of people who had great accomplishments 15 or 20 years ago, but are not that person anymore — probe the past 10 years.”
The candidate should be asked to give detailed accounts of any accomplishments listed on his/her resume, Harrison said.
“How did it happen? Who was a part of it? What was the result? Who was the customer? What was the situation? Wear them out with detailed questions,” Harrison said. “People will lie, but they won’t think to lie all the way through.
“For sales candidates, we have the holy trinity — sales performance, compensation plan and income. You would be amazed at how many sales people will lie about one or more of those points. Ask them about their sales numbers and compensation plan — how much was salary, how much was commission percentage and how much was bonus. Ask sales candidates what their income was, and then try to make all three of those numbers match. If the candidate is telling the truth, the numbers will match. If not, they won’t.”
Harrison also offered the following tip — sales people know their “numbers.”
“Good sales people know their numbers from 10 years ago,” Harrison said. “So do bad sales people, but they just don’t want to talk about it. So, if I hear a sales person say, ‘Well, we never really got our numbers.’ Not true. They got them, they just don’t want to tell you what they were — red flag.”
Harrison explained the fifth step — the behavioral interview — and its value in the process of making a good hire.
■ Behavioral interviewing seeks to establish job fit by matching past situations and actions to likely future situations;
■ “Tell me about a time when you ….”;
■ Proper answer — STAR: Situation, Task/Action Result; and,
■ Press for details — “What I did,” not “What would I do.”
“The behavioral interview seeks to establish job fit. Up until now, we have been looking to exclude,” Harrison said. “Behavioral interviewing is basically asking such questions as, ‘Tell about a time when you had to bring a whole bunch of people together on a project and get everybody pointed in the right direction. Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a particularly tough objection from a customer.’
“What we are looking at is the idea that future performance is going to mirror past performance. So, how somebody handles a situation in the past, is likely to be predictive of how they will handle those situations for you in the future.”
Harrison said a proper answer in the behavioral portion will follow the “STAR” format — what was the Situation? What was the Task or Action undertaken? And what was the Result?
“The second interview should consist of 12 to 15 of these types of questions, based on the behaviors you expect for the job,” Harrison said. “Press for details — the devil is in the details. Find out what candidates did, not what they would do.”
■ A valid third-party assessment is invaluable;
■ Should expose behavioral traits, value alignment and success patterns tailored to job specifics; and,
■ Should include at technical manual.
“If you Google ‘employee hiring assessments,’ you will get thousands of answers,” Harrison said. “The one I use is Profiles International, which is certified by the United States Department of Labor as a valid and nondiscriminatory pre-hire engine.”
Harrison said by using a third-party assessment tool, he raised his hiring accuracy from 68 percent to 80 percent.
“If someone is offering you an assessment, your first question should be, ‘Can I see your tech manual?’ Without a manual, an assessment cannot be said to have any scientific basis.”
Spot The Red Flags
In the process of making a good hire, the interviewer must be aware of how to spot indicators, or “red flags,” predicting a candidate is not going to be a good fit for the position the employer is seeking to fill. Below are some of the points Harrison covered in discussing red flags:
■ People will tell you how they will fail;
■ Personal habits;
■ Falsehoods; and,
■ Probing history.
“Every bad hire you have ever made told you during the hiring process why he/she was going to fail, and you ignored it,” Harrison said. “That is what happens when we get emotionally involved.”
Harrison told of a recent incident involving an interview he conducted for a highly paid sales position for a software company client. The person interviewed had previously worked for a different software company.
“My client was high on the candidate. One of the questions I asked was, ‘What was your favorite part of that other software job?’ He said, ‘They had an assistant working with me to set up my appointments.
“What did he tell me? He’s not going to prospect and the company wants him to prospect — red flag. My client asked me, ‘What did you think? Wasn’t he awesome?’ I replied, ‘Did you miss it when he told you why he is going to fail?’ My client said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, 'If you hire him, to make him successful, you are going to have to also hire an assistant at $50,000 a year.’ They didn’t hire him. They loved the guy, but they missed the red flag. Don’t get emotionally involved.”
Other red flags may show up in a candidate’s personal habits and behavior patterns.
“I had a guy show up for an interview who had a nose ring, tattoos on the side of his face, one shirttail untucked and the shirt looked like he slept in it,” Harrison said. “I said, ‘Don’t even sit down. Go your way and sin no more. I don’t have time for this.’
“This is for sales people only — I have heard it said how somebody behaves during an interview is an example of how he/she will behave on a sales call. Not true. It is an example of the best-case scenario of how a person will behave on a sales call.”
When it comes to falsehoods on a resume, Harrison said probing for specifics and history will often uncover false claims.
“When a falsehood is apparent, my advice is to end the interview right there. It is not worth your time to continue,” Harrison said. “Don’t interview or hire liars.”
The Keys To A Winning Interview
■ Preparation. Instead of general questions, build questions around the job;
■ What behaviors and traits make someone successful?; and,
■ How would you expose those (or lack thereof) during the interview?
“Prepare for your interviews. Build your questions around the job,” Harrison said. “Sit down and make a list of the behaviors and traits that make someone successful in the job, and then ask questions about how he/she might have exhibited those behaviors and traits in previous jobs.”
Harrison suggested that employers should read two job hunting books a year, but not for the reason one might think.
“Have you ever looked in the Career Section in Barnes & Noble?” Harrison asked. “Every one of the books is on finding a job. Ninety-five percent of those books should be titled, ‘How to Package and Pretend Your Way Into a Job for Which You Are In No Way Qualified.’
“Every hiring manager ought to read at least two job hunting books a year. These books are enemy propaganda. They tell people how to sidestep and get around direct questions (and other techniques). If you don’t know their techniques, you are going to be the victim.”
There is one job hunting book, however, that Harrison thinks “plays it straight” in the information it imparts.
“There is a book by John Lucht titled, “Rites of Passage at $100,000+,” Harrison said. “It is the best job hunting book I have ever read, and it plays it straight, without any enemy propaganda.”