How Flexible Are They?

During the hiring interview, consider discussing different scenarios that would require the applicant to be flexible.

Here are a few examples:

– If your job required that you move back and forth between two different locations, would you be fine with that?

– At certain times, we need people to put in extra time. We’ll pay overtime for this, but would you be willing to put in some late hours for a period of time? How about for an extended period of time?

– From time to time, we have an outside source come in to provide direction. Would you easily accept orders from this person?

Those are potential situations in the future. You could also consider this subject of “flexibility” with regards to his previous experience.

Ask the applicant to talk about a previous situation in which he worked very hard on an assignment and then, out of the blue, the assignment was cancelled. How did he feel about this abrupt change?

Did your applicant get transferred to another position that he didn’t feel was right for him? How did he handle that?

If these last two areas of discussion don’t jog his memory, you could ask more directly to discuss situations in which he needed to be flexible in the work environment and how he handled this.

All in all, you’re asking the person how he deals with “change.” Does he have a resistance to change in general or does he welcome it. And what are some of the finer points to your applicant’s willingness to be flexible?

Whatever you discover here could provide more insight into how your applicant will perform up the road.

Hiring and the Law – What About Pre-Screening Questions?

Devora L. Lindeman, Esq., Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, is providing us with insight and information regarding the hiring process. Ms. Lindeman is a management-side employment lawyer and has exclusively represented managers and companies in federal and state agencies and courts with regard to their labor and employment needs for many years.

Questions addressed to Ms. Lindeman may be addressed in this column.

Hiring and the Law
By Devora L. Lindeman, Esq.*

Question: We’re looking to hire a PR person for our dermatology center where we also provide clinical nutrition and other skin-enhancing services.  The ideal candidate needs healthy looking skin and needs to be an ambassador for our office with a healthy, fit appearance.  During the phone pre-screening can I ask “Do you have a fit, healthy appearance?” Or “Do you look fit and healthy enough to represent our office?”  I want to avoid so many in-person interviews with people who are not a good fit.

Answer: Those questions are probably not good ideas.  Some states, but not all, prohibit discrimination on the basis of the employee’s appearance, so you need to know the local restrictions.  However, all states and federal law prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability.  These could potentially include conditions that might be contrary to what it appears your office would be seeking.  Thus, you need to make sure your hiring requirements are all based on the requirements for the job.  Even people with disabilities must satisfy the job requirements—provided those requirements are actually necessary to do the job.

Nevertheless, an appearance being sought could possibly be what is called a “BFOQ” (Bona Fide Occupational Qualification).  Employers can potentially argue that appearance is a BFOQ for individuals in PR or Marketing roles who personally sell a product or service, where the product or service is directly related to the person’s appearance.  But, keep in mind that customer preference does not trump the requirements of the discrimination laws.

I suggest identifying the specific requirements you are seeking, such as outgoing personality, good communication skills, ambassador for our office, and putting that information in the want ad.

In this case, by way of example, you could say something like:  “Our dermatology center also provides clinical nutrition and other skin-enhancing services.  The ideal candidate will be an ambassador for our office, embodying the results we aim to achieve for our clients/patients.  It is our goal to help our clients/patients achieve healthy hair, nails and skin [etc.].  A candidate with an outgoing, radiant personality and good communication skills will help communicate our message.”

It is also advisable for an employer to put in the want ad that it is an equal opportunity employer.  That can help forestall discrimination claims asserting that the company is seeking cute, young, white women only.  From what you described, “older” people who have the image you are seeking, or people of color with good skin, could fit the bill for the job, provided they have the other requirements. Keep in mind, however, that, as in this example, a person with bad skin may be able to cover it with make up so that they still appear satisfactorily.

A person doing phone screening might want to read the ad and/or expand on that information in the introduction to the pre-screening phone call when explaining what the company is looking for—rather than asking questions outright about “do you have good skin?”  A person who does not meet those qualifications may get the hint, but, that is not guaranteed.  The company may need to bring people in and make determinations based on in-person interviews.  As with other requirements, however, if a candidate at the start of an interview is not what the company is looking for (doesn’t have the required background, typing skills, education, etc.), you are not required to give that person a whole interview as you might do with someone who is closer to ideal.

In all instances, employers should not request a photograph as that request prior to making a job offer is considered to be discriminatory.  It is presumed that an employer asks to see a photo to identify the person’s gender/race/age etc. and may screen out on one of those impermissible reasons.

Nothing guarantees that applicants won’t bring failure to hire claims against companies that do not hire them, however these are some steps that can help better protect employers that are hiring.


*Ms. Lindeman is a Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, a law firm that exclusively represents businesses in all aspects of labor and employment law.  These columns are intended to be general information regarding the topic discussed and are not to be considered legal advice regarding a specific situation. Contact a management-side employment attorney familiar with the law of your jurisdiction for specific advice.  Ms. Lindeman is admitted to practice law in NY and NJ and may be contacted at DL@greenwaldllp.com.  She is under no obligation to respond to reader inquiries personally, but may answer general employment law questions through this column.

© 2011 Greenwald Doherty.  May not be reprinted without permission.

How Good Are Their Problem Solving Skills?

There are various tests available that measure a person’s ability to solve problems. Often these tests involve computational and language-oriented skills. These types of tests can be very helpful. (As a fast plug, our IQ test is a good choice.)

But there are other types of problem-solving that we’re interested in. Here are a few examples you could discuss with your applicant:

  • Customer comes in and only wants to see Ted. Ted is not here today. Customer says, “Fine, I’ll come back when Ted is here.” How would you handle this?
  • Patient comes out from having some dental work done and looks a bit confused. You’re the only one who notices. What would you do?
  • As you’re coming into the building, you notice several items of trash swirling around near the front door. It’s normally the job of the leasing company to handle the trash, so what would you do in this instance?
  • A co-worker tells you that she is actively looking for another job. She says she doesn’t like working here. What would you do with this information?

I recommend you sit down and list out 8-10 different, real situations that could come up during a normal work day. Then ask your applicants how they’d handle each one.

Sometimes you’ll get an answer they think you want to hear, but if you pay close attention to how they answer each question, you’ll most likely gain some good insights into their problem-solving skills.

How Does Your Applicant Define Success?

This could be a really tough question for some of your applicants.

For some, the workplace is that place where they get a paycheck and not much more. Some interaction with the staff of course, but essentially a paycheck.

I don’t fault the person who has this view of work life–it’s higher on the scale than the person who will happily live off of unemployment compensation.

But you’re looking for someone who wants more than just a paycheck, right?

So, let’s find out how they define success. The question could be delivered very simply:

“Alice, how would you define success regarding this position of Office Manager?”

The responses back should be very interesting.

A portion of your applicants will tell you what it means to them personally while another portion will tell you how success as an Office Manager impacts the company.

Which response do you find more interesting?

You could also break this down a bit:

“Alice, how would you define success for you personally as our Office Manager?”

and

“Alice, as our Office Manager, how would you define success for our company?”

This line of questioning could be a great eye-opener for you.

Part-Time Versus Full-Time

Usually there’s an obvious reason to hire someone on a part-time basis.

You need some help in a particular area and the duties can be accomplished in less than 40 hours per week.

Or your personnel budget can only handle a part-time employee.

But there might be another situation where hiring part-time help may be more appropriate than full-time.

In a number of companies, people usually wear more than one hat. The smaller the company, the more likely staff are handling a variety of duties. You may be paying a 40-hour wage to someone who is doing certain things very well, but a few not so well.

In this scenario, you might be better off finding someone on a part-time basis to take over the duties where your current employee is under-performing. If you did, ideally your current employee will be more productive as a result of having “shed” these under-performing areas.

You may also want to consider hiring someone as an independent contractor to take over these duties.

Of course if the duties in question are not significantly impacting on your bottom line, then getting someone else to take them over doesn’t make sense. But if they are key to your success, having someone proficient handling them even on a part-time basis may make a nice difference for you.

Hiring and the Law – Can I Ask About Pregnancy?

Devora L. Lindeman, Esq., Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, is providing us with insight and information regarding the hiring process. Ms. Lindeman is a management-side employment lawyer and has exclusively represented managers and companies in federal and state agencies and courts with regard to their labor and employment needs for many years.

Questions addressed to Ms. Lindeman may be addressed in this column.

Hiring and the Law
By Devora L. Lindeman, Esq.*

Question: I’m hiring for a job that will require extensive training to get the new hire up to speed and have gotten burned when a new hire did not disclose she was pregnant.  Can I ask the female applicants if they are pregnant, when I can’t have them go on maternity leave within their first year of hire?

Answer: No.  Interviewers cannot ask an applicant if she is pregnant, how many children she has, or if she plans on having more.  These questions can violate familial-status or pregnancy discrimination laws, and can also be discriminatory based on gender if you ask these questions of female applicants, but don’t ask the men.  You’ve raised a good issue, though. And, of course, employers often need to know that new hires are going to be there once training and orientation are completed.  But, you are looking to ask the applicant the wrong question. Think about what you really need to know.

It is perfectly permissible to ask applicants neutral job-related questions.  Ask questions that address your actual concerns.  In this case, your concern is that you are hiring to fill a need that requires specialized training to get the new hire up to speed.  So, ask that question.  And don’t be afraid to preface a question with the requirement.  For example:  “This role is key to the company and we have an intensive training program planned for the successful candidate that is a significant investment for the company.  We want to make sure that the candidate we chose will be here to fulfill this role after the training period.  We expect the training period to last [insert the number of months/weeks].  Of course, we understand that sometimes new jobs don’t work out and things change [note, this gives the company an out, too], but, at this point, if you are hired, is there any reason that you would not continue to work for our company without breaks for the foreseeable future/for[a specified period of time]?”

This question covers not only expected maternity leaves, but any other reason a person may know now that he or she could be planning to be absent, such as extended surgery, or even getting married and having a long honeymoon planned.  It is possible that an applicant’s spouse is job searching as well and interviewing out of state, or the applicant could be anticipating an international adoption, requiring travel and time off at a moments notice.  While there are some other potential discrimination issues lingering within some of those reasons as well, the point is that the employer should not care why the employee might be absent—it would only be concerned about the need for the employee to be present.

By asking the question that addresses the actual issue you are concerned about, it allows you to determine whether this applicant can fulfill all the requirements of the job which, in this case, includes an expectation of continual presence at work without an extended break for the foreseeable future.  When you focus interview questions on the job related need, it helps you avoid running afoul of the discrimination laws.  The tip?  Ask the question you really want answered.


*Ms. Lindeman is a Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, a law firm that exclusively represents businesses in all aspects of labor and employment law.  These columns are intended to be general information regarding the topic discussed and are not to be considered legal advice regarding a specific situation. Contact a management-side employment attorney familiar with the law of your jurisdiction for specific advice.  Ms. Lindeman is admitted to practice law in NY and NJ and may be contacted at DL@greenwaldllp.com.  She is under no obligation to respond to reader inquiries personally, but may answer general employment law questions through this column.

© 2011 Greenwald Doherty.  May not be reprinted without permission.

Your Existing Staff Can Help

If you have key staff whose opinion you value, here’s how they can help you make hiring decisions.

Put together a list of questions that ask about the functions of the post you need filled. Previous Hiring Tips gave several examples of these questions.

Type these questions out leaving ample room for the answers. Then ask each applicant to write down their answers to these questions.

After they’ve done so, assign a number to each form. You’re doing this so that your key staff will consider the answers without knowing the specific person

Then take the forms and discuss the answers with your key staff. The meeting could go like this:

“Okay, guys, here’s what we got from Applicant Number 4. In answer to the question, how would you handle a customer that wants to wait until the product goes on sale, Applicant 4 said he would tell the customer the product will not be on sale in the foreseeable future. Feedback?”

Is it crucial to get your staff involved in this way? Not necessarily, but your staff are on the ground floor and may have some keen insights into the answers given by the applicants. You may think Applicant 4 gave a great answer but one of your staff may provide another perspective that is helpful with the hiring decision.

Getting your staff involved in this way also increases their care and concern for the overall success of the business, which is always a good thing.

Describing What You Need and Want

An earlier Hiring Tip gave some examples of how you could word hiring ads. The wording was perhaps a bit unorthodox, but its intent was to let your applicants know you really are looking for people who want to make a real contribution to the growth and success of your business.

In earlier tips, communicating the purpose of the company was discussed.

In this tip, let’s discuss a bit more how you can clearly communicate to your applicants what you need and want.

Take a few minutes and review the position that needs filling. What would YOUR ideal candidate look like? The “perfect” person may not be out there, but then again, he or she may be looking for a different position, more pay, a different type of business, etc.

So, what are the ideal characteristics you want for the position? Here are some to consider:

Honest Trustworthy Dependable
Accountable Trainable Friendly
Competent On time Team-player
Problem-solver Enjoys challenges Not a complainer
Able to adapt Respects others Innovative
Creative Reliable Intuitive
Deliberate Cheerful Calm
Pro-active Attentive Extroverted
Communicates well Impartial Stable

 

The above is of course a partial list, but it should get your juices flowing as to what you feel are the ideal qualities for a given position. Not every quality is crucial of course to every position you need filled.

Determine what YOUR ideal qualities are and then present that to the world. Ideally your ideal qualities will bring you an ideal employee! Did I use the word “ideal” enough there?

Wording of Hiring Ads

How you word an ad should help filter the type of person who sends in a résumé or calls asking for an interview. Let’s look at a few ways you could filter this even more to increase the likelihood of the “right” person showing up.

You’re familiar with the phrases that have been used over and over: “team player,” “self-starter,” “hard-worker.” Here are few suggestions to spice it up a bit:

“If you’re here for just a pay check, we’ll most likely figure that out in the first week. If that’s you, no need to send us your résumé. We’re looking for people who will have a real interest in this company’s success and whose work will directly contribute to that.”

Another one along that same line:

“If your idea of work is a place to earn a paycheck, we’re probably not a good fit for you. If, however, you’re looking for a place to learn, grow and succeed with a group of like-minded people, give us a call.”

Here’s a short and very direct one:

“Clock-watchers, please do not apply.”

As you can imagine, there are many variations on the above. The idea is to add a bit to your ad so you can ideally bring a more committed and determined employee on board.

I realize two of the above suggestions are wordy and may be too long for an ad in the local paper. The next Hiring Tip covers how to give your prospective employees a great description of what you need and want.

What If Their College Credentials Are "Impeccable"?

Well, I guess we should first decide what “impeccable” is. The definition provided by the Longman dictionary says: “without any faults and impossible to criticize.”

If your applicant has a top-rate college education, what does that really mean to you?

Let’s say they even have a Master’s Degree or they studied hard and long enough to get a PhD.

If a person’s college education is of paramount importance to you, then a degree from Harvard or Yale will most likely mean more to you than a degree from a smaller, not-so-well-known college.

But the purpose of this tip is to analyze how important is the amount and quality of that education.

If the person is just coming out of college, do they have any experience at all in the job you need filled? Perhaps they did a long apprenticeship before graduating. Or will you be the one doing the apprenticing?

If they did do an internship of some kind, can you contact the supervisor to find out how they performed?

If they’re going to be applying their craft essentially for the first time with you, then you should definitely consider a trial period.

I believe the real test of an employee’s value is how productive they are and how well they work with others. A college education, even the best ones in the land, are actually no guarantee of how productive a person will be. And a great education will not assure you that the person will get along with your existing staff. Only daily participation in your work environment will tell you that. 

Most folks know that a great college education isn’t by itself an overpowering reason to hire someone. But sometimes we get a bit swept away by this part of an applicant’s resume. A great education can certainly be a plus, but don’t let it cloud your judgment. Focus on hiring people that are going to positive contributors in your workplace.

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