Discuss the Purpose of the Company

Do you have a clean statement of your company’s purpose? If not, take some time and put that together. Here are a couple of examples.

Shoe store:

To provide our customers with just the right shoes and such great service that they’ll gladly recommend our store to their friends. To be increasingly viable.

Dental office:

To provide such superb dental care to our patients that our practice can easily grow from the word-of-mouth of our happy patients. To manage the practice efficiently. To have an increasingly prosperous practice.

Once you’ve got your company’s purpose figured out and written down, show each applicant this purpose and ask them what they think about it. The conversation could go like this:

You: “John, here’s a statement of the purpose of our company.”

Give them the time to read it fully.

You: “What do you think about that?”

John: “I think that’s a great purpose.”

You: “Great. How do you see yourself fitting in with that purpose?”

John: “Well, I see myself…”

You: “That sounds good. What about the part about happy patients being willing to bring their friends to the practice? How could you contribute to that?”

John: “I would do…”

You: “Again, good info, John. How about the part about having an increasingly prosperous practice? What actions do you see yourself taking to help bring that about?”

And so on.

As in earlier hiring tips, be sure to watch the person carefully as he gives you his answers. If the applicant is able to answer these questions very easily with little to no strain, this is a positive sign. If he struggles to see how he can contribute to the company’s overall purpose, not so good a sign.

Either way, this will give you some additional insights.
 

How Much Does Appearance Matter?

When you walk into a room to interview a new applicant, what is the first thing you notice? Almost always, it’s the person’s appearance, right?

If the person is very well-dressed and well-groomed, that makes a very good impression, right?

Of course.

Let’s look at a couple of examples with Steve and Mary.

Now I realize this may be a bit of splitting hairs, but what if Joe is wearing a nice shirt and pants, but not a coat and tie? Does that make a difference?

If Mary shows up in a pants suit but isn’t wearing a dress, does that matter to you?

What if Mary is wearing a very casual outfit but her hair is somewhat mussed up?

If Steve’s shoes are a bit ragged, is this a problem?

All in all, appearance should definitely matter. To what degree is going to depend on your personal preferences and the type of job the person is seeking. If Steve is applying for the job packing boxes all day long, his appearance will not be as critical as it will be for the patient care coordinator position.

But how the person dresses and how the person presents himself for this all-important interview can tell you a good deal about this person. If the person does not place significant importance on their appearance in their first meeting with you, the likelihood is their appearance will be even less important in their day-to-day work.

Take a close look at your applicant. If the person makes a real effort to make a good impression with their appearance, then this is a step in the right direction.

The Power of Observation

Being very observant of how your applicant answers your questions is sometimes more revealing than the answers themselves.

I mentioned in an earlier hiring tip that some of your applicants may have read a book (or two or three) that advise people what kind of questions can be asked in a hiring interview. And they provide various ways to answer these questions. The earlier tip provided a few ideas on how to address this situation.

But here we’re interested in an overall approach you should take in the hiring interview. And that is very simply:

Observe how your applicant communicates to you.

Are they very comfortable with all of their answers or only some? Which answers produce discomfort?

Is the applicant just generally nervous because the interview is so important and there’s a very strong need to be hired? That’s certainly understandable, but you would also like to see someone who can handle various levels of stress. Every workplace has its tough moments and your ideal candidate is someone who can confront and handle these tough situations. One measure of this will be how they communicate with you in the interview.

Does the applicant come across as very “polished”? In other words, do their answers seem rehearsed? I like the fact that someone has put the effort into making a great presentation, but I also want a peek at what’s behind the performance.

Asking a couple of random questions might help:

What are your thoughts on the 4-day work-week?

If the roles were reversed right now, what question would you ask next?

The answers to these questions are not necessarily all that important but the questions themselves may help you move the person out of a ‘rehearsed mode.”

It reminds me of the political debates when each candidate comes across very smoothly until that one question is asked that they haven’t considered or rehearsed. HOW they answer that one question might make all the difference in their getting elected or not.

Why?

Because the people watching the debate notice the candidate’s ease in answering that disarming question and they notice when that ease disappears.

Pay close attention to how your applicant comes across. If they appear genuinely comfortable with all of their answers, this is a very good sign. If they appear “slick” to you, not so good. If they’re nervous answering certain questions, dig a bit deeper in these areas and see what else you can discover.

All in all, a good dose of observation will provide you with additional insights into your applicant.

What Do You Do When They Beg For the Job?

Did you ever have someone apply for a job and practically beg you to come through for them?

If the person isn’t qualified for the position, then the decision is usually pretty straightforward.

But what if you’ve gone through a group of applicants and you’ve whittled it down to two people? Both have very similar qualifications. And one of them has told you he really, really needs this job. Perhaps he’s given you details of his financial situation at home, e.g. his wife is pregnant, he doesn’t have health insurance, he’s got a ton of bills from having been unemployed for a long time, and he is almost pleading with you to get the job.

How do you respond?

Do you give the job to the person who gives you this kind of detailed information about his personal and family life? Or do you give it to the other applicant who is also qualified for the position but hasn’t told you about his personal scene and hasn’t begged you to hire him?

Let’s look at some of the possibilities here.

Some of us feel it’s unprofessional for a job applicant to ask us to hire them because they’re in dire straits. Is it possible this person may also act unprofessionally in your workplace? Certainly worth considering.

As I write this tip, the US economy is in rough shape so more people are going to be in need of employment. But people handle tough times differently. Some work very, very hard to stay employed no matter what.

And I realize some of us may have hired someone who wasn’t qualified to work for us because of a soft spot in our heart. And I understand that. But if they’re not going to do a great job, then that hurts everyone, including your bottom line. The better your staff perform, the more your business expands. And expansion can mean new job opportunities for others.

This can be a tough one for some of us. If you consider what’s best for the entire business and those currently working for you and who potentially could be working for you, that should provide some insight.

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.

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