ASSEMBLING THE TEAM
Feb 1, 2000 12:00 PM, Ted Tate
Operating a successful business means staffing it with the right people,and although finding them today is more difficult than before, they are outthere.
In all my years in the business world, I cannot recall a time when therewere so few candidates for employment opportunities as there are today. Inorder to compete for the ones available, the employer must be increasinglycreative and work much harder to reach required goals. Finding the rightinstaller or salesperson is not one act; it is a series of successful stepsthat carry you and the candidate to the altar.
There are many steps involved in hiring the qualified person. First, castthe net. Various ways we get partially qualified individuals to theinterview table include conventional (newspapers and employment agencies)and non-conventional methods (strategies using networking techniques tofind people who are qualified but may not be seeking employment at thistime). Next comes the initial qualifying at which point you determine ifthe applicant has the basic skills and experience required to justify aninterview. Then comes the interview in which you find out about theapplicant's background, personality, and employment requirements andfurther qualify the applicants skills and interest in the opportunity.After the requisite background checks, comes the actual hiring. Thisarticle primarily covers the first part of the process, finding suitablecandidates, people who not only can do the job, but also will do the job.It is just like selling. Without prospects, the greatest sales presentationin the world will get you nothing. In recruiting, if you do not have thecandidates, the rest is irrelevant.
There are people who will work for any sound contractor on a per-job basis.When I was in the alarm business, we used them from time to time, usuallyout of sheer desperation. I have mixed feelings about using people notunder my direct control. I admit that I have worked with people who did agood job and left my customer satisfied.
On the other hand, I have also had lots of difficulties with some of thesefolks. The biggest being dependability on a continuous basis. Many times, Iwould get false promises about going back to correct bad work, starting andcompleting a job on time and their abilities to do certain kinds of work itlater turned out they couldn't really do well. I have also had them solicitmy customers to do other jobs on the side or to do add-on work to theproject for which I had hired them that should belong to me. Sometimes, Iwould give them the wire and equipment to do the job, and in a few cases,against my better judgment, a cash advance, never more than 10% or 20% ofthe total job. I can recall a few times guys came in my office abouthalfway through the job and demanded additional money saying he just couldnot finish the job otherwise. I never allowed myself to be blackmailed likethat. Even the ones who did good work never lasted long before somethingwould sour. They would start to raise their rates to where it was no longerprofitable for me to use them.
My personal advice is not to use them unless necessary and have a writtenagreement in place. Forget the handshake agreements. In dealing withsubcontractors, keep a few points in mind when making agreements. Never payup front before the job is completed and, if possible, you have inspectedthe work. If a guy is so shaky financially that he cannot do a job on hisown nickel, using him is really asking for trouble. Naturally, I amassuming you do give him the wire, panels and other equipment for the job.Also, have the subcontractor sign for any materials you give them to do ajob with the understanding that any unused materials come back to youbefore a check is issued. Finally, reserve the right to withhold paymentuntil any problems can be corrected should they arise.
Know your ideal candidate
Many times, people start seeking a new employee without identifying whatthey really want. It is best to brainstorm - with other managers if you can- the characteristics and skills you want in a candidate. There are twolists here. One is the skills and experience that a candidate must possessto be employable, the minimum acceptable standards. The second list is themore desirable candidates that you hope to find.
An example is a college degree. It is nice and desirable in a candidate,but I know many top salespeople and installation people with only a highschool diploma who do well and are considered by their employers as toppeople. Do not put up any unnecessary roadblocks by demanding things thatyou do not absolutely need for the job at hand, especially in a tight jobmarket. On the other hand, unless you furnish a car, owning a dependablecar with adequate insurance can be a make-or-break for a sales applicant. Afew more considerations to get you started on your list are education,special training, work experience, skills and income requirements of theapplicant. Finally, write out a job description that really lists what thejob entails. Not only should appliciants see this, but it also gives you astrong sense of the person you are seeking and makes the decision makingprocess much easier.
Casting the net (conventional)
We have all put ads in the newspaper; it is by far the most common methodof finding employees. If you use a direct phone number, you will inevitablyget all kinds of calls, many from people who are calling just any ad, butit always gets the best response. If you specify a fax number or e-mailaddress, you will limit your responses to people with access to e-mail or afax. There are plenty of qualified people who may not have such access.Using a post office box or box number at a newspaper limits responses topeople with current rAsumAs ready to mail. In a tight job market, do youwant to put these limitations in your ad? Later, I will show you what weused to call our "knock-out questionnaire". My secretary had a series ofquestions she would ask all callers to see if they had the basicqualifications. I spoke only to those who did.
There are also fee-based employment agencies. From time to time, I havefound people through employment agencies. My biggest complaint with them isthat no matter what you agree upon, they all seem to load you with lots ofinterviews where the people are marginal and frequently do not fit thequalifications that you had given the agency. The simple fact is thatagencies work on numbers. The biggest number of candidates they throw atyou, the better chance one will stick. It can be time consuming. Working onvolume, they also do not do well for highly qualified positions, but theyproduce better with the entry level stuff.
Headhunters are much more sophisticated. They usually work hard to find youa much better qualified candidate, and their fees tend to be rather high.In order to find a terrific employee, however, what is it really worth toyour company? These are the kind of people who will steal an employee froma competitor to work for you.
State-operated employment agencies can be used if you are not seekinghighly qualified people or have an entry-level position for which you willdo most of the training. They are usually free.
Casting the net (non-conventional)
I am now going to share methods that will take a little more effort on yourpart and will produce lower numbers of applicants. Because of the nature ofthese methods, however, the ones you get will tend to be better qualified.
Consider the process of hiring salespeople for a moment. (Later, I willcover hiring installation persons.) What I would hope you are looking foris a person with good people skills, which usually translates into goodselling skills. These are intangible skills, and it is almost impossible totrain someone who simply does not have them. Although you may be able toteach new salespeople technical information about your products orservices, you cannot teach someone to like people, to be willing to acceptrejection multiple times a day and still smile. Forget hiring salespeoplewho know our industry. It is nice when you do find someone, but you hadbetter focus on the ability to sell as the most critical issue. It is theone area that can make or break your hire.
Describing the job
Too often people ask for what they want when they describe a job. "I needsomeone to travel three states with his own car and be able to close on onecall". No good. Who would really recommend that to anyone but an enemy?
Be a salesperson when you describe the opportunity. Talk in terms of whatis in it for the new hire. In the first place, you do not have a job offerfor the first warm body to apply. You have a career opportunity for somelucky person. Describe the positive aspects of the position so that peoplewill want to pass the information along. Just be careful not tomisrepresent unrealistically. "I'm looking for someone special who wouldappreciate a real career opportunity in our sales department. I'd like tofind a sincere man or woman who would really appreciate an opportunity togrow professionally."
Ask your top salespeople. Only if you have (or know) some really goodsalespeople now should you ask them for referrals. I have a saying Ibelieve to be true: "Winners hang out with winners, losers with losers."
Use your local and national trade association contacts. If you are a memberof a trade association, you can place an ad in their newsletter, and I alsorecommend advertising in industry trade magazines or newspapers. Who caresif they go all over the country? The person I want may be in another stateand willing to move here. A friendly competitor of mine advertised in anational alarm industry publication and hired a highly qualified guy fromKansas. I am in Ohio. Apparently he had been in a bitter divorce and wanteda fresh start. It worked out well for both of them.
Be sure you mention total confidentiality and also your company name, nevera blind ad. Otherwise, perfectly good candidates will be afraid to respond,thinking it could be their present employer.
Another strategy is to mention your needs casually at trade associationmeetings where salespeople may be present. Word of mouth travels likewildfire in our industry.
Sales leads clubs, sometimes called tips clubs or business networkinggroups are another option. Memberships consist of salespeople and businessowners who meet on a regular basis to exchange sales leads. Some of thesegroups are run informally by a group of salespeople, others are organized,and the members pay dues. The best way to locate them is to read thebusiness newspapers and magazines in your community where they list theevents calendar. Another way is just to ask salespeople if they know ofany. Go to the meeting as a visitor. They always have a part where peopleget up and introduce themselves. When you do, share your careeropportunity. Focus on the positive aspects but don't misrepresent. Be sureyou have plenty of business cards with you and hand them out liberally.
Some of those salespeople at the meeting may not need a job but have afriend who does or perhaps know someone who is an excellent installercandidate. Others may be interested but not want people to know. Make surethey know it is all right for either themselves or a friend to contact youprivately at your office. When people are considering changing jobs, theyneed assurance that you will keep it strictly confidential.
There are also salespeople who call on you. In my career, I would alwaysspeak to salespeople who called on me, just out of courtesy, even if I wasnot prospecting. Most were just average, but on some rarer occasions, I raninto what I considered excellent salespeople. On three of those occasionsduring my career, I hired them to work for me with great results.
Do not overlook salespeople you meet at suppliers or when calling oncustomers. I recall stopping at a large client's office to inspect a job wewere installing. At lunchtime, my two installation people and I went to eatin their company cafeteria. As we ate, someone came over and said that hehad been watching my people work and told me they were doing a first-classjob. Thanking him, we introduced ourselves. As it turns out, he was thecompany vice president of sales. I said that I just wished I could hire asalesperson as good as those guys were in installation. He smiled and saidthat he knew just the right person. He was right, and it was one of thebest hires I ever made. One thing about networking, you can go a long, longtime without hitting pay dirt, and then suddenly, it is the mother lode.
How about your own company? I have had times when installation people askedfor an opportunity to sell. It does not always work, but I have alwaysgiven them a try and have been pleasantly surprised with the results fromtime to time.
Here are some additional, frequently overlooked resources to network - yourcustomers. Why? They also have salespeople calling on them, includingsalespeople who might be candidates. Further, they have relatives, friendsand associates whom you do not know. There are also venders, the people whosell to you, who have a good reason to try to help you. Finally, do notforget your attorney, accountant and any other business consultants you mayknow.
Always keep your eyes open for a good employee candidate, no matter whereyou are. You never know if they may consider a change to your organization.It may be immediate or they may talk to you, decide not to join you andthen some time in the future call you up because they have reconsidered.
I separated this because installers can be found with some differentstrategies. Although I know dealing with young students means reallyuntrained help for a while, we found training our own from scratch gave usa better overall employee. We also went after experienced people, as youwill see.
Consider trade and technical schools, both private and vocational highschools. Contact whomever runs the place and share your needs. I wouldavoid just listing the job with people who answer the phone; speak to aprincipal or counselor. Many employ a full time placement specialist.
Career talks at the schools you approach offer a good opportunity. Alwaysask when the school has a career day or event at which you can give a 10 or15 minute commercial for your company. You do not have to be a DaleCarnegie graduate to give a brief talk about opportunities with yourcompany. Just explain, in an interesting way, what an installer does withyour company, and if you know of any stories, humorous or not, that showthe installer in a positive light, use them. At the end of this article, Iwill share a book on speaking if you feel you need it, but most people cando this even if they have never spoken to groups before.
I used to take my head installer with me. He did not speak, but I wouldintroduce him to the group and many people interested would tend to avoidme in my business suit and talk with him. He would wear his regular workclothes and, for effect, his tool belt. Sometimes, we did not recruit anystudent candidates, but they would give us leads of people they thoughtmight be interested. I am fairly sure we also sold some tool pouches andbelts for the people at Sears.
Reward systems work well, too. I offered my installers and all otheremployees specific rewards during a month if they could refer me to anylikely sales or installer candidate whom we hired. I mentioned it atmeetings during the month as a reminder that time was running out. It getspeople thinking, and if they know someone, you will hear about it. Then,wait a month or two and do it again.
Further, trade associations offer a good opportunity. I made an effort tolook up every possible trade association in my community that would usepeople who ran wire as part of an installation. I contacted them and ran anad from time to time for installers in their newspaper to get the wordaround. A few times, the people running the association would give me alead while I was calling in the ad.
Distributors and wholesalers are also available. Many of the companies fromwhich we purchased had wholesale showrooms that were visited by numerouspotential candidates. I visited the manager of every one and asked them topost a small sign on their bulletin board.
Finally, there is word of mouth. Whenever I described the sales opportunitywith my company, I also mentioned that our installation department had anopening coming up, and if anyone knew of candidates who enjoyed workingwith their hands, this could be a career opportunity for some fortunateperson.
If you want to give short talks and would like to learn some speakingskills first, I recommend The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking byDale Carnegie (paperback, Pocket Books, ISBN: 0671724002). It should beavailable at most booksellers and libraries. If you give them the ISBNnumber, they can quickly locate it in their computer.
Finding and hiring the right person for an opening at your company may bedifficult today, but it is not impossible. Follow these guidelines, andremember to use every possible tool at your disposal. Good luck.