- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

There is probably no fun for a small-business owner in hiring employees. It’s nerve-racking and time-consuming, and there are no guarantees that a particular candidate is going to work out.
   Business people who have years of experience in hiring say it never gets easy. But by thinking about the process and getting some help when you need it, you might improve the odds of finding the right help.
   First, you should know that the chances are you won’t find the right person with a want ad or Internet search site.
   “If you’re going to hire the right person, it’s more likely you’re going to hire through networking, through word of mouth, rather than running an ad in the paper,” said Leigh Branum, a vice president with Right Management Consultants in Overland Park, Kan.
   “The people who are doing the referring tend to know something about you and the organization, so the people they refer tend to be good fits,” Mr. Branum said. “And the people coming in tend to know what they’re getting into.”
   Word of mouth brought the right worker to Richard Magid, who runs support groups for small-business owners in New Jersey as part of New York-based Let’s Talk Business Network. He needed an employee to help take care of administrative tasks, and found someone by “putting the word out on the street.”
   Mr. Magid ended up hiring someone who had worked with his wife, and saved himself the effort of advertising and culling through a pile of applications and resumes.
   Even if you take a route similar to Mr. Magid’s, you probably will ask applicants for resumes or other paperwork.
   Phil Willman, manager of corporate national recruiting for Manpower Professional in Milwaukee, said you should use the applicants’ documents to prepare the questions you want to ask. He suggested making an outline, something he said he still does after 20 years in the business.
   Mr. Willman also suggested bringing other employees, if you have them, to sit in on the interview. This is especially helpful when a current employee is going to supervise the new hire or the employee knows more details about the duties of the position being filled.
   “Whoever is going to be most affected by this person’s performance should spend the most time with the in-person interview,” Mr. Willman said.
   Mr. Branum agreed, saying, “They will pick up on things you won’t.”
   During the interview, you will want to find out more than what a prospect has done at previous jobs. You want to find out how he or she has handled situations that are likely to come up at your company.
   Mr. Branum suggested asking a candidate: “Tell me about a time when you had to do deal with a tough customer and how you did with that person.” The answer can reveal much about the way prospects approach their jobs, co-workers and customers.
   “Past behavior is a predictor of future behavior. You can’t make up these stories,” Mr. Branum said.
   Mr. Willman said a small-business owner might want to find out whether a candidate was involved in sports while in school the answer might tell you if this prospect is a team player, or perhaps works well alone.
   Lloyd Trufelman, owner of Trylon Communications, a public relations firm in New York, advocates giving a candidate a skills test. He reported having interviewed job prospects who had great resumes and presented themselves well, “but put them down in front of a computer and they couldn’t write a press release.”
   Mr. Trufelman, noting that the hiring process goes beyond the interview, will ask a candidate to follow up, and waits to see whether they do or not. “I try to throw out little tests to see what a person’s work habits are,” he said.
   If you need help in learning how to conduct an interview, and in figuring out what to look for in a prospective employee, there are plenty of resources available, often at little or no cost.
   One option is the federal government’s Small Business Development Centers, found in nearly 1,000 locations around the country. They can be located online at www.sba.gov/sbdc.
   You can get advice from the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Its Web site is www.score.org.
   You also may decide to seek help from an employment agency. But as Mr. Willman noted, while companies such as Manpower can deliver candidates likely to have the skills you are seeking, you still need to go through the interview process to determine if a particular candidate is well-suited to your company.
   After you tell candidates they have been hired, you need to help them succeed with proper training, and by encouraging them to ask questions and seek help when they need it. Otherwise, you will be interviewing all over again.
   Mr. Trufelman said the early days of an employee’s tenure may not indicate how they will do over the long haul.
   “We’ve had some people who started out miserably and turned out great, and people who started out great ended up miserably,” he said.

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