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Five Steps to a Surefire Hire

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The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that making a bad hire could cost your organization 30 percent of a worker’s first-year salary, says Chuck Sujansky, CEO of human resources firm KEYGroup. Instead of placing oneself in the position to lose the company money and time, Sujansky says following the correct hiring process is imperative, from first interviewing the candidate all the way to conducting a background check on them.

Nowadays, common mistakes an employer makes in an interview can lead to a false impression of the employee that often changes three months down the line.

While interviewing is one of around five stages in the hiring process, interviewing strategies can lead to shops of any size, locating new employees that are ready to contribute to the bottom line from day one.

Patrick Whelan, owner of PJW Automotive in New Brighton, Minn., retains a staff size of four and hopes to grow that number to six within the next few months. Striking a balance between retaining long-term employees and recruiting is more important than ever for Whelan, as he plans to retire by December 2017 and needs a secure team in place to handle running the shop.

Whelan, Sujansky and Jeff Odom, owner of Evergreen Autoworks in Mill Creek, Wash., share their methods for how to maximize the allotted interview time, avoid asking yes or no questions, and find the right time to introduce the interviewee to the staff.


Tip #1: Vet the potential hire.

Whelan says when owners are desperate for someone to replace an old employee, they hire the first person to walk through the door. Because of this, the owner gets stuck with a team that doesn’t work well together and a team member that does not possess the right skills.

To avoid hiring just anybody, Whelan says to build a crew based on reality, not hopes or expectations.

“Sometimes, people can put up a front and you can’t find out who they are,” Odom says. “They change their work ethic after a few months or so.”

Sujansky says even résumé details are easy to verify by simply asking the hire if any information on the résumé is incomplete or cannot be verified.

While a job candidate doesn’t need to be blatantly dishonest to mislead the interviewer, a few simple phone calls can verify the candidate’s information. Sujansky says to check in with the references.

“An estimated 75 percent of all applicants exaggerate their experiences, obscure important facts or fudge their skills and experience,” Sujansky says.

Despite this, only 1 in 4 employers seem to verify a job prospect’s background, Sujansky says.

Whelan keeps a stack of walk-in applications on file for future reference. Before each interview, he checks references to get a second opinion of the candidate.

“A lot of times, an employer looks at this employee and thinks, ‘Oh, they can grow and do better,’” Whelan says.


Tip #2: Involve your staff.

Odom first interviews the employee by himself, and then brings another staff member into the interview process. By bringing in a second opinion, Odom can find out if the potential hire will fit in with the staff culture.

“Then we’re all in it together if [the hire] doesn’t work out,” Odom says.

Odom brought in a second opinion for his most recent hires, and, compared to the shop’s old interview methods, four of those hires have stayed on for longer periods of time.

Whelan has his staff supervisor sit in on all interviews, unless the applicant does not meet the desired requirements. Once Whelan faces the decision of hiring the applicant or not, he will discuss the candidate with all of his staff members. Then he may bring the applicant back for a third interview.

For Sujansky, the period following the hire is critical to discover if the new employee is succeeding.

Make sure the new employee receives a proper orientation from older staff members, Sujansky says.

“This follow-up period is also the critical time to make sure the new hire starts off on the right foot and quickly gets up to speed,” he says.


Tip #3: Leave your pride behind.

Owners have pride in their businesses and can get carried away with boasting about their shop in an interview, Whelan says. Pride can lead interviewers to oversell the shop and possibly push away skilled workers.

Instead, employers need to be truthful to an employee about wages, the shop’s typical demographics and what kind of vehicles the shop services.

Hiring managers need to create an effective and accurate job description, Sujansky says. For example, a job description should spell out the type of background and experience needed for a candidate to be successful.

Too often, employers make a subconscious decision to hire or not hire within the first 10 minutes of an interview, Sujansky says. “They’re making a judgement about the candidate based on their own personal preferences and biases.”


Tip #4: Ask open-ended questions and avoid the illegal.

There are illegal questions to avoid in every interview, Whelan and Odom say. These questions include topics on age, gender and religion.

 Avoid asking questions related to their personality or political beliefs, Odom says.

Another common mistake employers make is asking yes and no questions like, “Do you know how to use this equipment?” and “Can you work all these hours?”

Instead, employers should ask open-ended questions beginning with “how” or “why.” Odom prefers questions like, “Tell me about the car you drive,” or, “Tell me about a success story you’ve had.” If the potential hire answers with a non-specific answer, the employer is given the opportunity to quiz them further about a specific success story or moment in their life.    

Employers should learn how to ask the follow-up questions that reveal the real person and his or her skills and accomplishments, Sujansky says.

 Asking yes or no questions can mislead the employer on whether the candidate can handle potential problems that arise on the job, he says.


Tip #5: Keep culture in mind.

In order to retain employees and the mistakes that are made early on in finding skilled employees versus the unskilled, employers need to incorporate their shop culture into the interview and let the potential employee lead the conversation.

The tendency to talk about oneself during an interview with a potential future employee might be hard to squelch, yet Whelan and Odom say the best way to approach an interview is through a conversational tone.

To find out if an employee fits into the established shop culture, Whelan and Odom ask open-ended questions to let the interviewee feel comfortable with sharing his or her past experiences and work ethic.

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