10 Tips for Hiring Top Employees

Feb. 12, 2018
Brian Sump goes through the 10 most valuable tactics he's used over the past decade to set his shops up for long-term success with new team members.

In a recent article of mine, I used the sport of fishing to build the foundation for attracting top talent. It’s worth a read (no really, it is), but in the best interests of my time-deprived cohorts, here’s a drive-by:

  • Always be fishing (don’t stop looking for top talent);

  • Learn more about the habitat where your trophy fish are living and be strategic in where you cast the bait (understand job listing websites and locations where your top prospects are lurking)

  • Compose your job postings to match the profile of your ideal candidate (revamp your ads to stand out and appeal to top talent)

  • Don’t be afraid to use new, expensive bait (make your very best offer)

  • Expect to make a lot of casts into the water over time to catch a trophy fish (sift and sort through a lot of resumes and perform lots of interviews to find those rare, elite team members who can actually transform your business)

  • Be ready to set the hook when they bite (don’t wait, schedule a candidate with a good resume for a phone or live interview immediately or you’ll likely lose them).

Hopefully you get the drift. But setting reasonable expectations or goals is going to help you battle both impatience and indifference. The wisest businessmen and women will tell you it takes many years to become an overnight success, so you should expect ideal outcomes but be prepared to stay in for the long haul.

So then what? You’ve got a great candidate in the door and you think they’re going to be a keeper. Better yet, you know it, so how can you give yourself and your candidate the best chance for long-term success?

I’m going to outline the 10 most valuable tactics we’ve used over the past decade to set ourselves up for long-term success with new team members. We still use them every time we hire and I am hopeful they will help fill your organization with excellent contributors.

1. Define your non-negotiables

Did you think those employees who didn’t work out were a waste of time? Well, you’re completely wrong! They are the best case studies for learning what you don’t want from a team member or, perhaps, what you could have done differently to keep them.

Don’t let your pride prevent you from becoming a smarter businessperson. Pay attention and begin to write down the minimum values, characteristics and skills that a team member must have to work with you. Define what you absolutely will not allow and what trends or common threads that all of the employees who are no longer with you possessed. It works with dating, it works with diets and it works with hiring as well. Pair this data with the employee skills and strengths you know are effective in your company and you’ve got the beginnings of a brilliant equation for success.

2. Ask questions and let the candidate talk

I know, I know, you can finish their sentences for them can’t you? After all, you’ve heard those same canned responses a thousand times. Or maybe you’re one of those cool cats who absolutely can’t stand awkwardness and you see nothing wrong with helping a nervous interviewee get their words out. In fact, you’ve done it so much that you never actually realized that within their brain lies volumes and volumes of invaluable information and most candidates are just itching to let it out. Shut your yapper and let them ramble away even if it’s intolerably awkward for you.

Here’s another helpful hint: Do a quick Google search on “legal interview questions” and you’ll see that you’re just one misstep away from a lawsuit. Now I’m no lawyer, but I’ll tell you that while you technically are legally prohibited from asking certain things, you’re probably in the clear if your candidate goes into specific details on their own accord. You’ll be amazed at the way some people will subconsciously, yet freely expose the skeletons in their closest; details about their upbringing, personal life, prior workplace drama, things they love, things they hate, strengths, weaknesses, and so on. You probably shouldn’t repeat what you hear but you darned well better write it down. How much talking is too much? That’s up to you but do yourself a favor and just try this technique once.

3. Perform a Google search

Now back to that magic genie lamp: Google. But this time you’re diving in with a different intent. What do you think the odds are that the most powerful gateway to knowledge and answers that exist this side of Heaven just might be able to tell you something you’d really like to know about a future employee? Pretty high, actually. While I strongly advocate you running state and federal background checks regardless, doing an online search can unpack hidden gems that you’d never find otherwise, outside of some crazy stroke of luck like living next door to their ex- or an old best friend.

4. Review the length of employment at their previous jobs and check references

If you’re like me and you tend to believe the best about people, then you probably can’t fathom how someone could lie on their resume. Do they really think we are ignorant and won’t soon find out the truth? Well sadly, many of us are because we simply don’t vet what we read.

Of course a large number of applicants will be completely honest but the overall statistics may startle you. Take a look at some of the most common embellishments employers find on resumes:

  • Skills possessed – 57% false

  • Responsibilities held – 55% false

  • Dates of employment – 42% false

  • Job title – 34% false

  • Academic degree – 33% false

  • Companies worked for – 26% false

  • Accolades/awards – 18% false

So how do smart employers determine what’s true and what’s false you might ask? That’s right, they fact check, and so should you. I wish I could tell you the number of times I didn’t check a candidate’s references that turned out to bite me. Ten minutes of time and a couple phones calls would have made all the difference and that’s why we will absolutely not hire a team member anymore without following up on references. By the way, if they struggle to provide two or three good ones, you’re probably best moving on.

So let’s say you did your homework and everything checks out. The dates and locations of past employment match up. Hooray, they’ve been honest with you and that’s a winning quality, but did you pay close attention to length of time they worked at their previous jobs? The applicant’s resume states that the past four positions they held lasted an average of 9 months each. What do you suppose the odds are that they will make it past 9 months with you? You may think you’re Dr. Phil or Tony Robbins and by gosh if anyone can change them it’s you. You may think that you will offer them a workplace unlike anything else on the planet and they’ll never leave. Well maybe you can and maybe you will, but the odds lie against you so why risk losing time, money and sleep over it?

5. Share your corporate values and mission during the interview and ask the candidates thoughts

If you haven’t established your corporate values and mission statement, do it now and do it with your team or at least your key leaders. Once you have identified them, don’t just let them sit around collecting dust. Use them! While your values and mission are excellent tools for evaluating the performance of your current team members they are also excellent tools to share with your potential hires. Ask them what things they value and then share yours. They might tell you they agree or that they’re “good” with them, but their face and their eyes will tell you the truth. If they geek out about them, you’re far more likely to have someone with congruent beliefs than you are with someone who unenthusiastically obliges.

6. Let your staff spend time interviewing the candidate

It’s hard letting go of the reigns but it’s hard letting go of employees who don’t work out too. During the hiring process I typically perform the initial phone interview and I may also perform the initial onsite interview but rarely do I bring a new staff member on board without letting the rest of my team spend time interviewing them. After all, they have to work together day-in and day-out just like you so you want them to be excited about the hire. You’ll probably find that some of your team hates it and finds it awkward but they are ultimately going to give you a much more honest and objective assessment of the candidate than you can often gain yourself because as owners, desperate times bring desperate hires. In other words it can be very difficult to see clearly when you’re short-staffed and in dire need of quality people. Plus, if you let your team have a say in who’s in they will be much more willing to try to make it work when times get tough because they consented to the decision in the first place.

If you want to take it to the next level and really have some fun, let your spouse interview them. His or her feedback might rub you wrong at first but when it comes to assessing character there’s probably no one better.

7. Be explicit in your job description

If nothing else, have a brief overview of the requirements of the position ready at the interview. Ask them their thoughts and let them talk (reminder: your silence is golden). If your team member has a crystal clear understanding of what will be asked of them and it lights their fire it’s much less likely you’ll find yourself at ground zero again, sifting through resumes. If you get a positive response after they read the job description and you hire them, during their onboarding I recommend presenting a more elaborate document outlining the specifics of the position and then have them sign it stating they agree to receiving document and accept responsibility for executing what’s in it. This will create some amazingly powerful accountability and, worst case if it doesn’t work out with them you’ll already have your first document helping your cause should arbitration arise with the department of labor after you let the employee go.

8. Under-promise and over-deliver. Get them excited about your company but be very real about what they should expect

Okay, so you’re a superstar at casting vision and creating hype about your company and your team. Fine, but don’t go too far with it. In fact, my team and I will often share a couple of shocking, if not potentially off-putting truths about the business before we ever get close to shaking hands because when you’re on the other end, there are few things worse than being hired and realizing after you've committed that it isn't even close to what you thought. It’s the good ol’ bait-and-switch and it’s rude if not immoral. Most of the time the fairly tale doesn’t go on and just like your wedding, the honeymoon will soon end and everything (and I mean everything!) will be exposed so it better be as advertised. Oh, and those Millennials everyone is griping about? They’ll tolerate your lies about as long as you can hold your breath so don’t fool yourself or them.

9. Don't hire the first person that shows interest

Need I say more? Well, I will because it’s worth sharing that the first employee I ever hired is still with me 11 years later and is now our district manager overseeing both shops. But I cannot tell you how rare this is. In almost every other case since then, when I hired the first employee who showed up at my door I lost in the end. To put it another way, you’re probably more likely to meet Elvis reincarnate than to hire your best employee first so give it time and submit to the process.

10. Set a 30-day and a 90-day evaluation

Depending on your state or local laws, you may have to be cautious about how you treat work contracts, probationary periods, etc. But regardless, I suggest you implement a 30-day and 90-day evaluation, or review with new hires. You don’t want it to cause them to walk on eggshells in fear and trepidation that they won’t cut it but you do want them to know you’ll be assessing their progress and will sit down with them at these intervals to discuss things with them. Explain to them in advance that you will be very deliberate about following-up and giving feedback but you should be willing receive it as well. If they know they’ll have an opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences during the evaluations, whether good or bad, they will likely be more transparent, more sincere and more willing to trust you or your management down the stretch. There is a fine line between micro-management and effective management and the difference can simply be a matter of setting proper expectations and how you promote accountability. Be real, be fair but be diligent in how you develop your new hires because if you catch them off-guard too often you’ll catch them working somewhere else.

About the Author

Brian Sump

A former professional athlete, Brian Sump had never turned a wrench in a shop before starting Denver-based Avalon Motorsports in 2007. But in the years since, he has used his business acumen and a detailed, process-based management philosophy to grow the German-specialty shop into what a number of industry consultants consider to be one of the best repair facilities in the industry. In 2015, Sump opened Urban Autocare, his second facility in Denver.

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