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Hiring Secrets From The Pros

Two Hiring Experts Share The Systems They Use To Hire “A” Players

Hiring For Growth • Nathan Stooke, Wisper ISP

For the past few years, Nathan Stooke, the founder of Wisper ISP, an unbundled high-speed Internet company without phone lines or cable, has been doing the type of hiring all entrepreneurs hope to do – hiring for growth, not for turnover. While Stooke has happily grown his business and hired 26 new team members in 30 months, his now streamlined, step-by-step hiring process didn’t come to be before he encountered the hiring missteps experienced by many fellow business owners.

“We used to hire four people at a time and have two spots open,” says Stooke. “We would tell people that, knowing two would drop out. We had a revolving door, and it wasn’t good. We would hire people for no good reason. Just because they would take what we were paying.”

Despite having a good training program, Stooke and his counterparts were spending all of their time hiring. With each bad hire, Stooke had to backtrack to the beginning of the hiring and then training process. From there, the pressure to fill positions mounted.

Realizing the cycle needed to stop, Stooke set out to create a new way to build his team. “We read a lot of books,” he says. “We are all about our relationships with our employees and our customers. So our concern was: How do we develop a relationship in a 30-minute interview?”

Over time Stooke developed a 12-step process (see sidebar) that he and his employees now use. One key for Stooke was the integration of Topgrading into his hiring process. “This form has really raised our game,” he says. “It is an historical listing of jobs since high school. A-players enjoy filling it out. B and C candidates feel like it’s a waste of time. They self-select themselves out of the process. If they can’t spend the time to fill out the form to get a job, they won’t do the extra work to keep a job or excel.”

The next step in Stooke’s process is to determine whether a candidate is the right fit. One problem Stooke notes is the desire to find everything in one person instead of nailing down the most important qualities. “We spend time deciding exactly who we want,” he says. “If it’s an accountant, we want someone detail-oriented – a rule-follower but not necessarily creative. We talk it through and think of the qualities that are must-haves.”

Once Stooke believes he has found the right candidate for a position, he takes an extra step to get to know the person. “We started taking potential employees to dinner,” he says. “We look at if they show up on time, how they dress, how they treat the staff and how they treat their spouse. We want to see that they have respect for everyone.”

During his interview process, Stooke also keeps job candidates in the know. “We tell candidates that they must be a fit for our culture,” he says. “Then when they are hired they think: ‘Wow, they think I’m worthy. I am valued and I am here to make a difference.’ It wasn’t intentional, but it has worked to our advantage. It helps with onboarding because they come in feeling they fit in more.”

With this process, Stooke has grown his team to 48 employees and has even been able to remove himself from the hiring process in some cases. “We are training our HR and managers to replicate the process,” he says. “There were 10 to 15 hires this year who I had not met until their first day.  I am comfortable with that even as a small-business owner because of our process.”

Building Relationships • LaWanda Richardson, Tri Rinse, Inc.

LaWanda Richardson says that to build a great team for her workplace, she first needs to build relationships in the community.   

“I believe in building relationships with job seekers, with the community and with organizations,” says Richardson, human resources recruiter for Tri Rinse Inc., which was founded in 1981 in response to emerging regulations requiring proper cleaning and management of empty chemical containers. “When I’m successful in recruiting is when I have built relationships with individuals, community and training institutions.”

Using these relationships to their full advantage to find the best new hires begins with advertising, says Richardson. “It’s important to advertise to state agencies – career centers and workforce development centers,” she says. “We focus on community agencies. We also target veterans, women and minorities to make sure they know of our opportunities. We partner with training institutions and universities too. We also use job boards to recruit.”

Because anyone can post a job on Indeed or CareerBuilder, Richardson believes she must do more to get the best candidates. “I seek out who are successful at what they are doing and are currently working too,” she says. “I get someone who wants career advancement.”

Often it’s the relationships Richardson has with community groups and individuals that lead her to top-notch applicants. Once she receives applications, she begins screening with evaluation questions on background and experience. “We ask five questions to see if you meet the qualifications,” she says.

If the candidate is qualified, the next step is to do phone screening. “I learn more about their background in this time – more than what is on their résumé,” she says. “I also give information on the job and company.”

Once that is complete, Richardson schedules face-to-face interviews with the hiring manager.

While this part of the interview process allows the manager who would be working with the potential employee a chance to get to know the candidate, it also gives each candidate the opportunity to tour the plant and ask questions. “We know that we are interviewing them, but they are also interviewing us,” Richardson says.

For Richardson, A-players will show that they love what they do. “I ask: ‘What do you love about what you do? What would you change?’” she says. “Those people make the best hires.”

Richardson also looks for candidates seeking careers, not just jobs. “We want employees who want careers, not just an eight-hour day they clock in and out of,” she says. “We want them to want to be part of our winning team and family. Our company is growing, so we want candidates who want to grow in their careers. We want people looking for opportunities to excel.”

Inevitably, some candidates are turned down, but even then Richardson hopes to part ways with the relationship intact. “Even if someone doesn’t get a job, I say, ‘I appreciate you took the time, and I will keep your résumé on file,’” she says. “They may be right for the next job opening.”

With nearly 100 employees and an expansion to Minnesota in the works for next year, Richardson plans to continue to rely on her hiring process to make the best decisions for Tri Rinse’s workforce.

She encourages others to work a plan when it comes to hiring.

“First look at your process,” she says. “Your process is most important because it keeps you consistent in your hiring practices. It also keeps you from being discriminatory. Then streamline your process to be the most efficient and effective. Then screen, screen, screen. Screen for skills, screen for culture. And get input from your people. Talk to your administrative person. Ask what they think of the candidates. They see candidates’ attitude and how they treat others. They will know if they are a cultural fit and have passion.”

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