Q: Steve, I was wondering what you think the most important characteristics are when hiring employees — intelligence, experience, reputation, honesty, or what? I'm set to hire some new staff soon and have been pondering this question.
A: There is no doubt that all of the traits you mention are important. It is hard to underestimate just how important the employee-hiring process is. A good employee can become a new profit center — driving sales, helping others succeed, giving your business a better reputation, and making the office a better place to be.
Conversely, if you let the wrong person in the door, he or she can steal from you, upset morale, anger customers, and-or hurt sales. Almost as bad is that the unscrupulous employee may even sue you for "wrongful termination" (i.e., illegal termination), even though you were legally and morally right in letting them go.
As such, you can't be too careful when interviewing prospective employees. Of course honesty, intelligence, skill, and affability are important. You can garner a lot of this information from resumes and references. Knowing what people did in the past is a pretty good indication of what they will do in the future.
This is pretty standard stuff. Most small business owners have a pretty good sense of what they want and are looking for in an employee. They know about checking references.
However, one area that I find often overlooked is something I call "coachability," and it's vital to making a smart hire. Coachability is the ability of the employee to take direction and make changes, to listen and adjust, to think and respond. Just as not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, so too is it that not everyone is cut out to be an employee.
I have a good friend who recently went to work at an upscale retail store. She is positive, energetic, and happy to have the job. However, she has a co-worker there who constantly snipes behind the manager's back, says "yes" when they ask her something and then ignores most of what they said, corrects all of her co-workers, and is generally unhappy (although she professes otherwise in front of her managers.)
"What's her problem?" I queried my friend. She responded that the woman used to own her own store (losing it in a bankruptcy) and as such, still thinks she knows better than everyone one else how to run a shop and resents having to take orders from the managers. She is uncoachable, and she's a cancer to the team.
Running a store and making a good hire then, in this sense, is not unlike running a sports team. There are good teammates and bad teammates. There are employees who make everyone around them better and those who hog the ball. Here where I live, we have a pro sports team with a player who is considered uncoachable. He doesn't listen to his manager (the coach), does what he wants, and the team suffers.
Having uncoachable employees can ruin your team too. You have to stock your team with employees who are willing to do things your way, who listen, who can take constructive criticism, who are willing to try new things, and who are adaptable and positive. Coachability is a vital characteristic, often overlooked.
So, when interviewing those prospective employees, be sure to find out what kind of teammate they have been and will be. As much as skill and smarts, their coachability can make or break your season.
Today's tip: When interviewing employees, be sure that you stay focused on the job and their qualifications for it. As it is illegal to discriminate in hiring due to race, religion, ethnicity, religious orientation or marital status, you can get in trouble if you ask about these things. Why? Because if you do ask, and then don't hire that person, they may sue, claiming they were discriminated against, and use your questions as proof.
© 2010 Steven D. Strauss, www.MrAllBiz.com