Everyone knows the cliche “People are our most valuable asset.” However, most business owners don’t behave as if that’s true when they hire new team members. It’s easy to fall into the trap (usually as an act of desperation for help) of hiring the first viable option who leaves a favorable impression after one interview. Even for business owners who know that investing in hiring the right fit will save a ton of money and time and energy down the road, attracting and evaluating great candidates is difficult and requires some thought and effort.
Hiring the right team member is crucial for any size of company, but it is especially true in small business where the actions of any one person are amplified. For a small business owner, hiring an employee involves taking a piece of your business and trusting someone else with it. Estimates vary, but the cost of one hiring mistake can be up to two to three times that person’s salary. Direct costs include recruiting, interviewing, background checks, training, bonuses, and maybe even severance. Very real, but indirect costs of a bad hire include loss of productivity, reduced quality of work, and lower morale in the team that inadvertently and inevitably gets passed onto your customers.
As a small business owner, you’re the guardian of your company culture. The hiring work starts before your new employee’s first day or even before the job is posted. Here are three low-investment, high-return strategies that will help you hire the right people, sparing you the time, money and heartache of another hiring mistake.
1. “Culture-ify” your job posting
A job posting isn’t merely a list of duties. That’s part of it, but not the most important part.
While job candidates are trying to make themselves look attractive to you, you also need to make your company sound appealing to prospective employees. That’s especially important for a small business that may not be able to offer the same kind of perks and resume clout as a larger, better-known business. But what small businesses can offer is a distinctive culture and opportunities for career growth and ownership.
Consider this job posting for a lead web developer by Melanie Duncan, who approaches the listing like the marketer she is. The role involves technical skills like managing servers, working with plug-ins, and creating backups of websites. But while the posting goes on to describe those skills, it first establishes the appeal of working for the company, introducing Duncan and her philosophy.
As with marketing, job descriptions should attract your ideal applicant while repelling others who aren’t a good fit. Duncan’s posting clearly describes who she is and isn’t looking for:
While there’s no exact formula for job postings, compelling listings include:
- Your company’s purpose for being in business
- Your values or philosophies
- Why the candidate would want to join your mission
- The attributes you’re looking for—and the attributes that would make someone a poor fit
- Primary responsibilities
- Preferred skills and experiences
2. Phone screen for values
The first phone screening shouldn’t focus on the applicant’s job history and skills, which can be gleaned from the resume. Instead, schedule a 10 to 15 minute phone conversation to conduct what I like to call a “Values Phone Screen.” Start a conversation that will help you determine whether the candidate’s values are compatible with those of your company.
Of course, this idea requires that you have core values in place. Every business has core values by which they operate, but only a few really take the time to articulate what those values are. When capturing your company’s core values, it isn’t an aspirational exercise. It is an articulation exercise—you describe what is, not what you hope will be.
For example, Infusionsoft has nine core values, which include “We face challenges with optimism,” “We check our egos at the door,” and “We empower entrepreneurs.”
In the Values Phone Screen, I tell the candidate that we have nine core values at Infusionsoft, and that we are going to dedicate about 30 seconds to each value. For each of the values, I tell candidates that I will ask what that value means to them and then have them give me an example of a time they demonstrated that value.
We’ve all heard varying levels of energy/excitement when talking to someone over the phone. The best candidates will give a description of each value that is similar to your company’s definition of the Value and will readily come up with a recently (and preferably work-related) example of how they lived each value. If they are a fit, you will hear an excitement and energy from them that makes you want to bring them in for an interview. If you don’t like what you hear over the phone, no need wasting your time and theirs on a 30 to 60 minute in-person interview.
You’ll be surprised at how effective this simple practice is at weeding out bad fits, and it will save you hours of time and frustration. Perhaps more importantly, though, it could save you serious time and money if it keeps you from falling in love with the “perfectly qualified candidate” who isn’t a good culture fit for your company.
3. Behavior-based interviews
A candidate should be good fit in two ways: for the role and for the company. Determining a fit for the role involves evaluating whether the candidate has the talent, knowledge, and skill to perform the job today and into the foreseeable future.
Finding a good fit for the company means measuring the candidate’s patterns of behavior against the Values of the company. I recommend using a variety of ways to assess a candidate’s fit with your company’s culture, including the following:
- Individual interviews
- Group interviews
- Assignments to see how they go about completing tasks
- Role plays and hypothetical scenarios
- Observations outside of interviews and perhaps in other settings:
- How did the candidate treat the person at the front desk or an assistant?
- How did the candidate interact with greeters and/or servers at a restaurant?
Since individual and group interviews are nearly universally employed to assess candidates, below are some examples of how we use behavior-based interview questions at Infusionsoft.
To discuss the value “We listen, we care, we serve,” we ask questions like:
- Tell me about a time when you had to help a colleague or customer by giving them what they needed versus what they wanted.
- Tell me about a time when you could have done a better job listening to the needs of a colleague or customer.
For our “We practice open, real communication” value, we might ask:
- Tell me about a time when you received difficult feedback. What did you do with it?
- How do prefer to receive negative feedback, as well as positive feedback? Please give examples of each.
Business owners have enough to worry about without dealing with problem employees who are wreaking havoc for their team, partners and vendors and, most importantly, their customers. You can significantly reduce the number of costly hiring mistakes you make by investing a little more time in your hiring process. Or, you can spend a ton of time, money, energy, and sanity on people problems because you just couldn’t make the time to improve your hiring process. What will you choose?
Brett Gilliland has experience in high impact, trusted advisor roles in both large and small organizations across multiple industries. He has worked with seasoned executives, their people, and the organizational development practices they utilize to grow. Brett is the former leader of Infusionsoft’s "Built to Last" efforts and now leads Infusionsoft’s Elite Programs. Brett is completely dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.