Roll up Your Sleeves

WHEN COMPANIES NEED to hire employees, many comment about unimpressive applicants or a shortage of talent. Their frustration often is followed by an ineffective search for good candidates. But to attract and retain a quality workforce, businesses should rely on diligence and elbow grease, instead of simple newspaper ads.

It's important to remember that there are two sides to the job-matching process: employers seeking qualified applicants and applicants seeking attractive jobs. Consequently, employers should recognize that building strong teams requires effective recruiting efforts and hiring techniques. Employers also should realize that employees want to feel a sense of pride in their workplace, so companies' reputations count. After employees are hired, it is a business' job to make them feel a part of a winning team and provide them with opportunities in which they can succeed.

To sell themselves to talented prospects, businesses must do more than mundanely advertise vacancies. Even in tough economic times, employers report that good candidates are selective about where they apply. Therefore, companies must turn their recruiting efforts into sales and marketing-type activities.

Companies also must make sure their company reputations are stellar. If an employer has a reputation for unethical behavior, poor communication, favoritism, sexual harassment, nepotism, discrimination, sporadic enforcement of rules, abrasive management, poor products or sloppy service, word-of-mouth will spread quickly. The best places to work rely on personal referrals rather than help wanted advertisements to fill vacancies, so it's important to ensure that current employees are treated well. The best and brightest candidates will avoid organizations that provide inadequate tools, out-of-compliance equipment and unsafe working conditions. A competitive wage and benefit package will not trump these critical shortcomings.

Once a business is assured its company policies are sound, managers should assess the vacancy's necessary qualifications. Successful employers develop a hiring profile based on the characteristics of its top performers. Once the job requirements are complete, employers should distribute the information to current employees first. The best candidates often come from within the company or by an employee's referral. Also share the job profile with agencies that may have access to qualified candidates. In some cases, consider cash payments for leads to successful candidates.

As applications arrive, screen them to ensure that they meet the minimum requirements. Then, introduce applicants to the company's values regarding customer service, legal and ethical compliance, safety, performance, and shareholder responsibility. If an applicant expresses negativity toward these topics, it can be a basis for rejection. Skills are important, but attitude, aptitude and ethics should not be overlooked.

Job candidates also should complete pre-employment documents. Written responses will measure a candidate's literacy. Explanations for all blank spaces must be given to the employer's satisfaction. Beware of candidates who hesitate or decline to answer questions, or are unable to provide references who can attest to their successful work experience. Reference checking and verification of credentials are essential. An employer's lack of diligence could result in costly litigation for negligence.

Several well-trained interviewers should evaluate applicants. This helps to dilute biases and gain a consensus decision. This also provides the candidate with a better opportunity to evaluate the potential employer. Never hesitate to call a person back for additional interviews.

Candidates who seem promising should be given a brief tour of the facility and shown their intended work area and equipment. Introduce them to their potential coworkers to sample their interpersonal skills. The impressions of employees who interact with the candidate may be helpful. The employee giving the tour should be alert to any negative comments or reluctance.

During this process, do not promise the candidate more than the company can deliver. Exaggerations and half-truths will fuel turnover and weaken morale. After the candidate has been hired, every effort must be made to deliver the promises.

Once a person is selected, extend a job offer immediately. This will decrease the chance that the candidate will accept an offer with another company. Make the offer by telephone and quickly confirm it in writing, scheduling all contingent evaluations and resolving open issues. Be sure to welcome new employees on their first day. Work areas, supplies and equipment should be prepared in advance. Give the employee an orientation, which should be developed in advance. Performance expectations must be defined and communicated. Any errors in hiring should be addressed immediately.

The cornerstone of developing a high-performance and profitable workforce is a sound selection process. Remember that it is more expensive to recruit, hire and train an employee then to lose one. Therefore, every new hire counts, and effective hiring and management techniques are important for employee retention. This is especially true in a difficult economy when workforces become leaner. A good hiring system will prepare companies to attract outstanding candidates and reduce the need to settle for less than the best. Initial investment and extra effort will pay substantial dividends in the long-term.