Ways to recruit and retain great employees | Daily News
So, you want to start-up and develop a small business – Part 34

Ways to recruit and retain great employees

If you are a typical small-business owner, you may work with one or two workers (mostly family members) for a period of time as you transition through the start-up stage. Then after you decide to hire employees, you may find that you need or want five or six. However, if you have ambitions to really grow your business, you will probably end up hiring many employees.

Let us help you how to hire top employees and keep them happy and, working for you, not your competition.

Every business (whether big or small) has a number of key positions that will make or break your company. When you’re just starting out, all these key-positions may be yours alone because you may be the person who took all decisions.

In larger, established small businesses, those key positions may include the boss (or CEO) (that’s you), the accountant, the sales manager, the marketing manager, the production manager, the office manager, the purchasing manager etc ... well, you get the idea. Every successful, growing small business must have a team of superstars filling its game-breaker positions.

Ideally, a superstar should have following qualities:

(a) Is capable of taking on responsibilities and contributing to the company’s growth,

(b) Is loyal to your vision,

(c) Shares your ethics and principles,

(d) Is creative within his or her area of expertise,

(e) Capable of working effectively with other team members

Now comes the big question. How do you assemble such a high-quality team of superstars? Well, it is a three-part process - hiring, training, and motivating.

Assembling a top team

The first step in the hiring process is to collect a roster of worthwhile applicants for the position, likely through one of the following methods:

(a) By running an advt, (b) By putting out a website posting, (c) By referring to a reputed recruitment agency, (d) By referrals from employees, vendors, and customers

Referrals are almost always the best option. After all, referred applicants are more likely to be skilled, hard-working applicants (because the people doing the referring don’t want the embarrassment of referring a weak applicant), and they cost next to nothing. Just get the word out that you’re looking and then let your employees, vendors, or customers do the talking.

Never accept an applicant for a position without first obtaining a professionally prepared resume. If the applicant hasn’t taken the time to create such a resume, you know right away that he’s not right for the position.

The tough part comes after you’ve collected the resumes: You must interview, then interview again and finally conduct another interview. You must check those often-camouflaged references, whose primary function, you soon discover, is to tell you as little as possible about a candidate’s faults in between glowing adjectives aimed at his strengths.

Taking hints for hiring

Following is a list of hiring tips to help you locate and hire those elusive superstars:

When running an ad, remember that you’re selling an opportunity, not just offering a job, and write the ad accordingly. You want to attract a career-minded employee who wants to grow with your company, so you need to paint your company, and the position, in an attractive light. Review a large number of existing ads carefully, and then use bits and pieces of the best ones.

Always prepare a job description, which we now call performance expectations, before you post a job ad. Good applicant want to know exactly what the job entails and what’s expected of them. As part of the ad, include the job definition, expectations of work, salary, expected bonus, perks, and your business’s chain-of-command, as it relates to the position being offered.

Review each applicant’s resume, looking for the names of businesses or people you may know who aren’t listed as the candidate’s references. The most informative references may be those that the applicant doesn’t list. Such third-party references are usually more candid with their comments.

Try to open the door to more candid conversations when you’re talking to an applicant’s references. Look for areas of commonality in order to put the person at ease. Tune in for the little things as you listen. Remember - most references are prone to sugar-coating. Just because a reference is reluctant to provide information on the applicant doesn’t necessarily mean that the applicant has problems; the reference may simply be protecting herself.


Have every applicant complete a job application in addition to submitting a resume. Resumes + applications = more information on candidates. Preferably, a specimen resume must be prepared by you. The applicant has to fill it up with details. In that way, all applicants are contesting with each other in the same field conditions.

Look for the applicant’s ability to listen during the interview. If he doesn’t listen well during the interview, he’s unlikely to listen well after you hire him and he’s on the job.

Find out what research the applicant has done on you and your company. If she comes to the interview unprepared and devoid of knowledge about your company and industry, you’ve discovered something about either her work habits or the depth of her desire for the job.

Don’t assume that your company is the only, or the best, opportunity in town. Like any good salesperson, remember to sell the benefits of the job as opposed to its features; in other words, show your prospective superstar how working for you will make her life better.

Interview process

Hiring right brings you an endless list of benefits. The biggest is that the better the employee you hire, the less time you have to spend managing him. Instead, you can spend your time on matters expected from you.

Yes, the interview process is time-consuming and will take you away from other projects that may appear to be more meaningful and that are certainly more enjoyable. But remember, the price you’ll pay for doing a second-rate job of hiring is that you’ll have to do the costly, time-consuming process all over again - sooner rather than later.

The process of hiring superstar employees should proceed along following lines:

1. Interview #1: This interview takes place in your office. During it, you ask probing questions, and the interviewee does about 90 percent of the talking. Immediately following the interview, assuming it goes well, begin the reference-checking process while the details are still fresh in your mind.

2. Interview #2: Meet on neutral turf this time, maybe for breakfast or lunch. Relax the interviewee, loosen him up, and get a look at his social and personal side. Ask any puzzling questions that may have emerged as a result of the reference checks. Simply observe the applicant’s behaviour.

3. Interview #3: If all has gone well, have the applicant go through the interviewing process with other key employees who have a stake in the hire. Ask for their opinions and compare notes. If the applicant doesn’t mesh with your key employees, finding out now is better than finding out later.

4. Interview #4: Review, negotiate, and seal the deal - if the applicant still passes muster. Then cross your fingers; employees don’t come with guarantees, no matter how thorough a job you do.

When you interview an applicant, be sure to ask open - ended questions.

Here are a few of the general favourite open-ended questions:

(1) What’s the number one trait or quality that differentiates you from other applicants?

(You are expecting something measurable here - specific accomplishments, specific skills, or specific prior jobs.)

(His answer maybe “I’m a people person” or “I meet my deadlines” or “I’m a hard worker”)

(2) Then you ask specific questions: “What makes you a people person? Give me an example.” (Watch out for egotistical responses; large egos usually get in the way of becoming a team player.)

(3) Ask - What’s your most significant business achievement? (Again, look for specifics. If this is the applicant’s first job, ask for her most significant achievement in whatever else she has done - schooling, youth club and so on).

(4) Ask - What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it? (Look for honesty here. Everyone has had failures. Promising applicants have no trouble admitting theirs and are quick to tell you what they learned from them. Insecure applicants have trouble admitting failure and, thus, may have a difficult time learning from it.)

(5) What are your weaknesses? (Everyone has weaknesses. The honest and mature applicant readily admits his or hers.)

(6) If the applicant can’t come up with any, soften the question to “What kind of work do you dislike?” or “What aspects of this job will you enjoy the most and what will you enjoy the least?”

(7) What are your strengths? (Look for specifics - again. Ask for examples. Do the candidate’s strengths match the needs of the position? )

(8) Ask - Who’s the best boss you’ve ever worked for and what made him or her so good? (The answer to this question will give you an insight into what it takes to motivate the interviewee. Also, it should indicate whether he could, and should, work for you.)

(9) What do you want to be doing five years from now? (The “right” answer to this question is determined by the position you’re hiring for and your own personal goals for the company).

(For game-breaker positions in a growing company, you need the candidate prepared to shoulder increasing responsibility over the next five years. 

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 30 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer.)


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