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5 Guidelines For Hiring

How the right person can benefit every facet of your business
Five Guidelines_MS

“When hiring key employees, there are only two qualities to look for: judgment and taste. Almost everything else can be bought by the yard.” So said John W. Gardner, the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson.

Gardner may have been onto something. Take, for example, a millennial who recently ran the gauntlet looking for a new full-time job and learned the process is not a simple one. After 17 interviews, 12 personality tests, and even a few basic math tests, this young woman discovered the most important aspects of the process were indeed the hardest to measure or define—personality and fit.

While skilled workers are indeed in high demand, it’s critical to find individuals who integrate seamlessly into a culture, align with company values, and demonstrate an agile work ethic. Hiring processes are as diverse as the produce industry itself, and dependent on size, need, and value.

All companies, however, must try to avoid two things: high turnover and a “bad hire.” Robert Half, the national recruiting and staffing agency, warns against the costs of the latter, which can include lost business from clients, actions and tasks that must be redone, and increased pressure on other employees to pick up the slack. High turnover rates can also contribute to a poor company reputation, making it difficult to recruit quality applicants in the future. To avoid these two pitfalls, hiring managers and recruiters have crafted several tried and true methods to help ensure a strong workforce and cohesive culture.

1 Getting the Right Start

With tightening labor markets, human resource departments have to be thorough, creative, and resourceful to make sure the right people end up in the right roles in the right companies.

Rex Lawrence, president of Joe Produce, a California company providing executive search, job marketing, and resume services, says, “Entering into an employer/employee relationship is not significantly different from entering a personal relationship. Cultural compatibility in the workplace demands chemistry.”

While some companies choose to use recruiting services, others use internal resources. Melissa Lewis, a human resources (HR) professional at Bear Transportation Services in Plano, TX, says the company uses internal recruiters and posts job listings online. Both look for qualified individuals to meet immediate needs, then a personality assessment helps tip the scale when two applicants have near-identical skill sets. “We focus on values, because we want somebody who has integrity, knows how to collaborate, and has the mindset to exceed expectations,” she says.

Lawrence says recruiting services offer the opportunity for a third party to look at a company’s needs. Both hard skills and soft skills matter. Those charged with hiring, he notes, “sometimes find it hard to be honest about themselves and what they need. We take a deep dive into management and communication styles, and take steps to understand structural hierarchies.”

Clients, Lawrence explains, either fall into step with the standard processes used by Joe Produce or can request a customized approach. Industry-specific recruiters offer experience-backed opinions on marketing efforts. Something as simple as the title of a job listing can determine the type and quality of applicants. If individuals are looking to make an upward move, titles become important, he points out. In addition, titles “must accurately reflect responsibilities.”

2 Using the Right Methods

It takes time to find quality employees, and according to Robert Half, companies spend an average of five weeks to make a staff-level hire and seven weeks for an executive level position. With such imposing time frames, recruiters can help alleviate overly taxed HR departments.

Lawrence says companies turn to recruiters for two principal reasons: either they were unable to find a qualified candidate, or they hired someone who did not work out. As a 29-year veteran of the produce industry, Lawrence boils it down: “We want the best candidate we can find, not just the best candidate that finds us.”

Another recruiter, Glendale, CA-based Mixtec, specializes in executive searches and carries a high rate of success for its 31 years in business—92 percent. Company president and chief executive officer Jerry Butt says the explosion of technology has changed the recruiting process significantly. “Everyone with a smart phone can access a potential candidate’s info and contact him or her in real time; responsiveness is at the speed of light.”

In the past ten years, technology has indeed revolutionized the hiring process. Companies use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to research potential applicants. Employees are screened through online personality tests before interviewing in person. While these tools make the process easier, they may incur more costs, prolong the time frame, and require more involvement from candidates.

Bear Transportation’s Lewis says technology makes the process both easier and harder. “Sometimes it’s difficult, because you can tell a lot about an individual from a face-to-face interaction,” she says, compared to a phone interview or online application. If the in-person interview is the last step in the process, companies could spend significant resources processing applications of individuals who will end up being a poor fit.

Technology also widens the applicant pool on a global scale. “Thirty years ago, it was amazing to have 30 applicants for a job; today, it’s not unusual to have 100 applicants or more,” explains Shannon Burns, a hiring consultant based in the Chicago area. Recruiters and companies advertise positions on several platforms and prospective employees have access to sites like Glassdoor, which offers an inside glimpse into the hiring company. Job seekers can explore company reviews, interview tips, and even salary ranges. Because technology has created a dramatically larger applicant pool, employers and recruiters are now faced with the challenge of evaluating numerous candidates in an effective and efficient way.

3 Skill vs. Schmooze

Determining whether or not candidates have necessary skills is typically a black and white process—they either do or they don’t. From there, finding the right fit can be a complex and multifaceted process.

Butt describes the evaluation process using the “four legs of a stool” analogy. First, a person’s body of work illustrates his or her background, experience, and results from previous roles. Secondly, the interview process reflects personality and professionalism. Assessments (such as personality tests) and professional references round out the evolution tools.

In the produce industry, Butt suggests a familiar quote: “If you don’t sell it, you smell it.” While somewhat comical, these words illustrate the extremely fast-paced nature of the industry—something prospective employees must embrace. Additionally, the interview will determine whether or not an individual is genuinely compatible with managers and fellow employees. Having a candidate meet with several team members allows decision makers to witness the candidate’s interactions with individuals to form a holistic opinion.

Lawrence also cites a series of four qualities he believes are crucial to narrowing down the talent pool: attitude, aptitude, ability, and desire. While companies often focus on “checking the boxes,” that is, making sure a candidate has the necessary skills, experience, and pedigree, Lawrence says it’s a mistake to neglect the importance of a good cultural fit.

Lastly, ability versus compatibility can also be influenced by corporate environment. In the produce industry, Butt says, “Most companies are family-owned and operated and privately held. Over the past ten to twenty years, companies have gotten larger, partly due to consolidation and acquisition—this type of complex business model requires a close working relationship with ownership and senior leadership.” This, he emphasizes, is when “sharing a vision and having common values and ideas about company culture become increasingly important.”

4 Testing, Testing, 1…2…3…

Personality and aptitude tests are now considered common practice. But how reliable are these tools, and how much of a hiring decision should be based on the results? Lewis says Bear Transportation typically uses a personality test from the Chally Group to help choose between applicants with similar experience and skill levels. Chally’s website claims a talent management failure in the areas of selection, development, retention, and succession is often the result of science based solely on anecdotal and descriptive data, whereas its methodology uses precise, actuarial, and predictive science from four decades of successful sales and leadership characteristics.

Mixtec doesn’t employ in-house testing, but does help clients determine the best timing and execution strategies. “A few years ago, assessments were not very common in the fresh produce industry, but today a majority of companies are using them,” Butt says.

Joe Produce uses a complex algorithm that measures natural tendencies and determines how individuals make decisions. Lawrence says administering the assessment in advance of face-to-face interviews allows employers to ask a certain level of questions that individuals wouldn’t otherwise be prepared for as a potential candidate.

Nadine McNear, director of content for Blue Book Services, Inc., has used various talent measurement tools to assess skillsets. “Our primary goal is to establish benchmarks and provide a standard to measure a candidate’s likelihood of success early in the process. If a candidate does not meet the minimum benchmark, then the interview ends.”

McNear began designing her own tests several years ago. Some of the more important skills she looks for are not learned, but innate. “Having an eye for details, striving for accuracy and completeness—these traits are not typically something that can be trained, and go beyond an ability to spot errors. Sometimes it’s easy to find an error, but harder to identify something that is missing. Everyone wins when the right candidate is selected—the new hire, the company, the customer, and the team.”

Other testing, such as the rising use of personality tests, can be a mixed bag in terms of success and acceptability. “More and more produce companies have embraced assessments and are utilizing them in the hiring process,” Butt says. “As long as the tests are legitimate and backed with proven methodology, there are less and less issues in terms of controversial use.” In addition, as Lewis, Butt, and Lawrence all note, these tests must be professionally interpreted and used in context with an overall evaluation; only then do the tests add value.

5 Time is Money

While some companies hire based on immediate need, others have future goals in mind: scaling the company, expanding markets, or grooming employees for leadership. These scenarios may demand different hiring processes in terms of the amount of time a company can afford to find the right candidate.

On the other side of the equation, a hasty decision can result in a ‘bad hire’ and cost a company dearly.

When a hire doesn’t work out, there can be both immediate and longer-term consequences. “Company morale goes down,” contends Butt, but worse yet is having taken “the company in the wrong direction, which can be damaging to a brand and reputation.” While Mixtec works exclusively with clients searching for executive level individuals, the effect on morale could be just as damaging if mid-level employees are constantly rotated out due to unfavorable hires.

One way to avoid such missteps is the often dreaded “five-year question,” to offer insight into an applicant’s long-term goals. Individuals with clear-cut responses are more likely to pursue and push for excellence in the workplace. “The world has changed,” Burns posits, “the cool jobs go to the people who can see the future.”

Now, to Retain

Assuming a company is able to perfect its hiring processes—successfully navigate the interview process, zero in on a candidate, and hire the individual—how then do employers keep these people?

According to a survey conducted by Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc., a national outplacement firm headquartered in Chicago, reducing employee turnover is a critical problem facing companies of all sizes and in every business sector.

Conducted in March 2016, the survey found half of the responding HR executives either already implemented a “stay interview” or plan to in the near future. Rather than the typical “exit interview” this fairly new practice attempts to understand what types of workplace changes can be made to reduce turnover before an employee has actually left the company.

In addition, a Forbes article by Ian Davies on the use of technology for talent management advises using technology tools to get real-time feedback from employees. This information can then be used to fine-tune engagement and culture within the company. Such practices reflect a greater investment in hiring, recruiting, and training, and keeping employees happy allows companies to extract the most from its financial and time investments in personnel.

At the end of the day, it’s all very simple: happy employees are the best employees. Workers who feel both valued and comfortable in their surroundings will bring success to both themselves and their companies.

Image: kurhan/


Haley Adams grew up in a small agricultural town in rural Illinois. She is currently based in Madison, WI.