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Reducing Stress with a Contingent Workforce

October 10th, 2014

Your busy season is about to begin, and you’re anticipating a flood of new orders and new projects that will roll in like a wave and overwhelm your current teams, just like it did last year (and the year before). Every year, your teams hold on by their fingertips, working overtime and losing sleep. And each year at least one or two of them flirt with the idea of leaving. While your employees are running themselves ragged trying to keep up with their demanding workloads, you’re experiencing your own form of stress while you wait for your most talented workers to reach their limit, walk into your office and give their notice.

But you and your employees don’t have to live this way for three, five, or eleven months of the year. Consider a practical alternative: a contingency staffing plan. Here’s how a temporary team can lift your seasonal burden without breaking your budget.

Contingency staffing reduces your financial and personal obligations.

Temporary employees aren’t hired and paid by you; they’re hired and paid by the agency. This means that you don’t have to make any long term promises or plans regarding their relationship with your company. You don’t have to worry about taxes, paperwork, salary negotiations, or insurance. You’ll keep them onboard as long as you need them, and when your workload settles down, the agency will place them elsewhere.

Contingency staffing is flexible.

When a temporary employee enters your workplace, your agency contract will allow the two of you to work together for an extended period of time before either of you decide to make a long term commitment. You can test drive the arrangement to see how well it works for both of you, and when you’re ready, you’ll have the option of taking him or her on as a permanent hire.

Contingency staffing is easy.

An experienced staffing agency will listen carefully to your needs and requirements and find a pool of candidates who fit the bill. Here at Merritt, we have an extensive network of industry contacts and a sophisticated screening and selection process that can help you quickly identify the employees most likely to thrive in your workplace.

When you’re ready to take on some extra hands and tackle your seasonal challenges, put your trust in the Fairfeld County staffing experts at Merritt. Contact our office for a consultation.

Hiring Top Administrative Talent: Tips

September 26th, 2014

You’re facing a stack of admin resumes or applications for a personal assistant position, and you realize that the outcome of this decision can have a powerful impact on your own work performance and the success of every project under your purview. In order for you to complete your own work and manage your responsibilities, you need to hire a person you can trust, and you need someone who can stand beside you and provide the right tools and support exactly when you need them. Here are a few moves that take some of the risk and expense out of the process and streamline the path to a successful decision.

1. Make the most of your current employee.

If your current admin is still working for another few weeks, make sure your leverage his help and support before you no longer have the opportunity to do so. Ask him to document each of his daily, weekly, monthly and annual responsibilities and provide a written list of the steps he takes to execute them. If at all possible, schedule some overlap between his departure and the arrival of the new employee.

2. Refine your interview questions.

If you have 30 minutes to chat with a candidate, don’t waste a second of this time. Cut questions from your interview script if they add no value. For example, skip empty bureaucratic questions like “are you a strong leader/well-organized person/ punctual?” These all have easy answers. You can also cut silly “personality” questions like “Which five items would you take to a desert island?” Let these go and get to the heart of the matter.

3. Focus on skill sets first.

This doesn’t mean that skill sets will hold more weight or serve as a better predictor of candidate success; it simply means that these are easier to assess than personality traits. Determine exactly which software systems and specific capabilities the candidate will rely on most (budgeting, scheduling, records management, etc) and assess these with tests and clear questions about her level of experience in each area.

4. Focus on behavior second.

Ask open ended questions to gain a sense of your candidates working style, problem solving strategies, and approach to written communication. Ask her to describe specific challenges she’s faced in the past, listen to the answers, and let her know how the challenges of this workplace will align with or vary from what she’s seen before.

For more information and personal guidance as you conduct your admin candidate search, reach out to the staffing experts at Merritt Staffing.

What Does the Interview Process Tell Candidates about Your Company?

September 12th, 2014

A growing number of managers are now factoring cultural adaptability into their candidate selection decisions, based on the idea that attitude matters just as much as aptitude when it comes to forecasting candidate success. If a candidate fits the culture, her odds of landing a job will greatly increase.

But if you’re sitting on the manager’s side of the table, recognize that the equation works both ways. If the candidate looks around your office and likes what she sees, she’ll be far more likely to accept your offer and stay with the company over the long term.

So how can you use your interview process to showcase your culture and convince the best candidates in your applicant pool to join your organization? Here are a few ways to make this happen.

1. Keep all pre-interview interactions clear and positive.

Nothing frustrates a job applicant like unanswered calls, unreturned messages, and conflicting information and instructions regarding the interview date and location. Make sure everyone who speaks to your candidate has access to the correct information and speaks in a confident and welcoming tone.

2. Take first impressions seriously.

The candidate may make her first impression when she greets you and shakes your hand. But the company starts making a first impression the minute she walks in the door. Is your lobby clean, well-lit and inviting? Is your waiting area comfortable? And most important, is the interviewer prepared and ready to conduct the meeting on time? Never leave a candidate waiting for more than fifteen minutes.

3. Confident, competent interviewers inspire trust.

You may be just as nervous as your candidate (meeting new people isn’t always easy), but try not to let this show. Have your notes or your script prepared, have a copy of the candidate’s resume in front of you, and try not to ramble or fluster.

4. Show respect for her expertise and also for her time.

You may think that you hold the power position in this dialogue, but you need your candidate as much as she needs you. Respect her willingness to share her skills and dedicate her time to this company—specifically the thirty minutes she’s spending in this interview. Keep your questions relevant.

5. Explain your culture as well as you can.

This can be a tall order, but if you provide accurate and honest information about your culture, your candidate will be better able to make an informed decision.

For more on how to keep your interview process meaningful for parties on both sides of the table, reach out to the Fairfeld County staffing professionals at Merritt Staffing.

Improve Your Leadership Skills: Three Moves

August 22nd, 2014

Regardless of their specific industry and specific goals, most successful leaders have a few core traits in common: 1.) They WANT to be successful leaders. They’re interested in bringing victory to their teams and organizations, not just grabbing at power for its own sake. 2.) They have high levels of social intelligence; in other words, they know how to shift their focus outward and assess the needs, fears and desires of other people. And 3.) they know how to share a vision that others can invest in and rally behind.

If you’re looking for new ways to inspire your teams, drive them forward, and earn their respect, try these three moves.

1. Keep your Ears Open.

Effective leaders don’t use one-way communication channels. They keep both ends of the line open and they listen twice as often as they dictate. Open your door, your ears, and your mind, and be ready to respond when employees ask for resources, information, and training that can help them do their jobs. You’ll also need to stay receptive to criticism and feedback on your own performance. And just listening won’t do the trick; you’ll need to actually respond and change your ways if you want to keep your teams behind you.

2. Words are Powerful…And Actions Are Even More So

Don’t neglect or underestimate the power of words. A well-crafted message designed with a specific audience in mind can move mountains and change the world. But in order to give your message real impact and your leadership real sustainability, you’ll need to follow through. If you want others to follow your orders, follow those orders first. Set an example in everything you do, and keep your promises, both stated and implied.

3. Don’t Mistake “Busy” for “Hard Working”

Take a close look at the most effective and respected people in your workplace at every position in the hierarchy. Are these people haggard, stressed, and stretched to the limits of their energy and attention? Nope. No matter how “busy” they may be behind the scenes, they don’t let their busyness become part of their demeanor or their personal brand. They always seem content, fully engaged and fully present no matter where they are or who they’re with. Those who seem distracted, restless, annoyed with their present company and wishing to be elsewhere are not granted the same respect.

For more on how to build loyalty and give your teams a sense of direction and purpose, contact the leadership and business management experts at Merritt.

Onboarding: Are You Providing the Necessary Training?

August 8th, 2014

Surveys of class-of-2014 and 2015 graduates show a clear pattern: Young college students feel adequately prepared for the workplace. About 80 percent of them expect to step in the door and hit the ground running, and they expect their employers to offer the job specific training they’ll need in order to thrive in a given workplace.

But surveys of working graduates who completed their degrees in 2013 and 2012 tell a different story. About 48 percent of these young workers received a surprise when they stepped into the working world. They were tossed into the deep end to sink or swim as well as they could, and the formal training they expected failed to materialize.

Mangers seem equally mystified by the gap between their expectations of younger workers and the actual preparation these workers bring to the job. Managers often describe their new recruits as “prepared for working life in general…but not for the realities of this specific job.”

Develop an In-House Job Training Program

If this situation describes your experience with new-grad hires, you have two options: You can sit still and complain, waiting for the higher education system to “improve” until it finally meets your needs. Or you can start developing an effective, formal, on-the-job training program that can get your younger hires up to speed quickly and help them cross the line from liability to asset.

In order to do this, you’ll need to get ready to invest. Nothing comes for free in this life, as your debt-strapped, hopeful new employees already know. Start conducting audits of each department and entry level position to determine the exact knowledge gaps that are holding you (and your employees) back. Ask your supervisors what they aren’t getting from new grad hires, and ask your employees with two and three years of experience for their input: What would have helped them when they first stepped on board? What information and skills did they need the most?

When you’ve gained a sense of direction and a set of clear training goals, you can set your sites on an in-house program that can meet your needs, using mentor-pairing, shadowing, video training, or coursework. Or you can outsource the process and hire external vendors to provide instructors and coaches.

When you’re ready to implement your program, stay flexible. Jump in immediately to fix what isn’t working or to add course content that new employees and their supervisors will find useful. At all times, stay open to change, and make sure that both parties are getting what they need out of the process. Reach out to the staffing experts at Merritt for guidance and support.

Hiring Strategies: Immediate Need Vs Long Term Growth Potential

July 25th, 2014

When you envision your ideal candidate, are you picturing someone who can step into your open position, start contributing immediately, and occupy this role into the indefinite future? Or are you picturing a candidate who will hold this role only long enough to gain the experience and exposure she needs to reach the next level? In other words, are you looking for skilled candidates who can meet your immediate needs, or are you hiring for traits that bring greater returns in the future than they will in the present? Here are a few traits to look for in each case.

Hiring for Immediate Need

If you need a candidate who can step directly into a skilled position and contribute high returns right away, you’ll need someone who already possesses expensive certifications, training and experience that can take years to obtain. On the positive side, these qualifications can be easy to measure, easy to test, and easy to state on a resume. Either the candidate has them or she doesn’t. On the negative side, a well prepared candidate comes with a high salary premium. If you hire an untrained, high potential prospect, you can pay a discounted salary and provide the necessary training at your own expense and under your own aegis.

Hiring For Long Term Growth Potential

As mentioned above, hiring for long term potential places training costs and risk in the employers hands. But these things also become the employer’s responsibility, and if the candidate fails to live out her potential, the cost of the failure falls entirely onto the employer. A high potential candidate has skills and qualifications that can be difficult to measure.

For example, an immediate need candidate holds a degree, a state license, and four years of relevant experience. A high potential candidate holds none of these things, but her personality traits and non-relevant track record suggest that she’s smart and driven and she’ll gather these credentials in due time. Measuring certifications is easy. Measuring intelligence and drive can subjective and complex. Before you pursue this route, review data that show a clear link between the personality traits you’re targeting and success with this position over the long term.

For more information that can help you determine which hiring strategy will better meet your needs, contact the staffing experts at Merritt.

Reference Checks: Don’t Overlook This Crucial Step

July 11th, 2014

No hiring process for a high-responsibility job should be considered complete without a reference check. But this final, crucial stage of the process can take time, and this exercise often provides managers with subjective, open ended data points that are difficult to measure and quantify and even more difficult to compare across a candidate pool. After all, most managers don’t get very much out of bland phrases like: “We never had a single problem with him,” or “She was great. Really great.”

So if you’re staffing a critical position and you don’t have hours to spare in exchange for vague, meaningless feedback, keep these considerations in mind before you abandon the process altogether.

1. One red flag can prevent countless headaches and regrets.

Nine reference checks out of ten may not provide game changing information. But the tenth may be worth more than gold. If your contact says something like “I’m not sure why he submitted my name as a reference”, or “She’s great as long as you don’t expect punctuality (or public speaking skill, or written communication skills, etc)”, then your time will have been well spent.

2. It’s okay to read between the lines.

Sometimes great management decisions come from the gut and can’t be easily quantified. If you hear something in your contact’s voice that you can’t even describe in words, let alone measure, that’s okay. A slight hesitation, a moment of confusion, or a genuine tone of enthusiastic, heartfelt support can shine a legitimate green light on the candidate or allow you to shift focus to another qualified candidate.

3. Word your questions thoughtfully.

Try to add meaning to the process by investing in your wording. Instead of a bland, empty question like “Would you recommend this candidate?” try something more focused, like “Which responsibilities should I hand to this candidate? Which tasks should I hand to someone else?”

4. A neutral answer (or no answer) speaks volumes.

If you find a candidate’s references difficult to reach, or in a hurry to end the conversation, take this into account. You’ll also want to scrutinize answers that aren’t answers at all, like “I can’t really say very much about him”, “I didn’t work with her on a daily basis”, or “She was a nice person…I can’t tell you anything about her technical skills, but she was pleasant enough.”

For more information on how to keep your reference checks valuable and efficient, reach out to the staffing experts at Merritt.


Want the Perfect Candidate? Write the Perfect Job Description

June 20th, 2014

If you want to find the best candidate for your company and open position, the best place to start is with an effective job description. Regardless of the industry or the level of the position, a perfect job post accomplishes three goals:

  1. It sells the position and the company, sharing necessary information but also boosting the company brand. After all, those who see the post aren’t just potential employees; they’re also potential customers.
  2. It lists the credentials and personal traits the candidate will need in order to step into the position and thrive.
  3. It attracts the most qualified candidates while allowing inappropriate ones to self-select and move on without applying.

Is your job post doing all three of these things effectively? To find an answer, check your track record. How many hiring home runs have resulted from this and similar posts? And how many hiring mistakes, inappropriate candidates, and mismatched resume submissions have resulted from this strategy?

If your current job posts are doing the trick, congratulations! But if they aren’t, a few tweaks to your job posts can do wonders to reduce your hiring, staffing, and turnover problems. Try these tips:

  1. Gather data before you write. Make a list and describe every detail of your ideal candidate. Then get buy-in and approval of the list from everyone who will work closely with this employee.
  2. Show respect. Attract great candidates with honey, not vinegar. Don’t publish a rude or forbidding post, no matter how challenging you think the position may be. If you do this, you’ll discourage the confident and attract the desperate.
  3. Be concrete and specific. Don’t bore readers and waste space by requesting a “hard worker” or a “high-energy go-getter.” These terms mean nothing and they describe every candidate in the world. Stick to the real challenges and needs of the position.
  4. Brag a little. Everyone wants to join a winning team. Let your potential employees know about your awards, your excellent reputation in the industry, and the bright future that lies ahead for your organization.
  5. If you want a wide pool, keep it short. Provide vital details only. If you want a narrow pool of highly focused specialists, you can present a longer list of requirements, preferences, and pluses.
  6. Provide clear, simple application directions. If your process takes an hour to complete or the link to your submission site is broken, the most talented candidates with lots of other options won’t struggle to find a work-around—they’ll just move on.

For more information on how to attract the top candidates in your industry, reach out to the staffing experts at Merritt.


Nonverbal Cues to Watch Out for During an Interview

June 13th, 2014

If you notice any of these nonverbal gestures during your interview process, make a mental note and do some cross checking. Some additional follow-up can help you make sure this cue is a random fluke, not a sign of trouble.

1. Hiding the mouth or covering the face.

As they speak, job candidates (just like all of us) have to do something to occupy their hands. Sometimes they prop their elbows on the table and let both hands move in front of them in order to emphasize their points. Sometimes they keep their arms relaxed on the arm rests of the chair, but their hands still move in a way that animates their words and reveals their feelings. Both of these are fine and perfectly natural, but watch out for a candidate who tents his fingers or makes a fist and then props his hands up in front of his mouth. This gesture can suggest that the speaker has something to hide.

2. Robotic posture and body language.

Candidates are constantly counseled to sit up straight, make eye contact, and shake hands firmly. But watch out for any candidate who takes this advice so literally that it’s painful to speak with her. A calm, focused gaze is okay. But a candidate who stares you down like a hungry lion may come with a personality that’s excessively literal, oblivious to nuance, socially awkward, and easily rattled. This may be fine (and may even be a perfect match for some workplace cultures), but it can be a problem if the job entails social networking and face time with clients.

3. Excessive nervous energy.

All job candidates are nervous, and there’s nothing suspect about a minor degree of foot tapping or pen twirling while the candidate struggles to collect her thoughts and channel her anxiety. But if this nervous energy derails the conversation, watch out. If your candidate laughs too loudly at his own jokes, trips over himself, bursts into tears, loses his train of thought over and over, or simply melts down under the pressure of the situation, something is wrong. This extreme response to a relatively non-threatening scenario suggests a lack of life experience and emotional control.

4. Defensiveness.

Watch out for candidates who show signs of resentment or resistance to the interview process. If you ask your interviewee why he left his last job and he stiffens and refuses to answer, make a note. And of course, signs of anger, hostility, and aggression have absolutely no place in a job interview and should be considered immediate grounds for rejection.

For more insight on the nonverbal cues and gestures that can speak volumes about your candidates, reach out to the staffing and management experts at Merritt.

Career Lessons: Learning From the Experience of Others

May 23rd, 2014

It’s been said that ordinary people learn from their mistakes, but wise people learn from everyone’s mistakes. As we launch our careers at the ground floor and slowly work our way up, we have plenty of opportunities to set challenging goals, fail, struggle back to square one, set new goals, and try again. And again. And every time we have to fight our way back to level ground, we have an opportunity to identify what went wrong so we can ideally sidestep that mistake on our next attempt. This is called “learning”. And in an emotional, financial, and even physical sense, this process can be expensive.

But what if we could find a way to gain the expensive and valuable lessons of failure without the costs that come from actually failing? What if we could build our careers on the struggles, disappointments, setbacks, and difficult lessons of the people around us, instead of ourselves? As it happens, there are no free shortcuts in this life, and no lessons are quite as powerful as the lessons of experience… but sometimes strong listening skills can provide an excellent low cost alternative. Here are a few ways to make the most of an often underutilized career resource—Other people’s mistakes.

1. Choose your targets carefully.

Before you avoid someone’s self-described “mistakes” or learn from someone’s “successes”, look closely. Does this person share your definitions for these terms? Is this person standing in a place where you’d like to be in the future? Are they the kind of person you want to become? Sometimes real self-knowledge is skewed and elusive. The things your companion considers regrets might be the very things that make her the extraordinary person she is. And the things he views as his proudest homeruns may not hold that much appeal for someone like you.

2. Don’t avoid mistakes by avoiding risk.

Recognize the difference between dodging a bullet and avoiding an experience. Your friend may have aimed high, taken a shot, and failed miserably. But that doesn’t necessary mean you should avoiding aiming high. Just take a close look at every step of his process, and see if you can execute a similar move with a little more preparation and a little more insight into the kinds of possibilities he couldn’t foresee.

3. Ask the right questions.

So your friend failed. She tried to start a business, she invested everything she had, and it didn’t work out. But before you draw conclusions from her story, get more information. Question your own assumptions. You might find out that her financial starting point, her support system, her business model and her years of success prior to the crash are not at all similar to yours.

To put your career on fast forward, open yourself up to the experience and lessons of the people around you. Start by arranging a consultation with the staffing and career management experts at Merritt.

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