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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.

Hiring Great Millennial Employees

May 9th, 2014

New grads and job seekers between the ages of 22 and 35, often called millennials, represent the younger end of the workforce and as such, they tend to bring both the promise and the struggles that have been associated with their age group for many years. But some of the traits and tendencies that younger workers bring to the table in 2014 are unique to their own time and place in the world.

Like younger workers in every age, millennials tend to be optimistic, loyal, eager to please, and unable to accurately assess the value they add to the workplace (they tend to over or underestimate their own talents and contributions due to a lack of perspective and life experience.) Unique to our age, millennials also bring a high level of comfort with (even dependence on) technology. And they tend to be collaborative, sensitive to the needs of others, and often afraid to make independent decisions or act without supervision.

If you’re in the process of hiring millennial candidates for your junior or entry level positions, here are a few tips that can help you attract the best qualities this age group has to offer.

1. Cater to the generation.

Aggressive, demanding job posts with long lists of “must haves” and “need not apply’s” will deter bold, confident candidates and attract risk-averse, nervous grinds. Remember that most of what you need from candidates at this level can be taught on the job. The things that can’t be taught—like positivity, flexibility, grit, and general intelligence—are the kinds of things you’ll need to select for.

2. Don’t underpay.

Yes, younger candidates typically need to accept lower salaries. This has been the primary burden of the entry level since the dawn of time. But if you lure talented candidates onboard and secure them with lowball salaries, they’ll leave as soon as they can (i.e. as they start to gain experience and add real value). If you want a revolving door at the entry level, pay the minimum. But if you want to hire candidates with long term potential and watch them grow with the company, you’ll have to offer competitive rates and meaningful benefits.

3. Conduct intelligent interviews.

Asking your candidates what color crayon they would be or which cartoon character they like the most might seem like a cute way to present yourself as a fun workplace. But we advise against this. Instead, ask meaningful questions about the candidate’s preparation for the job at hand, and explain your culture as directly and honestly as you can. Use behavioral questions (“Describe a leadership challenge you’ve faced in the past”) and problem solving questions (“How would you climb to the top of a tall building with only a piece of string and a pack of gum?”) but don’t bait or demean your candidates. Keep things professional.

For more on how to attract and retain the best millennial candidates on the job market, reach out to the experienced staffing experts at Merritt.

Leadership: Do you Have What it Takes?

April 18th, 2014

What does it take to inspire, motivate, and lead a team to victory? Wise mangers and company decision makers spend considerable time thinking about this question, and if they’re doing it right, their contemplations cover the entire spectrum from the practical (Am I giving my team the network access they need?) to the philosophical (What did Alexander the Great and Elizabeth the First have that I don’t have?)

If you’re stepping into a leadership role and your thoughts are starting to move down this path, keep a few considerations in mind.

Leaders Versus Managers

Leaders and managers are both responsible for earning the respect of their teams and meeting the goals of their organizations. But they each approach these goals from different angles. As the old saying goes, managers do things right, while leaders do right things. Great leaders are visionaries. Before they rally their teams, they generate excitement, share their vision of success, and inspire their teams to give their all.

Managers execute. They take the visions put forth by company leaders, and they put the practical nuts and bolts in place that can bring these ideas to life. They make sure their direct reports have the tools, training, coaching, scheduling resources, and budget access they need to complete their jobs at the highest level. As they do this, they also help teams resolve practical problems and overcome all obstacles that stand in the way of success.

The Qualities of Great Leaders

So what separates an adequate leader from a great one? Here’s a short list of qualities that and personal traits that help leaders inspire and motivate their teams.

1. They think positive: If there’s a chance that something can be done, then it can be done.

2. They think big: Great leaders don’t get lost in nitpicking details or try to cross bridges that are miles away.

3. They take risks: Leaders extend themselves in order to realize their visions.

4. They invest: Leaders know that sometimes you have to spend money to make money.

5. They’re resilient: Leaders aren’t easily deterred or paralyzed by setbacks.

6. They listen: Leaders pay close attention to the cues and input coming in from the environment around them, from the results of their projects, and from the voices of those who work for them. They’re constantly receiving and processing, not tuning out or shutting down. And when the feedback suggests a change of course, they respond quickly.

For more information on how to build these traits and put them to use, contact the staffing and career development experts at Merritt.

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