Stratford Office: 203-386-8800 | Stamford Office: 203-325-3799

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.

The True Cost of Turnover

April 11th, 2014

When an employee says goodbye and leaves your company to move on with the next chapter of her career, what are you really losing? What are your true costs in terms of upfront capital, and what about your opportunity costs, hiring costs for a replacement, and the time that your managers spend on this process instead of other responsibilities?

If you can answer right away, then you’re on the right track. Some degree of turnover is an inevitable cost of business, and if you know exactly what you’re losing and you’re staying in control of your staffing strategy, that’s fine. But if your answer is “I have no idea”, then you’re in trouble. It’s time to take a close look at your turnover numbers and start doing whatever it takes to keep your valuable employees on board. Keep these considerations in mind as you move forward.

Reducing Turnover: Best Practices

1. Don’t let great employees walk away without a word. When a team member decides to leave, meet with her right away (put everything else on hold) and ask what’s going on. Find out if she’s looking for something you haven’t been able to provide, and ask for 24 hours to counter her other offer. Use those 24 hours wisely. Attack salary, resources, training issues, insurance benefits and whatever else you need to make the relationship work.

2. If she’s determined to leave, glean for any possible information you can that might help you improve your hiring and retention practices. Provide her with an exit interview and detailed survey that can help you assess what went wrong and how you might prevent these issues in the future.

3. Compare this data with the data you gathered during her application and initial interview. Were there any mismatches or red flags that you missed and now see clearly in retrospect?

4. Put the lessons of items 1 through 3 into action. Don’t just document them and move on. As soon as you launch into the hiring process for a replacement, start applying what you’ve learned.

5. Hire strong employees from the start. And by strong, we don’t just mean skilled or experienced. In fact, employees who have too much skill and experience can actually be a poor choice and a detriment to your company instead of an asset. By contrast, the most promising employees are those who have the right attitude (not just aptitude) and who match the culture and personality of the workplace.

For more information that can help you make smart hiring decisions, choose the best applicants in the pool, and hold onto them for the long term, reach out to the staffing experts at Merritt.

Preparing for an Administrative Interview

March 28th, 2014

Modern administrative professionals occupy a job category once staffed by secretaries, receptionists, personal assistants, travel coordinators, office managers and a wide range of other personnel who devoted their full-time energy to specific components of a role that’s now often held by just one person. In the digital age, “admins” usually wear all of these hats at once. That means their jobs are highly technology-dependent, and their multitasking capacities are often pushed to the limit.

When you schedule a job interview for an admin position, expect a host of questions about your experience with scheduling, budgeting, presentation support, travel planning, customer service, and spoken and written communication. Here are a few of the questions you’ll probably face.

1. Have you done this kind of work before?

Don’t just answer yes or no. Instead, take the floor and speak in an open ended way about how your previous positions and previous experience have prepared you for this role as you see it. Let your employer know what you’ve done in the past, but in addition, use the moment to demonstrate your ability to speak in a way that’s articulate and poised. Show that you know how to think on your feet.

2. If you’re needed during weekends, or if you’re asked to work late with little or no notice, can you do it?

Resist the urge to just say yes. Think carefully about the time you’re willing to invest in this position, and answer honestly. If you describe your true availability, you’ll save countless time and headaches down the road for both your employer and yourself.

3. What admin software platforms are you familiar with?

List and describe your familiarity with word processing and database management programs, like Word and Excel. Then describe your experience with document and photo editing software, presentation platforms and anything else you feel might benefit your employer. Don’t wait for him to ask for specifics—again, just speak freely about your proficiencies.

4. Can you describe an episode in which you 1.) faced a workplace conflict 2.) faced a leadership challenge 3.) faced failure 4.) faced an ethical dilemma on the job, 4.) faced an impossible task, etc, etc. What happened and how did you respond?

These are called “behavioral questions”, and they help employers determine if you’re a fit for the culture of this workplace. When you hear a question like this, pause before you answer. Then tell a story that’s true, short, and illustrates how you solve problems and bounce back from challenges.

For more on what to expect during your administrative interview and tips on how to prepare, contact the CT job search and employment experts at Merritt Staffing.

Identifying Performance Problems in the Workplace

March 14th, 2014

Before you can tackle an employee performance issue and address the necessary coaching, warning, training, or alternative action necessary to solve the problem, you’ll need to be able to answer a few important questions. And your managers will all need to approach these questions from a similar standpoint. First what exactly does excellent performance look like? How about adequate performance? And how would each of your managers define a “serious” performance problem? Here are a few ways to get a handle on performance related obstacles to productivity.

1. Benchmarks should be clear, publically available and universally understood.

During a new employee’s first annual performance review, both parties should agree on the exact definition of success within this role. If possible, these benchmarks should be measurable. Sales quotas, units processed per hour, new clients gained, new customers served daily, accounts closed or new accounts opened annually, and revenue generation can all be included in the factors that determine performance.

2. Intangibles can also be considered, but with caution.

An excellent seller may be difficult to get along with in the workplace, which means higher stress and lower productivity for everyone, despite her strong closures. The reverse is also true–sometimes low sellers are well liked and have a motivational effect on everyone around them. But the question for you is clear: How much do these intangibles really matter? Can you afford to keep a low seller on board because of her strong organizational skills? Can you afford to keep a high seller on the team despite his tendency to serve as a general drain on the company? Before you criticize an employee or threaten termination for performance-related reasons, take these issues into account.

3. Fairness is everything.

Performance assessment should always be numbers-driven, and never bias-driven. Some employees and managers simply get along better than others, but personal feelings should never corrupt an assessment of performance. If they do, excellent assets with great value to the company may be discouraged and driven away. And weaker producers will be kept on board long after they should have been coached toward success or shown to the door. If you sense your assessments could be more balanced and unbiased, you’re probably right.

4. Factor growth into any assessment of employee value.

Which would you rather have on your team: a high performer who never grows and never improves? Or a weaker employee who underwhelmed you during her first year but has made vast, ongoing gains since then? Growth and value are very different metrics, and both should play a role in any calculation of employee merit.

Reach out to the CT staffing and business management experts at Merritt for more on how to approach the review process and provide meaningful feedback for your teams.

Five Tips for Hiring Accounting and Finance Personnel

February 28th, 2014

Accounting, controlling and financial decision-making are all critical roles that can be challenging to source and retain, even with the most sophisticated staffing strategy in place. At the highest senior levels, these positions often require vast amounts of institutional knowledge, so an effective strategy will require pipeline building and a program of grooming and hiring from within. But what about the entry level? When you reach out to the general public with an open post for a junior accounting or finance position, what steps can you take to attract and select the best candidates? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Keep long term growth and development in mind.     

Again, if you choose the most promising contenders at the entry level, then bring them aboard and cultivate a long term relationship, you’ll be better poised for success with your senior level staffing challenges. You’ll be reducing risk and setting yourself up for strong cultural matches with minimal guess work.  Script your interviews with plenty of questions that assess  behavior and cultural alignment, not just accounting-focused skill sets.

2. Choose candidates who learn, not those who already know.

A sparkling academic track record and a history of relevant coursework can be great, but if you have to choose, lean toward candidates with natural curiosity, open minds, and the ability to unlearn or relearn as necessary in order to thrive within your company.

3. Don’t let the best contenders slip away for foolish reasons.

Ivy League schools are nice, and an unbroken record of work (no gaps, no travel, no career changes, etc) can suggest focus and commitment. But be careful. Don’t be drawn in by assumptions or stereotypes. Consider each candidate as an individual, not a collection of data points. And realize that a little self- direction and life experience can be a powerful asset to your company.

4. Choose candidates who can see the big picture.

Is your candidate here because she loves this business, has a true head for numbers, and has carefully researched your company and its mission? Or is she only here because she needs a job? A little evidence of enthusiasm and personal investment can forecast a brilliant long term relationship.

5. Don’t be afraid to test.

Accounting and aptitude tests can support your selection process and can provide huge returns for minimal investment. Just make sure you choose the right ones. Don’t rely on testing alone to help you find the most valuable match. For additional guidance, including specific sourcing and interview scripting tips, reach out to the financial staffing experts at Merritt.

What Does Your Culture Say About Your Company?

February 14th, 2014

In our fast-paced digital world, consumers face a dizzying array of purchasing options, and the products and companies that are best poised to thrive are those that are supported by a strong branding strategy. Smart branding can do more than just boost your product; it can also help you sell your company as a great place to work, and the stronger your workplace reputation, the easier it will be for you to attract the most talented candidates. So what steps can you take to build this reputation? Consider some of the impressions you make every time a candidate comes in contact with your organization.

Your Job Post

What does your job post tell potential candidates about your company? Is it well-written, inviting, warm, and professional? Or is it wooden, passive aggressive, and off-putting? Do you describe the company in glowing terms? Or do you simply provide a list of demands, with no mention of what your company has to offer in return?

Your Initial Contact

When candidates show interest in your company and decide to submit a resume, what happens next? Make sure your submission links are unbroken and your application process is easy and straightforward. And don’t respond to resume submissions with silence. Even if you use an auto-reply function, send each applicant a confirmation of his or her materials and clear instructions for the next step. Acknowledge the respect and effort that go into each application.

Your Interview Process

When candidates walk into the building and look around on the day of their interview, what do they see? Haggard, miserable people who don’t make eye contact? Or warm, friendly employees who appear to like their jobs and enjoy each other’s company? Smart candidates will keep an eye out for these kinds of cultural cues. They’ll also respond better to an interview conversation that’s honest and respectful.

Your Selection Process                  `

After the interview ends, strong candidates appreciate clear feedback and open communication. Keep your interviews limited to three rounds or fewer; three conversations should provide you with more than enough information to make your decision. Again, if you let the line fall silent without explanation, your reputation will suffer. And if you drag the process out indefinitely, ignore requests for a timeline, or schedule ten rounds of interviews, the best candidates will eventually be drawn away by other offers and only the desperate will remain.

Your candidates will work hard to smile, dress professionally, and create a strong impression of competence, warmth, and reliability. So show them the same level of respect. If you’re proud of this organization and you enjoy working here, share those feelings and highlight the qualities that help your company shine. Reach out to the staffing experts at Merritt for more information and guidance.

6 Innovative Interview Questions to Get Results

December 9th, 2013

When developing interview questions, employers can struggle to branch out from the old, stale pile of traditional queries. If you want your interviews to produce results you can use, stay away from the “tried and true” open/closed questions and start getting more inventive. Here are several types of questions that the big companies and key industry leaders have begun using to make their interviews more than just a bump on the road.

1. The Personal Happiness Question

This question focuses on personal drives. “What moment in your life gave you the greatest satisfaction?” is a common version. This encourages the applicant to show communication skills while also giving you an excellent idea of what drives them – or what they like to think drives them. Finding out what makes the applicant happy and gives them fulfillment will give valuable clues about their work habits and management styles.

2. The Group Crisis Question

The most popular version of this question is the Google interview question, which essentially says: You’re a pirate ship captain, and your crew gets to vote on how the gold is divided. If fewer than half the pirates agree with you, you die. How do you recommend rationing the gold in such a way that you get a good share of the treasure, but still survive? This example is a little ridiculous, but similar situations illustrate the point as well. How does the applicant lead and solve problems in a small group, team, or office? This is often an important management question.

3. The Industry Question

What are some of the key trends in our industry? Where do you see our industry in five years? Who are the most important leaders in our industry? These informational questions are very important when analyzing how much an applicant understands about the business, what the long-term goals are, and how everything fits together. They will easily show if an applicant has a real interest in the company or is just looking for a job.

4. The Career Move Question

If you had to change careers, which career would you move to? Why? If another company was to make you an offer, what would make you consider it? These questions can unveil loyalty issues, long-term interests, and general skillset information in a unique way. They could be more useful than more traditional career questions in showing what an applicant really thinks.

5. The Problem-Solver Question

If [this scenario] occurs, how would you solve this problem? This is a more detail-oriented version of the group crisis question, and is more suitable for lower-level or temporary employees who need to accomplish tasks and capably deal with issues whenever they come up. Tailor the scenario to match the position, but keep things simple. Throw a real-world problem to the applicant and note the response to see what their experience brings to the table and how much training they will need.

6. The Imagination Question

The imagination question can reveal a lot about personality type and is useful to Connecticut recruiters (link to the about us page)  when trying to find the right fit for a team or a flat organization with plenty of flexibility. From “What is your spirit animal” to “What would be your favorite superpower,” this question will show just how innovative, imaginative, and, well, fun your applicant may be. Just remember to follow up with a “Why” question as well.

About Merritt Staffing

Founded in 1989, Merritt Staffing specializes in filling entry-level to middle-management positions in Westchester, Fairfield and New Haven counties. Our staffing and payroll services fill a variety of employment needs, including part-time, full-time, temporary staffing, temp-to-hire and direct-hire positions. See more at:

5 Modern Tips for Dealing with Steep Resume Piles

November 22nd, 2013

Is that pile of resumes or application papers starting to teeter? Do you need to fill a position but dread sorting through the massive numbers of applicants you have managed to pick up? HR Specialists and small business owners have been struggling to wade through large resume pools for years. As an experienced Connecticut staffing agency  for over 15 years, we’ve come up with few tips on making the experience as swift and simple as possible.

1. Create Online Applications and Use an ATS

In today’s age of cloud apps and vendors, your applicant processing should be moving over to an online version. While those paper applications may be easy to print out, online application and application track system (ATS) software will cut your processing time and make it simple to instantly find the best resumes in your (digital) pile. Online applications allow you to specify fields that must be completed in order to turn in the application, guaranteeing that you get the information you need. ATS software allows you to automatically weed through resumes based on customizable keywords and similar controls. If you are not using software to help sort through your applicant pools, you need to start.

2. At Least Create Digital Responses

All right, small businesses and tight budget may make it difficult to move to a full ATS model – it’s okay. But you should still be using online tools to speed up the process. Create automated email responses that you can rapidly send out to promising applicants to ask for more information or set up an interview time (if you are not asking clients for an email address, something is wrong with your application process). Try to allow local applicants to send in their resumes via email as well – it’s easy to do and will save you both paper and time.

3. Create a Personal Keyword Filter

In you are looking at resumes and applications with old-fashioned eyeballs, then try to look beyond specific words and focus more on the application as a whole. Resume-builders are obsessed with keywords these days, and try to jam as many of these buzzwords as they can into a single page in order to hit all the “right” notes. Train your brain to look beyond all these customized phrases and see the general profile of the applicant, their experience and capabilities. It may be helpful to avoid reading too hard, especially when it comes to skill lists. Focus on the story of the applicant, not their keywords.

4. Divide the Pile

For old-fashioned resume reviewing, no resume should take you more than 10 to 20 seconds to make a decision about. Look at the resume/application, make a choice, and consign it to a pile. Typically a pile of “pursue these applicants” is sufficient. However, you may want to create a second, smaller pile of back-ups if all your go-to applicants prove to be unfit for the position. If you are working with email folders, create a folder for applicants that you can trust.

5. Explore the Most Likely Hires

In this case, explore does NOT mean emailing back and setting up a phone interview or personal talk. There is an important step you should take first – look them up online. Visit their LinkedIn profile (another sign of a good modern applicant) and take a look at any work or projects they have posted there. Social media searches may also reveal some important information. Even a Google search for an applicant name could turn up some useful bits of data you can utilize.

About Merritt Staffing

Founded in 1989, Merritt Staffing specializes in filling entry-level to middle-management positions in Westchester, Fairfield and New Haven counties. Our staffing and payroll services fill a variety of employment needs, including part-time, full-time, temporary staffing, temp-to-hire and direct-hire positions. See more at:

The Affordable Care Act and Temporary Staffing: What You Need To Know

October 30th, 2013

Major elements of the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — are set to be implemented very soon, causing many people in Connecticut and New York to ask exactly how the health reform law is likely to affect different parts of the labor market.

This far-reaching health reform is expected to affect the business world, and the temporary staffing market in particular, in various ways. Some experts believe that companies above a certain size will have difficulty with the requirement of insuring full-time employees. Some small and medium-sized businesses may cut hours, lay off employees, or raise prices to cover higher costs. Others may turn to temporary employees in order to stay below the ceiling of 50 salaried employees — the number at which the Affordable Care Act’s rules kick in. (Temporary and contract workers retained through a third-party staffing agency are considered employees of the staffing firm, which is responsible for dealing with the Affordable Care Act’s mandates.)

At Merritt Staffing, we’ll do our best to answer your questions as they apply to your own temporary staffing issues. In the meantime, here are a few questions we’ve heard in recent weeks about the Affordable Care Act, along with a brief explanation. The Affordable Care Act is pretty complex, but one of its goals is to make it easy to obtain healthcare coverage. Our answers below should be enough to get you started.

What is the Affordable Care Act?

The Affordable Care Act is the most sweeping health care legislation the United States has experienced in decades. Among its many requirements is that is that states must set up Health Insurance Exchanges to offer health insurance policies to those who don’t have them.

What are the Health Insurance Exchanges?

The Health Insurance Exchanges are state-specific online marketplaces where qualified individuals and small businesses can shop for subsidized insurance using side-by-side price-and-benefit comparisons. In Connecticut, the online exchange website is called Access Health CT; New York’s is called NY State of Health. Customers will also be able to access the exchanges using the phone, by mail and at certain locations in person.

When will the Affordable Care Act healthcare policies become available?

The exchanges opened in October 2013, but insurance purchased on the exchange doesn’t become effective until 2014. Open enrollment for 2014 ends on March 31, 2014.

In the meantime, certain parts of The Affordable Care Act have already become law. For example, your child can remain on your insurance until he or she turns 26 (even if they don’t live with you). There are some upcoming changes expected, including the fact that pre-existing health conditions can no longer cause you to be declined on individual health insurance.

What are the “tiers” of the exchange?

You may see up to four healthcare plan categories: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Each one offers a different premium level (the subscriber’s base cost) and a different actuarial value (the percentage of medical costs that are paid by the insurance company). Not every healthcare provider has to offer each tier of plan; however, all health insurance companies must offer at least one Silver plan and one Gold plan.

If I choose not to have insurance, what will my penalty be?

Unless you have a very low taxable income (classified as less than 133% of the federal poverty level), the penalty for not having insurance is charged when your taxes are due. The penalty level depends on your income and the number of people in your family. The penalty amounts get higher every year. Details can be found on Access Health CT and NY State of Health.

What are the tax credits and how do I get them?

Tax credits help lower the cost of healthcare premiums for low-income and middle-income individuals and families that make between 133% and 400% of the federal poverty level. These tax credits are only available for plans purchased through the Health Insurance Exchanges.

How much would I pay for insurance in the exchange?

Costs will depend on a number of factors. The best way to obtain detailed pricing is to evaluate the plans on the Health Insurance Exchanges.

What if I choose to go to use the exchange but my employer offers a health insurance plan?

You always have the right to decline your employer’s coverage and to purchase individual insurance on the exchange. If your employer offers group health coverage and the amount that you pay for your premium contribution is 9.5% or less than the amount listed on your Form W-2 (box 1), then you will not qualify for a subsidy or a premium tax credit.

Additional Information

While the Health Insurance Exchanges are great resources, Merritt Staffing is available to help our partners as well as our contract workers and temporary staffers navigate these uncharted waters. Feel free to call us or ask a question using our website form.

About Merritt Staffing

Founded in 1989, Merritt Staffing specializes in filling entry-level to middle-management positions in Westchester, Fairfield and New Haven counties. Our staffing and payroll services fill a variety of employment needs, including part-time, full-time, temporary staffing, temp-to-hire and direct-hire positions.

Support Innovation and New Ideas: Don’t Kill Them!

November 30th, 2012

When it comes to business trends and buzz-speak, “creativity” is one of the most discussed and least understood words in the modern world. It’s followed at a short distance by “innovation”. While self-described business experts love using these words and claiming to support a culture of spontaneity and ingenuity, the same experts tend to end their speeches by returning to their cubicled workscapes and actively smothering the creativity out of everything around them. There’s a reason for this; most business decision makers depend on the status quo for their security and success, and new ideas—brilliant, impractical, nascent, polished or raw– always represent a threat to the status quo.

So if you’re responsible for supporting business growth and encouraging a thriving culture of ideas, how can you balance that desire with the perfectly natural urge to curtail change and mitigate risk? How can you actually—not just superficially– support creativity and bring out the spark of unconventional genius in each of your employees? More to the point, how can you make sure aren’t crushing that spark every time it shows a sign of life?

Diversity is Powerful, and so is its Absence

Start by looking around your workplace. You should see people from every age group, and these people should represent both genders, multiple ethnicities, and every imaginable size, shape and back story. You may not be leading the United Nations, but the more your employees vary in background, the more they’ll learn from each other, which means the smarter they’ll be, and the stronger your company will become. If you see too much similarity, make some targeted changes to your staffing strategy.

Don’t Rush Things

There’s no faster way to kill new ideas than by forcing them. Be careful how you ration resources, especially time. Brilliant and risky ideas sometimes result from intense deadline pressure….but they usually don’t. Instead, unrealistic deadlines tend to produce assembly line ideas that look just like all the previous ones.

Regulate Product if you Want, But Not Process

Be flexible and allow employees to work in their own way. Just because you read a management article that says employees work best in teams, or in the morning, or when encouraged to compete, doesn’t mean it’s true. Some processes work well from some employees and not for others.

Most Important: Don’t Withhold Support

The best way to keep an employee from suggesting an idea (or even considering the idea in the first place) is to reflexively reject, deny, or ignore unsolicited suggestions. Especially in a public setting. The second best method involves taking the idea and putting it into action without providing appropriate credit or compensation. Give employees incentive to think outside the box, and when they do it, thank them and give them support, whether the idea has merit or not.

Reach out to the Connecticut staffing and business management experts at Merritt for more ways to encourage creativity in your workplace. We can help you remove obstacles to innovation and bring out the best in your team.

© Year Merritt Staffing. Site Credits.