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How to Spot Someone’s Strengths and Place Them in the Right Role

March 8th, 2019

Here’s a common scenario: You’ve received an application for an open position. But as you study the resume and speak to the candidate in an interview setting, a few realities become clear. The candidate is not perfectly suited for the open position at hand, but you aren’t quite ready to turn her away altogether. In fact, she seems very well suited for another role on the same team, or maybe a similar role in a different part of the company. What should you do next? You don’t want to lose her, but you’re obligated to choose someone else for the position on which her sights are set. Here’s how to move forward in a way that allows both of you to get what you need.

Be clear and honest about your intentions.

Usually when you have good news and bad news, you deliver the bad news first. But in this case, turn it around. Explain clearly to the candidate what you’re trying to do (direct her attention to another position) and explain why (you sense she has the skills and background to succeed in the alternative role). Then the bad news: The job she applied for isn’t a perfect fit. Of course, she’ll have questions about the reasoning behind both decisions, so answer as much as policy and diplomacy allow, but focus more on her fitness for the second job, and less on her shortcomings for the first one.

Find evidence for your hunches.

If you think your marketing candidate might actually be great at customer service, follow up to find out if you’re right. Has she had any relevant yet non-work-related experience? Might she enjoy interacting with customers and helping them solve problems? How well does she respond to conflict and pressure? Essentially, you’re interviewing her for a job she’s never had and never asked for, so you’ll need to ask clear questions about her aptitude, general work ethic, career goals and personality.

If the job represents a demotion, sell it.

If your candidate applied for a senior-level job, but he simply isn’t ready for the senior level and you’d like to place him at the entry level instead, you’ll have to pitch your vision. Tell him what’s in it for him and why this might be a smart move for his career. Don’t emphasize the fact he’s overconfident and underqualified—let that go. Just focus on how your company can help him build his skills and be clear about the perks and benefits you have to offer.

For more on how to shift your candidates (or current employees) away from one career track and toward another, talk to the management experts at Merritt.

When Hiring, Listen to Your Team

February 8th, 2019

When you’ve moved into the advanced stages of the hiring process and you’ve narrowed a wide pool of resumes down to a few final interviewees, you’ll be relying on several factors to make your ultimate decision, for example, your gut instincts, your background checks, and your reference checks. But as you review data from all these sources, be sure to keep one more important resource in mind: your existing teams. Here are some of the reasons why your team’s input can mean the difference between a brilliant new asset and a hiring mistake.

Your teams have an existing culture and social fabric.

Maybe you have a nice blend of introverts and extroverts on your team, and everyone benefits if you maintain that balance. Maybe your team is made up of cheerful collaborators, cool but efficient loners, friendly competitors, or long-time teammates with an oddball sense of humor. Will the new employee find a place here? Will their social contributions be appreciated? The best way to find out is by simply introducing them and then asking your team for feedback.

What does the team really need?

Maybe the departing employee that you’re working to replace had a specific skill set or talent that held the team together. Maybe this necessary skill is essential to team success. Maybe if you hire someone who excels in plenty of other areas, that won’t help much, since this one missing skill set is the one that’s most needed. What is that skill set? Ask your team and find out.

Some traits may spell trouble.

Maybe your new hire is an efficient number cruncher, but a little arrogant in a way that ruffles feathers and causes resentment. Maybe your new employee is humble and likable but disorganized in a way that can derail project goals. Maybe your new hire brings some toxic energy to the room that your team finds especially difficult to deal with. Or maybe the new person is identical to everyone else to a degree that they bring no new energy or fresh air to the group. Your teams can provide insight into this possibility.

Several heads are better than one.

One person making a decision alone (you) may be subject to certain biases or blind to certain red flags. But if you bring others in and encourage them to weigh in on the candidate, they can spot things that you may have missed, or dismiss concerns that you may be taking too seriously. Group input can keep you from hiring the wrong person, or just as bad, letting a great candidate get away.

For more on how to leverage the insight and opinions of your team, contact the staffing pros at Merritt.

Is Your Team Burned Out?

January 11th, 2019

When you look out over your workplace at 10:00 am on a Tuesday, or 2:00 pm on a Thursday, what do you see and hear? Lively expressions, quiet busy chatter, and calm, direct, friendly interactions? Or the opposite: hissing complaints, dejected expressions, and grim silence? Do your teams respond to unexpected challenges with excitement or exhaustion? Are they cheerful or irritable? If you’re in the throes of a bleak, cold January and your teams are struggling just to make it into work and survive the day, you’re probably facing a mild epidemic of burnout. The signs may be right in front of you: short tempers, distraction, and disengagement. But fortunately, solutions are available. Start with these.

If you can’t give them a day off, give them a break.

Sometimes the best help is just a sign of empathy or recognition. Saying “I know you’re busy” before assigning a project doesn’t change the demands of the project… but it can help your employee shift her priorities around, so this project stays at the top of the list. Otherwise, it may slip down or off the page altogether. Just trying to read the room and show your human side can make you a better boss, which can support a team of better employees.

Set an example.

If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, your mood and attitude will be contagious. But if you’re gliding through the day and even genuinely enjoying your work and the company of your coworkers, that can be contagious too. If your employees don’t know exactly how to manage their busy schedules, show them. If they overthink one project and neglect another, show them what efficient balance looks like. Be the person you want them to be, especially when the going gets rough and the demands pile up.

Reassign projects appropriately.

Keep a close eye on who’s doing what, and make sure the work is evenly, appropriately, and fairly handed out. Of course, you’ll have to factor skill sets into account, but once you’ve done that, make sure everybody is pulling his or her weight. If that’s not happening, take work off one busy person’s plate and hand it to someone else with a little more available breathing room. Don’t wait for the busy person to ask.

Add some fun to the atmosphere.

Groups of people can accomplish extraordinary things when they feel a bond of togetherness and trust. But that only happens when they have opportunities to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Encourage humor and connection by bringing in food your teams can eat together, or by promoting friendly competitions, Friday happy hours, and fun interactions during or after the workday. Again, don’t wait to be asked. As soon as you recognize a need, act.

For more on spotting and preventing harmful burnout, turn to the staffing experts at Merritt.

Motivating a Lazy Employee

December 28th, 2018

It takes all kinds of personalities to build a successful team. Every person who reports to you comes with a collection of human quirks, talents, strengths, weaknesses and curious tendencies, and as a manager, you’ve learned to embrace this reality and work with people as they are, not as you wish they were. This being the case, there’s one member of your team who presents your current challenge: Lazybones Jones, who comes in a bit late, leaves a bit early, and cuts corners at every opportunity. How can you motivate them to embrace the task at hand just a little more energetically? Here are a few tips.

Think carefully about the person before you plan your approach.

Almost no human management challenge brings a one-size-fits-all solution. Before you choose a course of action, you’ll need to think carefully about your employee and consider what drivers apply to them. Do they work for money? Are they hoping for a promotion in title or status? Do they have a long-term goal (even one that extends beyond this office)? Are they sensitive to the approval or scorn of others? What do they find fun or boring? Don’t go in blind; think, then act.

Remember that they aren’t you.

You might find the disapproval of a boss unbearable, and maybe you would do anything to avoid it. But it’s possible LJ won’t care about your disapproval at all. It’s also possible they’ll find it so devastating they seek work elsewhere. Prepare for the unexpected.

Be specific.

As you pull LJ aside and explain the behavioral change you’d like to see, be specific. Don’t just say “You’re not pulling your weight.” Instead, explain exactly what “pulling your weight” means, and apply a metric that’s measurable. Say “I’d like to see you closing five more calls per hour by the end of the week”, or “I’d like you to file ten more forms per day by March 1.”

Choose carrot, stick, or both.

What if LJ meets your demands? What if they don’t? As you frame your expectations in specific, measurable terms, do the same with the consequences of compliance or non-compliance. Make sure compliance comes with a reward and non-compliance comes with a consequence. Examples include written warnings, monetary raises, additional tasks or changes in status. Make sure LJ understands the agreement and accepts the terms.

Maintain perspective

Remember that “laziness” is in the eye of the beholder (one company’s definition of lazy may look like industry in another). A bit of “laziness” may not be a deal breaker. If the employee brings other valuable talents or gifts to the table, think twice before risking this relationship over a few late mornings. And vice versa: cracking down might solve an expensive problem.

For more management tips that can keep your team on track, contact the experts at Merritt.

Dealing With Dramatic Employees

November 9th, 2018

Let’s face it: A modern office with grey upholstery and windows that overlook a parking lot just isn’t a very interesting place. Polite conversation, strained laughter, plastic coffee stirrers and repetitive tasks just don’t have much Oscar-winning movie potential. And when confined to such spaces day after day, many of us find new outlets for our emotions. If you’ve ever turned into an Olympic sprinter upon hearing news of free cake in the break room, you understand this phenomenon. And if you’ve ever felt like screaming at your desk for no reason … we understand. Some people manage these feelings more easily than others. Here’s how to deal with workers who channel their in-office emotions inappropriately or excessively —the employees we call “dramatic.”

First, judge not.

Dramatic employees are not stupid, crazy or undisciplined. We ALL feel this way when we’re placed in conducive circumstances. So, remember: The circumstances are the problem, not the person. If we decided to throw all “dramatic” employees out the door, none of us would be spared, including you. Treat others the way you would want to be treated should you find yourself in their shoes, which you eventually might.

Recognize that conflict is rarely what it seems.

Steve is extremely, unreasonably upset because Karen ate his lunch, or because Sally spoke rudely to him during a meeting, or because he thinks Amed has a secret he isn’t sharing. Before you discount Steve’s concerns, recognize this probably isn’t just about the stolen lunch. If Steve and Karen have a simmering, unspoken conflict, address the conflict, not the lunch.

People cry at work. Deal with it.

In some imaginary distant era, “professionalism” meant keeping a cool head, and keeping cool head—for some reason—absolutely precluded workplace tears. Workplace yelling may have been okay sometimes, and workplace swearing had its place, but crying was absolutely, positively, never, ever acceptable in a professional venue. Such a cultural requirement is not only impossible, it’s ridiculous. People cry. They cry at work. Let them. Accept this perfectly normal form of human expression and make sure others do as well. Occasional tears are part of healthy and functional human interaction. Keep tissues available around the office.

Maintain a culture of perspective

It feels terrible to lose an account because of a mistake, or to have a proposal rejected after weeks of work. It’s terrible to endure a botched roll-out or a product that flops. But these things happen. It’s how you bounce back—as a person and as a team—that defines your success. A climate in which “failure is not an option” breeds excessive, toxic and unnecessary drama. If you don’t want a workplace in which employees claw at each other, scream, lie, swear, hide, hold grudges or throw tantrums, don’t build rigidity into your culture. Place perspective, teamwork and learning above a relentless focus on success metrics that fall outside of your control.

For more, contact the management and career development experts at Merritt.

Are You a Bad Boss?

October 19th, 2018

You’ve finally reached the management stage of your career, a level at which you hold sway over the positions, responsibilities, paychecks and expectations of other people. You’re a leader now, which is to say, a boss. But are you a good boss? Are you effective? Are you respected? Are you liked?

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you evaluate your leadership skills and look for areas where your management style could use a little work.

First, don’t coast.

Bad bosses usually don’t KNOW they’re bad bosses. And even when they do, they rarely choose to become bad bosses on purpose. Nobody does that. When you’ve earned the respect, trust and appreciation of your team, they tend to make this clear. If you haven’t, your employees aren’t likely to tell you anything at all. There are no billboards to inform you when you’re going down the wrong road. So, as you conduct your self-assessment, be brutally honest. Don’t assume little birds will bring the news; be brave and seek it out.

Give your employees a chance to speak their minds.

If you ask a subordinate, point blank, if they like and respect you, you won’t get an honest answer. But if you let your employees know you’re open to both general and project-specific feedback, you follow through on that by receiving the feedback gratefully and acting on it directly, you’ll get better results, more honesty and more helpful information.

Don’t make people share twice.

Here’s a habit we often employ when we face painful corrections, hard advice or negative feedback: we ask twice. We say, “Am I doing this wrong?” and when we get an affirmative answer, we ask again until we get the answer we’d rather hear. Don’t do this. If you’re told—even subtly—that your directions are unclear, your demeanor is ineffective, your jokes aren’t funny, your example isn’t inspiring or your work ethic could be improved, don’t respond by asking again. Just swallow that bitter pill and get to work on fixing the problem.

Be the person you want your employees to be.

If you want them to stay late, stay late and come in early. If you want them to care more about bigger-picture project outcomes, show you care about these outcomes more than anyone. If you want them to edit their emails carefully until they contain no typos, don’t send out emails with typos. If you want them to take safety rules seriously, make sure they see you doing the same. Don’t set standards that you don’t personally intend to meet. This includes everything from communication to organization to general engagement and professional behavior.

For more on how to set an example and earn the respect of your teams, contact the management experts at Merritt.

Leadership Traits Your Talent Needs

September 14th, 2018

Think only upper-level management candidates need leadership skills to succeed in your workplace? Think again. Ideally, every candidate for every job should recognize there’s a time to lead AND a time to follow, and that both actions require certain skills. Excellent candidates know how to read a situation and respond with either purposeful leadership or purposeful compliance, depending on the needs of the moment. And when the moment calls for leadership, the best candidates—even at the most junior level—know how to rise to the occasion. Here are a few of the leadership traits that are always valuable, no matter the role.

Situational awareness.

Does your candidate sit still and wait patiently until he’s told exactly what to do by whomever he perceives as an authority figure? That’s probably a bad sign. Not only does it suggest a decision-making blind spot, it also suggests the candidate may do a poor job of assessing authority. Highly passive people tend to follow orders without considering the actual role of the person giving it. Choose candidates who understand how the chain of command works and won’t blindly yield to the loudest person in the room.

Can your candidate spot a problem and take steps to fix it?

If your candidate witnesses a leaky pipe, a team miscommunication, a toxic relationship between two other team members or a mathematical error in a budget, how do they respond? Do they decide it isn’t their problem? Or do they make note of it, look for a solution, speak out, speak up, and get the issue addressed? Choose the candidate who will get answers and take action, even if they don’t immediately know what to do or how to do it.

Can your candidate say no?

There’s a time for yes and a time for no, and your candidate should be able to exercise each option under the appropriate circumstances. A doormat candidate will eventually feel resentful and bitter, and all employees need to take a share of responsibility for their own boundaries, schedules and limitations. If your candidate is asked to do something incorrect, unethical, harmful to their own well-being, harmful to the company, or harmful to customers or community members, will they have the strength to say no? Or can they ask directly for the resources and support they need? If so, consider this a plus.

Can your candidate say yes?

On the other end of the scale, can your candidate put others first when necessary? Can they move outside of their comfort zone when asked to stay late, make a difficult decision, stand in front of a group to speak, deliver painful news to someone, or put the needs and comfort of direct reports ahead of their own?

For more on how to choose a leader—even for a nonleadership role—turn to the hiring pros at Merritt.

Hiring For Adaptability

August 3rd, 2018

You want a candidate who can demonstrate the technical skills and work ethic that your open position will require, and of course you want a candidate who believes in your product or service and who can represent your company to potential customers. But you also need a candidate who can stand out in one specific area: adaptability.

Why choose an adaptable candidate? Because not every company culture can be custom tailored to match the kind of social fabric that your new employee may be used to. Not every path can be made perfectly smooth for him or her during transitions or training. Not every instruction will make perfect sense, and not every plan or project can be perfectly organized. Sometimes your employee will face the unexpected, be asked to change course at a moment’s notice, or be asked to find common ground with people and personalities he finds unfamiliar. If he can adapt and stay flexible, he’ll thrive. If not, he’ll drag the organization down. Keep these considerations in mind during the hiring process.

Has your employee “seen the world”?

If your candidate can tell you about some adventures, previous jobs, travel, mistakes, or challenges she’s faced in the past, both inside and outside of work, that’s a good sign. If your candidate has never veered (or been pushed) from a narrow path that winds from high school to college to internship to office cubicle, without a single misstep, plot twist, or interesting personal decision, beware.

How does your candidate handle stress?

If you can’t see for yourself, just ask. Interviews are stressful, so if your candidate is clearly brimming with nervous energy and yet handling herself with poise and composure, that’s great. If you see a bead of sweat or a shaky hand and that hand belongs to a candidate who can still think before she speaks, put that in the plus column. If you can’t read any stress in her non-verbal gestures, just ask. Ask her to describe a time in the past when she felt overwhelmed, pulled in multiple directions, or pressured to show flexibility. Ask what happened and how the story played out.

Ask how her own standards differ from those she applies to others.

A highly flexible and adaptable candidate can switch gears on a moment’s notice, but she also knows how to respond to confusing or rigid behavior from other people. If she can show up on time, even when the meeting venue changes at the last minute, that’s good. If she can forgive and work around others who show up a minute late, that’s even better.

For more on how to assess and identify adaptability in your top candidates, contact the staffing experts at Merritt.

Retain Top Financial Employees

June 8th, 2018

Like anyone else on your team, financial and accounting employees are likely to respond to common sense retention efforts; to keep them, you’ll need to respect their skills, respect their time, and pay them competitively. Chances are, your management experience has already shown you the benefits of these basic positive approaches to staffing and employee development. But retention is like an onion, and peeling away each layer tends to reveal more layers underneath. Yes, you need to treat your employees well…but how? And yes, you need to pay them, but what about your budget? Here are a few secondary thoughts that can support your larger goals.

Compensation is more that just salary.

Financial and accounting pros already know this, and you should too. If you can’t afford to compete with similar firms in your area, try adjusting your compensation package to add more benefits and perks. Reexamine your health plan provider, offer flexible hours, provide tuition support for employees who want to further their educations, add an on-site childcare facility, add a cafeteria, compensate commuters, and do whatever it takes to make your meager or average salaries add up to more overall by the year’s end.

Culture goes a long, long way.

Changing your culture might not be as hard or cost as much as you think. But keep one thing in mind: studies show that even underpaid employees with difficult and dangerous jobs will go the extra mile (and stay the extra year) for a company that feels like family. A friendly, welcoming, respectful, flexible culture can mean the difference between keeping a talented hire for a decade and saying goodbye to them within six months. Smart, experienced financial pros won’t put up with a toxic culture, nor should they.

Prepare to counteroffer.

If you really like your employee and you often find yourself saying “I don’t know what we’d do without her”, get ready for the day she resigns. It can and will happen eventually, so prepare for the day by setting up a system of operations that doesn’t depend entirely on her unique contributions. And in the meantime, keep a rough counteroffer estimate on your back burner. The day she shares her plans to leave, swoop quickly into action.

Listen and respond.

When top financial employees need something, accommodate them. And keep in mind that top employees rarely “complain”. Instead, they hint, react, and suggest. Don’t wait for your employee to storm into your office and demand more flexible hours or a lighter workload—That won’t happen. Instead, he’ll accept assignments with slightly less enthusiasm (he might say “I’ll see what I can do” instead of “Sure thing, boss!”) Listen for the signs, and be proactive. If you think it’s time to offer support, start a conversation and ask.

For more on how to retain your most talented contributors, reach out to the team at Merritt.

Recruit Hard-to-Find Top Talent

May 11th, 2018

To find the very best talent available, especially for a hard-to-staff position, you’ll have to do more than just cast a net and hope for the best. Most of your competitors will follow a straightforward path; they’ll publish a job post in a high traffic area, collect applications, and interview the best candidates from this initial pool…but that’s not exactly going the extra mile. And if you expect candidates who will pull out all the stops for your company, you’ll need to pull out all the stops first in order to find and attract them. Set yourself apart from the competition by making these extra moves.

First, research.

Carpenters measure twice so they can cut once, and your recruiting efforts should follow the same pattern. Before you begin drafting your post, conduct some research on your target audience, and set your sights high. Don’t just approach all new university graduates in a tri-state radius; instead, target relevant programs and majors, and seek candidates with specific certifications and areas of experience. Your research will tell you which ones.

Second, shape your message.

Once you’ve identified the population you’d like to target in your recruiting efforts, determine the kinds of motivations that are likely to attract and inspire this population. Do your target candidates want to make a difference in the world? Are they interested in money? Are they curious, ambitious, and driven? What will make them choose you over anther employer?

Third, partner with a pro.

Turn to an experienced recruiting firm to help you pick up on subtle signals and moves that you might otherwise miss, the moves that could mean the difference between attracting the best candidates and driving them away. Experienced, industry-specific recruiters know exactly what your target employees are looking for, and they know how to ask the right questions, conduct appropriate screening, and negotiate with these candidates in order to bring them on board. If you aren’t working with a recruiter already, consider adding this extra element of support to your staffing strategy.

When you spot top candidates, don’t let them get away.

Playing hardball with excellent candidates can undermine an otherwise promising approach. Once you have their attention, ask plenty of questions so you can understand what they need and want from their careers. And then quell the impulse to nickel-and-dime them into the arms of your competitors. Over the long term, it’s wise to pay a little more for a top candidate who will come on board, commit, and stay. While you’re at it, let go of perfectionism. Instead of engaging in a year-long search for a candidate who offers everything, prioritize your requirements and set your sights on the candidate who can offer most—if not all—of what you need.

For more on how to recruit and hire like a seasoned expert, turn to the New Haven County staffing team at Merritt.

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