Friday, April 04, 2008

Hiring the Best Employee

In the last couple of posts I talked about hiring your first employee and the reality of firing employees.

But the most important thing you need to do on a regular basis is to try to find good employees.

If you haven't looked at Ken Thoresen's stuff (Acumen Management), you might consider it. Ken's another one of those people who you see at various conferences.

Ken's overriding theme is that you're looking for the Best employee you can find, not the best available.

Getting there is easier said than done.

I talk to a lot of people in our business who are ready to grow, but can't find good technicians. Believe me, we're in the same boat.

Right now we have a gaggle of excellent technicians. Basically, it's because we hired good people, we trained them to do things our way, and we try to take care of them.

Finding Good People

Unfortunately, getting the right people is just like everything else: you have to work at it. The chances that your perfect candidate will walk in the door tomorrow, fall in love with your company, and be willing to start at $15/hr are . . . almost zero.

So, like everything else, you need a process. Here's what we do in a bit of a nutshell:

1) Define the Role. That means in writing. What will this person do? What skills will he need?

2) Post an Ad and Gather Resumes. Gulp. Be prepared to be overwhelmed.

3) Do a quick sort (High) (Maybe) (No) (Not Qualified)

4) From the Highly qualified candidates, do a 60 second phone call. This is a super quick smell test.

5) If they pass the smell test, schedule Interview One.

6) Interview One by a manager. Fill out eval form.

7) Interview Two by 2-3 technicians. Fill out eval form.

8) Lunch with a candidate and a handful of techs.

9) Send candidate away with a homework assignment (answer a technical question by email).

10) Compare eval forms and agree on scoring for the candidate.

11) After all interviews, discuss highest scoring candidates and agree to make an offer.

12) If you can't make a decision, bring candidates in for a second round of interviews.



Define the Role is very serious stuff. You need to write down and agree on the duties this person will have. "Be a good tech" doesn't count. Will they work on servers or just desktops? In the office or at client sites? What kind of skill levels do you need?

Defining the position will also help you create your evaluation criteria. For example, how do they handle stress? If that's important, then handling stress needs to be on your job description, in your ad, and on your evaluation form.

There's no harm in being completely transparent about what you want. It's not a game. This is your business.

Your criteria should focus on a lot more than technology. Technology changes and can be taught. Is the person organized, clean, easy to get along with? One of our big questions is, would this be a good fit for our team?

Post the Job Description

Here's our most recent:

Tech Support--MS Certified

We are looking for a Microsoft Certified Professional with field experience.
Ideally the candidate will also have hands-on experience with SBS 2003 and customer service.

Please send your resume to [email protected].

Tech Support--MS Certified

Position: Tech Support--MS Certified
Location: US-CA-Sacramento
Job ID: T13

Employment: Hourly - W2 - Part to Full Time
Compensation: Starts at $18/hr. Will go up with experience and specific certifications.

Tech Support -- MS Certified in Sacramento, CA

We are looking for an *experienced* and *certified* Windows Technician
to support clients in the following areas:

First Priority:
Certification. Please do not apply if you do not have at least one current Microsoft Exam.
Windows 2003/2000/NT experience
MS Office experience
Networks (TCP)
Desktop Support (general)

Second Priority:
MS Small Business Server
Internet Connections/Router configuration
Windows IIS
Exchange Server
Backup Software (major brands/practices)

Other helpful skills:
Familiar with MS Technet
Familiar with general networking practices
Knowledge of LAN and WAN Topologies
Experience with IP Protocols
Windows Domain Experience
Knowledge of Routers
Comfortable working in a fast paced tech service environment.
Comfortable being point of contact for clients.

Major benefits:
Experience with Zenith Infotech
Experience with Autotask
This is a support technician position. Most work involves
troubleshooting, installation of hardware, software, and network
connections. Ideal candidate will have good communication
skills and some technical skills with Windows 2003, 2000, and SBS.

Special Notes:
Certification is required for this position. Microsoft
Certified Professional. You must be willing to associate your
MCP ID with our Microsoft Partner ID.

We place a strong emphasis on Top Quality, Experience, and
Customer Service. When you work for us, we pay for any
Microsoft Certification exams you pass!

A clean DMV report is required.

Bottom Line:
We are looking for a Certified Technician who is willing to
learn *our* way of providing top-quality customer support. You
will learn great trouble-shooting skills and be exposed to a
wide variety of network setup and internet operations.
This position is in Sacramento.

To apply for this job, send Resume and cover letter to
[email protected].

Note: If you want to piss people off and get a lot of hate mail in your jobs mailbox, tell them to read this post before sending their resume: (Guidelines to Make Sure I Throw Away Your Resume As Quickly As Possible).

Our Interview Process is a direct result of Ken's influence.

The first thing you notice is . . . It takes time. OMG. We're talking 2-3 hours per candidate. Plus the cost of lunch. It's a bit grueling for the candidate, but about half way through they begin to relax.

Candidates get to hear us make smart-mouth comments to each other. They hear the banter in the office. The buzz of the phones. They let their guard down and show a bit of their own personality.

The first interview has a list of questions that must be asked. That gives us a baseline for all candidates. The second interview is more free-flowing. All questions are asked from a standard bank of questions, but may not be the same for all candidates.

Lunch is key because people really let their hair down. They know they're still "on" but can't help relaxing. The conversation might be about all kinds of things not related to work. Oh, you have an electronics hobby? What? You have the largest porn library in the Americas?

We don't have an agenda for lunch, but we pay attention. The key question at this point is: Would this person fit with our team?

Homework consists of a technical question. Not too difficult, but definitely not entry level. The goal here is to get them to respond, and to see how they communicate with the written word. Very often, typed communication (in email or our PSA system) is all we have.

Scoring is pretty simple. Everyone on our staff goes into the interviews with a scorecard and a list of questions. After the candidate leaves we compare our scores and discuss differences.

There are very few differences. It's pretty amazing.

But once in awhile we have a disparity that we need to discuss.

We all need to be comfortable making an offer.


Cut Your Losses

Do not be shy about stopping this process at any point. If a candidate shows up for an interview in an emergency orange tank top and lederhosen, tell him to go home and send the technicians back to work.

Seriously, if you know you just won't hire this person -- for any reason -- just cut it short. You don't have to do lunch. You don't have to do the second interview.

There will be times when you go through all this and do not have home run winner.

Do not hire anyone who is not spectacular.

That means you have to start the whole process over.

I'm sorry.

It happens.

But if you hire the wrong person, it can have long-lasting negative consequences.

Once hired, you're going to invest a great deal of time and money in training. It takes a lot to come up to speed on YOUR way of doing things.

If you hire someone who has jumped over all these hurdles, the chances that they'll work out is very good.

But if you hire someone who isn't just right, it could be trouble (expensive trouble).


  1. Anonymous4:27 PM

    Great post. You provided a lot of useful information. Thank you.

  2. Karl,

    If I'm an exceptional employee then I'm probably going to skip your ad. 1. You haven't told me anything about your company. 2. You haven't sold me on the idea of working for a small company. Why, as an exceptional employee do I need to know this? I can make more money working for a big company so I need to know why working for you is going to be worth my while. An exceptional employee won't waste time going to an interview to find out whether they should work for you or not. The ad needs to sell as much as it needs to define the job.

    I think that it's much more important for a small company to sell themselves to potential employees. We're looking for special people that are seeking something they can't get being a drone in the enterprise.

    Final comment: The most imporant part of my hiring process is the "come work for me for a day". The potential employee comes and works for a day and we pay them $20an hour to take the day off from their currnet job. The application, me, my staff and clients get to meet the new person and weigh-in an opinion.

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    I do have to say: This process has produced excellent employees. The only person we've hired through this process who isn't with us any more had stayed for more than a year and left after completing his master's degree to take a different job.

    Every time we have ignored this process, we've had problems.

    That ad generally gets me about 130-200 resumes.

    I do like the idea of selling our company. But we don't have a problem finding excellent people, and I'm not really interested in attracting drones from large enterprises. The only time they're a fit is after they've already decided that they prefer a small company.

    I like the "come work for me for a day" idea, but how do you pick people for that? Do you simply do that for each of the final three candidates?


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