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Training & Business Systems

How to Hire for Positive Bottom-Line Results

There may be industries out there where employee turnover isn’t a problem, but retailing certainly isn’t one of them. Finding, hiring and retaining good staff is one of the biggest challenges that retailers face, and many owners and managers get discouraged by how hard it is—regardless of the economy.  One of the most frustrating situations is hiring a new staff person, only to have them quit a month or two later. At that point we’ve usually invested a lot in terms of training but haven’t really gotten much back in terms of productivity—certainly a negative bottom-line impact.  Therefore, making improvements to our interviewing and hiring systems (and then making sure that our managers are trained in how to use those systems) is a very good bottom-line investment.

A good hiring system:

  1. Identifies candidates who are a good fit for a specific position and for the organization overall.
  2. Gives desirable candidates the information they need to decide that our organization is the place they want to work.
  3. Avoids the act (or appearance) of discrimination by following a consistent, legal process with all candidates.

Hiring the right people is really the first step in an effective training program. In fact, if done well, the interviewing and hiring process itself is an opportunity to start training prospective employees on the systems and cultures of our organizations, as well as a way to increase the likelihood that there is a good fit between the candidate’s skills (and personality) and the organization’s needs (and personality).

Here are three suggestions for ways to gather valuable information from job candidates while also educating them about the organization’s culture and systems.

Documented Job Descriptions and Candidate Profiles

It is impossible to determine whether someone is a good fit for a position if the qualifications and expectations for the position have not been defined and documented.  Therefore, developing a Job Description is the key first step in effective hiring. The more explicit you can be in defining the expectations for the job, the easier it will be for you (and for potential candidates) to determine how well a specific individual might meet those expectations.  If you have developed a training plan for the position, with documented expectations for what the new hire needs to know and be able to do over the first several weeks on the job, this is an excellent thing to share during the interview process as well.

Hire for Positive Bottom-Line Results

The Candidate Profile outlines the “ideal candidate” for the position.  As with any other project, documenting your vision of success in hiring increases the likelihood that you will be successful.  Taking the time to define the ideal candidate helps clarify what to look for on the application and in the interview, including success patterns in past work history and personal characteristics that are in line with the values of your organization.

An Application with Personality

Your application is often the first piece of “promotional material” about your organization that a job candidate encounters.  What message does it send? What information does it solicit? In addition to the usual information about past work experience, the Zingerman’s application asks a number of questions about service situations that the candidate has encountered in the past and how they were handled.  The answers to these questions provide a basis for further discussion in the interview and get our emphasis on customer service right out front.

We also incorporated Zingerman’s “look and feel” into our application—both when it was paper-based and now that it is online. We believe that our organizational culture is a selling point, and we want that culture to come across from the very beginning of a prospective employee’s interaction with us.  Your organization has key selling points as well. Does your application reflect them?

Interviews that Combine Assessment and Education

Obviously the #1 objective of an interview is to determine whether the candidate is a good fit for the job—and for the organization.  But we also want to sell our company, by providing insights into why our organization is a great place to work. An effective interview does both.

Zingerman's Approach to InterviewsWhen possible, replicate the working conditions in the interview.  The more realistic, the better. For example, if the job involves working in a noisy, crowded space it doesn’t really make sense to find a nice, quiet corner to conduct the interview.  We learned this from hiring a number of bookkeepers who had a hard time working in the cramped, bustling office space on the second floor of the Deli. Not that having a quiet, spacious office isn’t more conducive to accurate accounting work; it is, but we often don’t have that space to offer.  Better, we found, to get the issue right out front during the interview—which we now conduct at a table on the Deli floor.

Likewise, if the job involves coming in to work at 2:00AM for a delivery shift, it makes sense to hold the interview closer to midnight than to noon.  If the job involves a lot of work on the phone, be sure to conduct at least one interview over the phone. You get the idea.

An interview also provides a chance to model your organization’s management style and culture.  For example, if great customer service, timeliness and a friendly working environment are important parts of your culture, you’ll want to make sure to:

  • Start the interview right on time,
  • Come to the interview completely prepared, having read the candidate’s application and developed questions specifically for him/her,
  • Offer the candidate something to eat or drink,
  • Introduce the candidate to key prospective coworkers,
  • End the interview by letting the candidate know what will happen next—and when,
  • Follow-up within (or before) that timeframe.

I can’t emphasize the importance of this last point enough—timely follow-up.  The most attractive candidates are likely to be the ones who expect to hear back promptly—and who will have competing job offers.  All the work we do to sell our organization in the interview goes to waste when we don’t get back to candidates when we say we will.  Even if the only news is “we haven’t yet made a decision,” reach out and touch base. Not doing so sends the message that our organization is, at best, disorganized and, at worst, uncaring.

Is improving your interviewing and hiring systems really a good bottom-line investment?  Well, most managers say that they know within a few days whether a new hire is going to work out or not.  But they also say it’s usually at least two weeks (often up to a month) before they actually terminate the relationship.  OK. Forty hours a week, let’s say $10/hour including benefits. That’s $800 if they stay two weeks ($1,600 if they stay a month).  Not to mention the cost of management time, product waste, etc. So if you can improve your interviewing and hiring systems enough to avoid even two or three mis-hires a year (and chances are it will be more), there’s $1,600 – $4,800 that can go towards your bottom-line, instead of out the door with the terminated employees!


*This piece was originally published in Gourmet Retailer.