Hiring The 'I've Never Held a Job Before' Worker - Management
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Hiring The 'I've Never Held a Job Before' Worker

CED Magazine, October 2006

Article Date: 10-01-2006
Copyright (C) 2006 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

87 percent of hiring failures occur not because people can't do the job, but because they won't.

Seasoned interviewers know a candidate’s previous work achievements are the best indicators of future success. But how do you evaluate a worker who has never held a job?


That’s a vital question in an age of shrinking labor pools in which employers are often forced to fill positions with high school students and college graduates who are new to the world of work.


In a tight labor market, a rising economy lifts all resumes. Even so, employers face costly risks when hiring untested workers. The hard reality is that many of these individuals will come in late, perform poorly and treat customers shabbily.


In other words, they’ll have bad attitudes. And that’s the number one reason so many new hires end up being escorted off the premises after a few weeks on the job.


“The U.S. Department of Labor says 87 percent of all hiring failures occur not because people can’t do the job, but because they won’t,” says Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics, a Houston-based consultancy group that helps businesses hire the right people. “Attitude makes the difference between a successful employee and a workplace washout.”


Hiring the wrong person can be costly. Replacing individuals you’ve spent weeks training is just the first step in repairing the damage from a bad hire. You also have to win back angry customers who have abandoned your business for the competition.


“There are really two costs of a bad hire,” says Francis J. Friedman, president of the New York-based consulting firm, Time & Place Strategies. “The first is the cost of the hire itself, which often involves a significant amount of time spent selecting, checking references and training. The second can be greater: the opportunity cost of not hiring someone else who would have performed better and contributed to your profits.”


Following, five human resources consultants offer a road map to problem-free first-time hires.


Hire For Attitude    

When faced with inexperienced candidates, most interviewers try to assess verbal skill and personality. Tiffany, here, is articulate, friendly, and accommodating. She says she loves working with people. It follows that she will show initiative on the job, charm customers with her natural charisma, and merge with your team like a hand in glove. Right? Wrong.


“Verbal skills don’t magically develop into workplace skills,” says Kleiman. “Many people are articulate, friendly and outgoing. That’s wonderful. But you’re hiring employees, not friends.”


Hiring based on personality is gambling with the future of your business. Nothing tells you if Tiffany will be late for work, carries cocaine in her purse, will only perform duties specified in her job description, or will exhibit any of a host of headache-inducing attributes that give many first-time hires a bad reputation. A candidate can be an interview wizard but a workplace dud.


If you can’t assess Tiffany’s skills and should make the decision based on her personality, what can you do?


“Interview for attitude,” says Kleiman. “Before any of us get to our first job, we’ve developed attitudes that we carry around with us.”


Prior to making a job offer, assess the individual’s perspectives toward the world of work. Do they pitch in and help when the opportunity arises? Do they take a leadership position? Do they take pride in being on time? Do they go above and beyond the requirements of the position?


What’s the number one problem with first-time hires? Most employers would cite a lack of punctuality. Here’s advice from Kleiman on how to get an early reading on dependability.


 “Avoid ‘cattle calls’ in which all applicants are asked to drop by the office for interviews any time on a certain day,” he says. “Instead, specify appointment times with each candidate. Let them know you have nothing else scheduled for that time period. If people show up late, that tells you they don’t believe it’s important to be prompt or to be mindful of another person’s time.”


The initial interview can also be a tool for assessing how well applicants work with others. Kleiman suggests meeting with several candidates as a group. For the first 20 minutes or so, provide an overview of your business and the positions that are open. Stimulate interaction within the group by asking questions like, “Tell us the funniest thing that’s happened in your life,” or “What happened when you disagreed with someone recently?”


“Observe how the candidates listen to each other,” says Kleiman. “Who is paying attention rather than just thinking about themselves? Did someone try to show the others up? Was there a natural leader in the group?”              


Invite individuals who will supervise the new hire to observe the candidates.


When you identify the individuals with the characteristics you want, invite them back for more traditional one-on-one interviews.


Set The Stage           

Your goal as an interviewer is to get applicants to reveal their true selves. This can be difficult when applicants are so nervous they couldn’t give a good answer if their lives depended on it. You must set the candidate at ease before you can expect them to open up to you, says Mary Bresnahan, president of The Bresnahan Group, Wheaton, Ill.


“Invite the candidate to relax, and start with some small talk about the trip to the interview,” says Bresnahan. “Ask if they got lost along the way or if the directions were clear. Then you can move on to a general question about why they applied to your company.”


Some will know more about your business than others. That will tell you something about their awareness.


Finally, give some thought to the physical setting of the interview.


“Avoid sitting behind a desk,” says Bresnahan. “It looks like an inquisition. Try sitting near the person instead.”


When you appear relaxed, your partner in conversation will be encouraged to feel the same way.


“Like all of us, first-time job applicants have the need to feel worthy and accepted, and to feel competent in what they do,” says Fred Martels, president of People Solution Strategies, Chesterfield, Mo. “While the pay is important, people really want to know answers to questions such as: Am I going to fit in here? When I get there, who will show me where to hang up my coat? If I ask a question, will I sound dumb? What if I fail? For teen-agers, the worst thing in the world is to feel stupid. So treat them with respect, smile and look them in the eye.”


How about those candidates who arrive with a portfolio of polished but cagey responses to standard questions? Get ahead of the curve by telling them your real expectations. Let applicants know you expect them to tell the truth during the interview.


Watch for indications of a good hire as you chat with the candidate.


“Even with unskilled workers, you want to find out two things,” says Dr. Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting, East Greenwich, R.I. “The first is their level of enthusiasm: Are they excited about something? Maybe it’s a hobby, hard rock or basketball. The fact that they have passions about anything is a good sign that they can become motivated about the job once they know what it entails.


“Second, if they’ll be dealing with the public at all, they need to show communication skills. Do they establish eye contact when they speak? Do they comprehend your questions and respond to them in understandable English? And are they able to ask questions intelligently when they do not understand something?”


During the interview, watch body language to assess any sudden increase of nervousness that may indicate the person is not telling the truth. Examples of such behavior are: fidgeting, crossing and uncrossing the legs, and holding a hand over the mouth.


Ask Questions

What are the questions that reveal the truth about attitudes? Kleiman offers these examples:

  • Tell me about the first time you got paid for a job. While it’s true this applicant has never held down a job, the average young person spends $25 to $50 a week. Was that money given to him by his parents or did he earn it?
  • When you ask how the applicant earns money you may get answers such as “I babysat,” “I cut lawns,” or “I was paid for good grades.” You’re looking for evidence this person has developed good work habits and the resultant attitude that money must be earned.
  • Did you do chores at home? A detailed response will indicate the individual has developed the attitude that work responsibilities are important.
  • What is the hardest thing you ever did? or What is the hardest part-time or temporary job you’ve ever had?
  • Look for evidence the applicant has devoted great effort to some task or has done something to earn money. This will reflect good attitudes toward hard work and perseverance.
  • Define “being on time.” This may seem like a dumb question, but when you hear the answers you may change your mind. Watch for responses that devalue promptness. Here’s an example: “If I get in, like, an hour after I'm asked to arrive, I’ve been told I was doing okay.”
  • How many times have you been late to school in the last six months? The idea again is to assess attitudes toward punctuality.
  • Tell me about the worst trouble you’ve been in. You may hear a response such as “I went joy riding.” Express an interest in this response and repeat it back with another question. “That’s very interesting. You went joy riding. Is that the worst trouble you’ve ever been in?” The idea here is to uncover details about actions that reflect attitudes of dishonesty or undependability.
  • Tell me about your school experience. What courses did you like and dislike? The courses are less important than the candidate’s attitude toward school, which represents work. You’re looking for individuals who took schooling seriously.
  • Have you ever had a situation in which you were asked to do something that wasn’t right? What did you do? This reveals attitudes toward honesty and fair dealing with others.
  • Have you ever planned a party? What was your role? Ask questions such as this to elicit information about the individual’s attitude toward taking responsibility.
  • I’d like the names and numbers of several of your teachers. When I call them what will they tell me about you? Ask the same thing about their friends and parents. These questions reveal attitudes that would otherwise remain hidden.
Applicants realize it’s better for them to reveal information than for you to hear it from a third party. You may hear, “My teacher may tell you I was usually late handing in assignments.” Following the interview, call. They are great sources of information about the applicant’s attitudes.


These questions will take the lid off hidden problems with first-time job applicants. Notice the lack of hypothetical questions such as “Suppose you were asked to organize a filing system for incoming mail. What would you do?” Such questions too often only elicit answers the applicant feels you want to hear. Situational questions, in contrast, uncover how the applicant has responded to actual incidents.


Communicate Expectations

At the end of the interview, tell applicants what you expect of them should they be hired. Since these people have never held a job, take nothing for granted concerning their work habits.


“Start by explaining your work rules,” says Kleiman. “They must arrive on time. They must be willing to do more than what’s in their job description. They must show initiative in helping customers. Give the reasons you hire and fire individuals.”


Equally important, says Friedman, is letting a candidate know there is room for advancement for individuals who perform well.


 “These kids are in a hurry and have unreasonable expectations of becoming chairman and driving a Mercedes,” he says. “They have not yet learned about time and patience. Establish a career path to move them long more quickly.”


For example, let them know that in six months, they’ll receive a modest pay increase if their performance is good.


By communicating your expectations, you have laid out the ground rules for success. The prospect is on notice that if a hiring decision is made, honest dealings and hard work are required to keep the job.

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Article Categories:  Human Resources  »  Management