Let’s Make a $60,000 Decision in Twenty Minutes

My daughter, Erin, is about to graduate with a master’s degree in student personnel administration. She applied for a job at a Midwest university that will pay about $45,000 per year. With benefits and so on, it will probably cost the taxpayers in that state $60,000. If she remains in the position for three years, those making the selection are making a $200,000 decision. Yet her initial interview lasted just 20 minutes. If she clears that round, she was told, she will be invited to campus for a round of in-person interviews. She’s wondering if the position is worth pursuing, if she’s offered the campus visit.

Even at twenty-four and in her first real job search, Erin has begun to critique the employer process. Why would they make decisions on who to invite to campus based on twenty-minute telephone interviews? How can the screeners possibly obtain the insights they need to make an informed decision in an interview that short? Is it worth a three-day commitment on her part, to drive down and back for the campus visit? If this is how they make the typical decision, it this an organization where she can thrive? What would you do?

I’ve been teaching employers how to hire people for more than 30 years. I’ve written five books and hundreds of articles on the topic. It still makes my head spin with the way some of those making selections screen applicants. If this process sounds like yours, STOP IT! Employee selection is one of the most important tasks in any organization. If you know of people doing this, let me know. I’d love to help them.

Parents – Let them Go!

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal explained the phenomenon of “Bring Your Parents to Work Day,” in which employees’ parents spend the day wandering around the office watching their offspring and colleagues write memos, answer e-mails and the other tasks required of their jobs. The enthusiasm for this, of course, is not shared by everyone. “It’s almost like we’re in a zoo and we’re the animals,” says one employee.

Our neighbor’s only child graduated from engineering school two years ago and took a job on the other side of the country. For the past two years, his mother has been traveling once per month to visit with him for a week at a time. She claims he’s always delighted to see her. Hmmmm…

Much has been made over the past decade about parents showing up to their kids’ job interviews and calling bosses when their children express unhappiness or frustration about the job. Most of this conversation has centered on why these “kids” won’t grow up. But let’s face it – Parents are complicit in, if not largely responsible for, this conundrum.

When I entered college in the seventies, my parents dropped me off and said, “See you at Thanksgiving.” My wife’s brother dropped her off and said, “Have a nice life.” Now, I’m not suggesting we return to an era of “sink or swim.” But can’t we find a middle ground?

The employers I speak with every week express frustration with their emerging employees’ inability or unwillingness to work independently and reason through the daily decisions learned through trial and error. While menu-driven technology has played a role in this phenomenon, many of these young people have not been compelled to develop problem-solving skills until they reach full-time employment. Sure, they have the content knowledge and understand what work outcomes are supposed to look like. But that’s very different from pulling the trigger on a decision and living with the consequences.

So, what’s my advice for hiring these individuals?

  • Do a better job of selection. Interviews and personality assessments can offer some good insights into how an employee might relate to others on the job. But there is nothing like placing applicants in a simulated work environment for a few hours to see how well they think and perform. More work for you? Yes. But hey, you’re making a decision worth tens of thousands of dollars. Invest the time. You may still hire those who struggle in the simulation, but at least you’ll know where their strengths and limitations are up front.
  • Provide them with a pre-start orientation. Rather than drowning them in minutiae during the first couple of days, send them a ten-minute video with lots of the little details they will need to know. “This is where we enter the building. This is where we park. This is how our ID badges work. Here are the basics on smart phone etiquette. This is where we eat lunch. This is how we generally hold meetings.” You get the idea. It doesn’t have to be highly produced. Ask a couple of young employees to create it in a style that would engage them.
  • Teach them the top fifteen. As I mentioned in a recent post, there are about fifteen decisions that most people make in their jobs on a regular basis. Teaching new hires these protocols from the very first day will ease the burden on managers and help them come up to speed in a more timely way.

No little blog-post like this is going to alter the ingrained habits of over-protective parents. Eventually, all of these “kids” grow up and learn the decision-making skills essential to success. But parents, let’s all step out of their way so they’ll be compelled to develop these skills before they’re 30.

Should Employers Waste Their Time Recruiting Teens?

For what seems like forever, employers have recruited teens to fill front-line positions. These jobs typically pay little more than minimum wage and many times involve the work no one else wants to do. At the same time, they provide spending money and help young people assimilate to the world of work. Unfortunately, however, teen employment in the US during the summer has dropped to a fifty-year low.

This work-for-cheap-but-get-experience relationship has changed for a number of reasons. Firstly, many of these traditional roles have either been automated or eliminated. Secondly, an increasing number are being assumed by older individuals, including a burgeoning immigrant population, who offer more experience and more flexible hours. Thirdly, mandatory increases in minimum wages are compelling employers to seek applicants with more work smarts who can become productive faster.

Finally, teens are choosing summer classes and other coursework to enhance resumes and college applications. Studies show that this dearth of teen interest in working is not about laziness, parental allowances, or being married to their smart phones. It’s more practical than that. The emerging generation is more focused on what they can learn to get a good job upon graduation. As one student said to me, “I want to be an accountant. How is mowing lawns during the summer going to help me with that?” While some may deride this attitude as ignorant or ill informed, it is widely shared by the present cohort of high school and college students. Today’s teens are not the teens of the past.

So what should employers do? Here are a few suggestions:

Take a hard look at your employment cycles. Chances are you, like most employers, have developed a rhythm in how you hire. But in today’s environment of low unemployment and a dearth of teen applicants, you need to make a closer examination of where your applicants are coming from. Who else, besides teens, is applying? Who is the easiest to retain? Who comes up to speed the fastest? Who is the most productive overall? As much as hiring teens might be an engrained practice, it might be hurting your bottom line unless to verify your assumptions about their true contributions to your business.

Consider the costs and benefits to hiring teens. Let me state an uncomfortable truth – About the only thing teenagers have going for them is that they’re relatively cheap to employ. But with rising base wages, even that is less of an advantage. Yes, we all feel the desire to give kids a chance to learn. But many of today’s teens have a distinctly different motivation for working. Take a step back from your sympathies for giving them a chance and ask yourself whether they really demonstrate a reasonable contribution to your bottom line. As the saying goes, “Old habits die hard.” But they can also be very expensive.

If you choose to hire teens, brush up on your connection strategies. Teens are not just an internet generation. They are a mobile internet generation. This means that unless you’re one of the large retailers or fast-food chains that blanket the nation, they will not apply in person. They expect to apply on-line. That’s how they will find you as well. How? Via social media. Some may Google part-time jobs in their city or zip code, but most connect with their friends on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or Snapchat. You will need a presence on all of these sites. As sign in the window will work for some if they happen to drive past. But banners that read Now Hiring, Accepting Applications or $11 Per Hour put you in the category of “just another boring job.” Remember, this generation is looking to leverage their experience into something better, in addition to getting paid. Otherwise, they should probably just take another class or two.

It might be tempting to lament the demise of the cheap, hardworking teen workforce who learned about life on the job and earned movie money for the weekends. But in their place you will need to recruit the kind of worker whose motivations contributes to your bottom line in today’s ultra competitive world.

Good News! People Can’t Walk and Lie During Interviews

Business coaching concept. Young woman being interviewed for a job.

Ever feel like you’re wasting time interviewing job applicants? They prepare answers for the questions they assume you’re going to ask. You end up asking those questions and getting their prepared answers. There are only so many variations on what you need to know. Even if you get creative with how you ask, most can still adapt and tell you what they know you want to hear.

A more effective strategy? Get them moving. Rather than screen applicants in an office or meeting room, take them on a tour. Why? Because you’ll disrupt their expected rhythm. Imagine arriving for an interview expecting to sit across a table or desk, only to hear, “Let me show you around and I can ask you questions at the same time.” How would you react? A strange environment. A person you’ve just met. The stress of answering probing questions. Watching your step and navigating equipment. You get the idea. That’s the point. All those prepared responses are flushed from your mind by completely new stimuli.

While it might be easier to do this in industrial settings, these “tours” can be conducted in any workplace. You can even prep a few colleagues in advance with a question they can ask when introduced to applicants as you pass through. The variations of this can be endless.

So what does this accomplish?

More candid answers. Strange surroundings will get applicants off their rhythm. They are much more likely to offer what they really think, without the posturing or embellishments.

A chance to gauge energy. Watch applicants walk. Their gait and posture will serve as insights into their confidence, determination, outlook and other attributes you may not pick up sitting across a desk.

A reality check on their claims. Some applicants choose to “spin” their experience. Walk an “experienced” tradesman through your shop and yard for instance. It will become readily apparent whether he is comfortable in the environment. How can you accomplish this same effect in your workplace?

An insight into people skills. For many, meeting new people can be a considerable effort. If this will be part of their job responsibilities, introducing them to a number of colleagues will give all of you a glimpse into their comfort level in doing so.

Why go to the trouble of doing this? Simple – You’re making a decision worth tens of thousands of dollars and one you may have to live with for a long time. How can you adapt this strategy to your environment? You may be surprised at the results it yields.