Smile ‘em In and Smile ‘em Out

I was reminded the other day of a story of an elderly woman who would stand at the entrance to her church on Sunday mornings before and after the worship service. She was there every single week simply smiling at everyone who entered. When the pastor asked her what she was doing, she said, “I’m smiling them in and smiling them out. Doesn’t everybody need that?”

This story has stuck with me is because it illustrates one of the universal principles for determining whether anyone is going to be a good match for a job. The people who work most productively with others are those seek to work collaboratively. Therefore, it is essential that you screen for this attribute during the selection process, regardless of the position.

The sentiment, “Don’t hire people and teach them to smile. Hire People who smile,” has been attributed to a number of people. But regardless who first said it, embracing this principle is critical to ensuring productive, long-term hires, especially in customer care positions.

One airline with which I am familiar, used to use to an interesting strategy for screening flight attendants. They would gather groups of applicants into a circle. Then they would say, “Before we get started, let’s have everyone get up a take a minute to tell us about yourself. You can talk about anything you would like to share.”

This, of course, would unsettle some of the applicants. Few people like to be put on the spot like that. But what the applicants didn’t know was that the evaluators in the room weren’t watching the presentations. They were watching the audience. Predictably, some applicants would smile, pay attention and encourage those who were speaking. Others would glance at their smart phones, check their appearance, or generally grow bored with the process.

Which applicants would you want as flight attendants serving your customers? The airline felt the same way. Those with the “others-focused” demeanor were the ones to be hired. How can you adapt this strategy for use in your screening process?

Applicants can have all the qualifications in the world. But if they are not others-focused, they can be an energy drain on those around them and the firm in general. Look around. What can you do in your environment to promote this practice?

Three Legal Tactics for Detecting How Applicants will Really Behave on the Job

I had been standing in the pharmacy line for almost ten minutes and was the next one to be served. Just as I approached the counter, a middle-aged woman slipped in front of me and said to the pharmacist, “I just need to drop this off,” while handing him a prescription.

“This person is next in line,” said the pharmacist.

“Yes,” said the woman, “but I just need to drop this off.”

“But I have to check to see if you’re in the system,” explained the pharmacist.

“I know,” insisted the woman, “but I’m in a hurry and I just need to drop this off.”

The pharmacist gave me that look that said, “Would you mind if I dealt with this rude woman?”

I shrugged and he checked her in.  “Thank you,” he said after she had left. “That happens two or three times a day.”

Outside of wanting to rant about this kind of inconsiderate behavior, this incident reminded me of something I’ve taught managers for years: How applicants behave and what they do once they’re hired can be vastly different things. All the interviews and tests in the world won’t reveal this. When the person’s in a rush, how is he going to treat those around him? When he’s feeling pressured, how will he treat the customer? When he’s in the last ten minutes of a shift, what will he say to the customer who’s going to delay his departure?

So, what can you do to elicit the “real” behavior from applicants? Try these three ideas:

First, have applicants come in contact with strangers. This could something as simple as asking the receptionist to chat them up. Does the person respond with understanding? Does he empathize? Perhaps instead he treats the receptionist with a dismissive, “I don’t need to talk to you,” attitude. Would you want this person on your team?

Second, keep the applicant waiting for a few minutes. No one likes to be kept waiting. But some of us are more patient than others. Does this person grow impatient? How does he deal with the delay? Does he chat with the receptionist? Does he find something to read? Does he review his notes about the company? Does he sit there and stew or ask what’s going on every five minutes. Who would you rather have on your team?

Third, place applicants in an environment where they have to perform. This strategy requires more time and effort. It is also the most effective. Ask applicants go on a “scavenger hunt” by collecting documents or information from several people within the company. This will force them to establish a brief rapport with each one. Then you can ask those individuals for first impressions. Place applicants in an office with an in-basket exercise and have people call and interrupt them with questions and requests that range from the informative to the weird. After an hour of this, you’ll get a feel for how they handle unexpected distractions, interruptions, confusion and the like.

All of these strategies deal with nuance. But it’s the nuanced behaviors of others that can get under our skin and can cost us money.  Is all this worth the investment? You decide. You’re making a thirty- to fifty-thousand-dollar decision by hiring someone.

Are these strategies fool-proof? No. But they will reveal the potential behaviors of people upon whom you will rely once on the job. Most people don’t get fired for a lack of competence. They are released because of the attitudes and behaviors that those around them consider unacceptable.

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.

Be Careful Hiring Top Graduates


I shared this advice with the leaders of a Wall Street investment bank who complained that all their young analysts have been jumping ship within 18 months. I asked who they hire. “Only the best from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford.”

I asked why. “Because we only want the best working here.”

“Where did you all graduate from?”

“Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford.”

“Can a B student from a good finance program in the Midwest do well here?”

“If he or she works hard enough.”

“Well, there’s a much better chance that someone like that is going to stay for five years than the Ivy League hotshot who looks at your job as a stepping stone.”

They protested that someone from the Midwest would have trouble thriving in the culture.

“Whose issue is that?” I asked. “You can have the hotshots for 18 months or some hardworking B Students from the Midwest for five or more years.”

Sadly, they couldn’t seem to get their heads around that. So we parted company.