You're hired! You're fired! Employers are totally boss when it comes to finding and keeping happy employees

by Kirton McConkie PC
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Summer 2014  Employment Roundtable,  Utah Valley Business Q

Jeanette Bennett, BusinessQ: What does the job market look like in Utah County right now?

Daryl Sisk, ESG: A great economic indicator is when companies are willing to invest in salespeople, which we are observing now in our community. We're also seeing creative ways for companies to retain key employees, which also indicates a strong economy.

Robert McKinley, Kirton McConkie: A few years ago a large percentage of my work was centered around reductions in force. I'm not focused on that now. The business climate has definitely turned.

Mark Lords, Edge Homes: The economy is clearly stronger. Even the unemployment numbers that just came out suggest a strong economic base. Plus, one of the leading indicators is housing demand, which has gone up and will continue to do so.

Bennett, BusinessQ: What strategies do you sug­gest when hiring and growing your workforce?

Wesley Gillies, US Synthetic: We have a wait list of people wanting to be employed by US Synthetic, which means we haven't had to have a strong strategy to draw people to our team.

Joel Steadman, Corporate Alliance: I happen to know that US Synthetic actually has a magnificent strategy because they pay above the average inside the county, they have a great benefit package, and they go above and beyond to make sure their employees are satisfied inside the workplace. That is a terrific hiring strategy.

Lords, Edge Homes: The conventional ways of finding and hiring employees don't work that well anymore ­advertising in the newspaper or taking an ad out on KSL doesn't attract the right people because the best people are happy where they are. The way to find your next employee is through networking.

Sisk, ESG: Hiring is like marketing. What do I know about US Synthetic? I have a couple friends who work there who love their jobs. I also know they had a cafeteria that even people who didn't work there were driving to because it was really good food and it was inexpensive.

Gillies, US Synthetic: We still have our cafeteria, but we had to close it to the community.  

Sisk, ESG: I know! But that is what US Synthetic was known for in the community. So what's your thing as a company? And how do you promote that? At ESG, for several years in a row, we've been named a best place to work with the most flexible workplace. How a company treats its employees is a hiring strategy--and a marketing strategy.

Bennett, BusinessQ: Once good candi­dates have been identified through net­ working or marketing, what tips do you have for a successful interview?

Steadman, Corporate Alliance: First, you build a criteria for the job itself so you can be objective in the hiring process. Companies spend an enormous amount of time emotion­ ally hiring people because they fall in love with them in the interview, and then a couple months later they've found that in fact they haven't found the right person for the job.

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: Make sure you ask essentially the same questions to all the people you are interviewing. Otherwise you might fall in love with someone because they're gregarious and outgoing, but you really haven't asked them the questions you needed to. Make sure you're comparing apples to apples.

Lords, Edge Homes : More than one interview should take place. First there's the screening interview to see if the candidate fits. Then you do reference checking. If that checks out, then I like to do a three-hour interview. By then, you really find out what you have in a candidate.

Bennett, BusinessQ: How do you hold a productive three-hour interview?

Lords, Edge Homes: I role play with the candidates. I review what I learned from ref­erences. I'm big on seeing if there is compatibility with their skills and abilities and what is required in the job. For example, if you took a really good bookkeeper and wanted them to sell homes, they would probably struggle in that position and vice versa.

Steadman, Corporate Alliance: Throughout the process, everything is part of the interview. My front desk person had a sheet, and I would always be five minutes late to come talk to the candidate. My front desk person would shoot me over that sheet so I would know what his or her first impression was of the interviewee. Generally speaking, if they aren't a kind, genuine person to everyone they came in contact with, they are wasting our time.

Sisk, ESG: We've found success using pre-employment assessments, which involve a series of online questions. In fact, it is smart to have the current all-stars in your company take the test first, which gives you a benchmark for people corning in the door who may or may not fit your definition of "ideal candidate."

Bennett, BusinessQ: What are specific examples of good questions and poor questions to ask in an interview?

Lords, Edge Homes: I like questions about specific challenges they've had and how they have dealt with them.

Steadman, Corporate Alliance: One of the things I try to do when ambiguity sneaks into their answers is to kindly stop them and say, "I understand you were part of a group or company that did well, but I need to know your exact purpose in the project." A lot of times their previous group or company succeeded, but we only care about the person sitting in front of us and that person's contri­butions  and skills.

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: Let me emphasize the importance of checking out referenc­es, too, because I have seen many instances where people put down college degrees or jobs  that in fact they don't have.

Lords, Edge Homes: If you're good at refer­ence checking and if you're bridging from the references they gave you to other references, you will come up with scenarios and questions you'll want to validate in the interview.

Sisk, ESG: Mark, I give you serious props for being so thorough in the hiring process. Most CFOs aren't involved in that aspect of the business, and I believe your involvement is likely a determining factor in why Edge is doing as well as they are.

Lords, Edge Homes: Thank you. You can't afford to make a mistake at high levels. It's too expensive. To undo a bad hire is too hard.

Bennett, BusinessQ: When an employer goes to check a reference, what questions should be asked?

Lords, Edge Homes: The references they give you are worthless. The only value in them is that you can then ask the reference, "Who else did they work for in your company? Who were some of the customers they worked with?" Those are the people you really want to talk to. And then you ask them about the person's honesty and integrity. That's a critical attribute.

Steadman, Corporate Alliance: Mark, you called it bridge referencing. I call it backdoor referencing, and I've had great success with that in my career. You want to talk to the people they didn't list as a reference. Then you tell those people about the job description and you ask, "If you owned a company, would you hire this person?"

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: Most HR departments are just going to answer with, "They worked here from this time to this time. This is what their title was." This is also one of the big reasons why networking is so important because then you're not necessarily relying on reference checks.

Sisk, ESG: We're talking about ideally doing some serious due diligence before hiring, but most employers in the area right now are just trying to find bodies. They have jobs to fill. 

Lords, Edge Homes: One way to ensure good hires is to pay more. It is a smart investment to get better people, even to pay more to get them, because they will make you more money.

Gillies, US Synthetic: We also have really high expectations for our employees when they come. You do have to pay people more to get more out of them. We focus a lot on our values as a business when we're looking at references  and  interviewing.

Lords, Edge Homes: If you train and create a valuable employee, the last thing you want to do is lose them. Figure out what "golden handcuffs" work for those individuals and do it because it's expensive to lose them, especially to a competitor.

Bennett, BusinessQ: Are personality assessments valuable or just fluff when it comes to hiring?

Steadman, Corporate Alliance: I've used them my entire career, and I really like them for the point that Daryl brought up--bench­marking is crucial. So if your top employees look like this on a personality profile, and your candidate falls inside of the description, that's a really nice place to start. Use personality tests as a tool, not as the ultimate hiring decision.

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: I'm interested to know at what level you use those tests. You obviously use them for upper-level people, but how far down do you go?

Sisk, ESG: It's a client choice. For us internally, we use them for accounting positions, manager positions, sales people. I've even found myself going back after the hire and sometimes looking at the personality profile for a communications preference. I may be trying an emotional strategy and I ought to be more analytical with this person.

Bennett, BusinessQ: What role does social media play in researching a potential hire?

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: That's an incredibly dangerous proposition. Let's say you go on their site and find out they're married to somebody of a different race. If you don't hire that person, you've given them a basis to bring a lawsuit against you. Now, there's a partial solution to that. Have somebody else investigate the social media for you and convey only the information that is relevant to the job. That way you're screened away from those things that if you knew about, even if it had no effect on the job decision, might give somebody a reason to file a lawsuit.

Bennett, BusinessQ: Of course we all want to make smart hires. But inevitably we'll  make mistakes--or sometimes an initially good employee becomes less productive. Talk me through the process of letting some one go.

Lords, Edge Homes : Don't pay people to drive you bonkers. Fix it. You've got to try everything you can because if it's not working out, it's probably your fault not theirs. You either hired wrong or you didn't train properly. Never be afraid to say there's a better solution for you than here, and we're going to help you find it.

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: Make sure you are documenting the process, so that there's a record of what the problem was and what you were doing to try and fix it. If the documen­tation isn't there and you get sued, you are going to be in real trouble in front of a jury.

Sisk, ESG: We deal with many unemployment claims, and it always leads back to the documentation. A lot of times it's just, "Well, we warned them." But did you document it? Did they sign it? This is when it's important to have job descriptions. Some problems are more ambiguous such as "bad attitude" or "doesn't work well with others ." You have to give specific instances and be fair and correct things if possible.

Bennett, BusinessQ: What I'm learning today is that the adage of  "hire slow, fire fast" is not necessarily correct.

Lords, Edge Homes: There are cases where you immediately fire, such as dishonesty. But if it's performance related, you go to the nth degree to help them.

Gillies, US Synthetic: We're very good at policies. There are things that call for automatic termination such as cheating the time clock or failing a drug test. But in other instances, you have to have three write-ups in the same category before we would even look at terminating you. We go above and beyond to try to get people to be successful. So we're very slow to fire. Documentation is so important to us. By the time they're getting fired, we don't know what else to do for them.

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: Many compa­nies have a checklist a manager must follow for a termination. If you are in one of those situations where you make an immediate fire such as dishonesty, you better make sure you are right about your claims.

Bennett, BusinessQ: Perhaps a company downsizes or changes direction and they let people go due to a reduction in force. What should business owners under­ stand in this situation?

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: Go to your lawyer. That is a very complex situation.

Steadman, Corporate Alliance: In my previous company, when we downsized we paid for them to have major help building their resume and learning where their next opportunity was . We live in a small market, and you can hurt your reputation if you're not careful about how you make changes in workforce.

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: You also want to run an analysis and look at what the protected categories were as a percentage of your workforce before and after, such as gender percentages, racial makeup. If you look out of line with your reduction, you may be creating potential liability that's totally unintended .

Sisk, ESG : Also, separation agreements are a big deal. Let's say I'm going to give you a check or severance. What are you going to give me? What I need to receive from you is a separation  agreement  sculpted by an attorney or an adviser.

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: One of the important things when you do that is make sure you have a consideration for that agreement, which means they 're going to get something they wouldn't otherwise get if they just left. In Utah County, a lot of businesses start up with sole proprietors, and then they get successful and grow. At that point you're not dealing with just family members, and you need proper procedures.

Sisk, ESG: You were a family when you had eight employees. You were kin d of a family at 15. But you now have 45 employees and your day-to-day interaction with every one of these people is not the same as it used to be.

Gillies, US Synthetic: We unfortunately went through a layoff in 2009. One of our tactics was looking at our demographic and putting  together a severance package that we offered to volunteers. We actually got quite a few volunteers to take the severance package.

Bennett, BusinessQ:So when you've let someone go and later their future employer calls you for a reference, what should you say legally?

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: I tell clients to report that the person worked here from this date to that date and their position had this title. I know a lot of people ask "yes or no" to eligible for rehire, but there is some concern with that because once you say they're not eligible for rehire, you may be putting what they call a black mark and you've now affected their reputation.

Sisk, ESG: As employers, we want helpful information when we call references, but when we're on the other side of the fence we do have something to lose by being too descriptive.

Bennett, BusinessQ: What advice would you give to those looking for a job now as far as how to present themselves well to an employer? What would you tell them about how to be a strong job applicant?

Lords, Edge Homes: Showing past work product speaks volumes. And, this is especially hard for our culture, but you've got to grow a little bit of pride in yourself and beat your drum. Don't be dishonest, but be as good about yourself as you can.

Sisk, ESG: There was a time when people said I'm looking for a job, I'm going to find 25 openings and I'm going to send out 25 resumes. My advice would be to really hone in on the jobs you're interested in. Spend the same amount of time, but focus it on fewer opportunities you are truly interested in.

Gillies, US Synthetic: Show your best self and play to your strengths. Just because you don't have experience as a receptionist, why would you be a good receptionist? Show me you really want it.

Steadman, Corporate Alliance: If you go into an interview with the mentality of "how can I make this place better " and you sell that and you show them you will be vital to their success, you're going to have better success getting the job.

McKinley, Kirton McConkie: I would advise people to really prepare. Learn the job, learn the company before they send their resume and before the interview.

Bennett, BusinessQ: Thank you. You're all hired as my employment consultants.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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