ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

First Impressions Dont Count

A few months ago we published an article titled "Terminating Employees". This month we would like to follow up with recommendations regarding interviewing methods when new employees are sought.

Many agency owners would rather schedule weekly visits to the dentist than interview for new employees. But everyone recognizes the benefits that can be achieved by selecting the "right" employee -- or the damage that can be done by choosing the wrong person to work for you.

Many job seekers have been through the interview process enough that they know how to make first impressions. This is especially true with salespeople whose careers have been built on successful first impressions. But it's not the first impression that counts, it's staying power and consistency. In your first meeting, a prospective employee may very well be feeling you out for your "hot buttons" while you are attempting to identify the interviewee's strengths and weaknesses. Job seekers who are experienced will identify your "hot buttons". They will respond to your inquiries in ways that they perceive would be your preference (regardless of their true inclination). Remember, they are primarily interested in being offered the job.

Unfortunately, most agency owners will simply tell an applicant the exact traits desired by an employee and hope that the applicant is "right" for the job. The manager will offer the position based on his "feeling" about the person, rather than through the process of active listening for those desired traits. While he should be eliminating all but those who come into the interview process already possessing those traits, his inclination is to make a good impression on the applicant and that anyone in the position is better than no one. This, of course, is simply false. An empty desk is better than an employee who will hurt your customer relations and who will take you months to get rid of.

The first hint to successful hiring is to use telephone screening to eliminate some applicants. If you are hiring sales or service employees, it is important that they sound upbeat and positive. A short telephone call can tell you much about an applicant's personality. Do they sound enthusiastic? Are there responses about their current position positive, neutral or negative? If you ask them why they want to leave their job, "a lack of opportunity to advance" is much more positive than "I don't like my current employer" or "my employer doesn't appreciate my efforts". If they bear ill will toward an employer or situation, they may also have problems with you. Even if they are uncomfortable where they are, the smart interveiwee will accentuate the positive and never, never disparage others during an interview. Prepare a list of no more than four or five questions that will draw out their responses and tell you a) how they sound, b) whether they are a positive or negative person, c)does your job fit their expectations (ask them what they're looking for rather than telling them more about the job, and d)does their experience fit your needs (ask them to tell you what they have done - rather than telling them what you are looking for). This short interview will cull 75% or more of the applicants asking about your service or sales position. Moreover, it will save you countless hours of painful interviews with unqualified applicants.

During your initial face-to-face interview, don't give too much information about the job and your desires before finding out about the applicant. Short open-ended questions will permit the applicant to divulge their personalities, likes and dislikes and qualifications before you expose your expectations. If you describe your perfect employee first, the smart applicant will respond to the balance of the interview in the manner that you described as your preference.

Questions that reveal an applicant's personality:

Why did you decide to work for your current (or most recent employer)?

Tell me the strengths and weaknesses of your current (or last) employer?

These will tell you if the applicant is positive or negative, and if the applicant is using the employer as a reason or excuse for failure.

Describe your greatest success and worst failure?

How are you motivated?

These questions will tell you whether the applicant is being honest with you and realistic with him(her)self. The motivation question will alert you to employees who are self-motivated (i.e. I listen to self-motivation tapes) or who may need more supervision than you are willing to offer (i.e. I take time off and "re-charge" my batteries).

Ask the applicant relevant questions about how they would handle situations in which they will find themselves. Make personal notes while they answer regarding your impression of their answers. Would they handle themselves the way you would expect? Can they manage a stressful situation without passing problems to someone else? The best way to manage this part of the interview is to prepare three or four scenarios. Describe each scenario to the applicants in the same way and give them the opportunity to expound.

This brings us to our last issue. Most agency owners have high ego drives and are proud of their accomplishments and businesses. Please don't use the captive situation of an initial interview to present the strengths and merits of your organization. The purpose of the first interview is for the applicant to impress you, not the reverse. This requires them to speak at least twice as much as do you. The only way for you to accomplish this is to ask open ended questions and listen (and take notes) on their answers. You will certainly discuss the merits of joining your organization with the applicants that pass your phone and personal interviews. But why waste your (and the other applicants' time) presenting your best assets to those people who are not interested in you or in whom you are not interested? The reason you are to take notes is that while you are certain that you will recall the responses of the first applicant, by the time you reach your fifth applicant, the other four will appear jumbled in your memory.