Micrel, the Silicon Valley company I founded and led for 37 years, had the lowest employee turnover rate in the American semiconductor industry, and the highest rate of boomerang (returning) employees. I personally have hired hundreds of people and Micrel hired thousands.
Hiring the right employee matters more than most other decisions you or your management team will make. A bad hire can be downright destructive to a company. A desperation hire likely produces lackluster results. But a great hire will lift your sprits as well as your profits.Knowing how to hire is as important as knowing your marketing, knowing how to innovate and knowing how to manage corporate cash (a topic I discuss at length in my book Tough Things First). The key to having low turnover as well as high-performing employees is in the methods that you use in selecting and interviewing candidates.
Start with knowing the role
Young companies often do not think through what they need in each role. This may be due in part to the ever shifting nature of startups; but not establishing the essential duties, and thus the critical capabilities of an employee, is suicidal.
Start with knowing exactly what you want in a hire, and writing a well-defined job description.
This includes both education and experience, and it may include specific knowledge, industry contacts, personality profiles and more. It is better to be too detailed than not detailed enough.
Engage many people, especially from outside the department
A few blind men may not be able to know they are touching an elephant, but by collaborating they could likely document the specimen completely.
Leaving hiring selection to a small number of people is the same situation. Everyone perceives things differently, and everyone sees different aspects of a candidate. Only by having an appropriate number of interviewers and a rational method of discussing and scoring the candidate can great hiring decisions be made.
Interview teams should consist of six people, with at least half being from outside the group for which the individual is being interviewed. That last point is significant. Most employees will have to work across departmental or team boundaries. What someone outside the group sees is something people within the group likely will not.
Imagine you are hiring a new systems software developer – and über geek. Other systems programmers and the department head will get the quirks common to this type of genius, and overlook things that might cause problems with applications developers, system admins and others outside his group.
Selecting the six interviewers is very important and needs to ensure that people with the right disciplines have a chance to interview the prospective employee. There is little use in having our systems programmer chat with anyone in the accounts payable section; but not having him or her interviewed by the head of product support could be a deadly mistake.
Allow the candidate to open up
Where and how the interview is conducted affects the accuracy of the interviews.
Find a quiet and private location. Job interviews are stressful enough. Inducing loads of distractions and being subjected to roving onlookers doesn’t relax anyone. Easing the candidate gives them a chance to have a personal interview process and, if the interviewers are warm and inviting, to open up about goals, experiences and even personal drawbacks.
Every interviewer should start by saying how much they appreciate having the candidate interviewing with your company.
After all, they likely have alternatives. They decided your company was worth considering, just as you decided the candidate was. This mutual vote of confidence is a good start, and should be acknowledged.
Next, shut up. During the interview, let the prospective employee do most of the talking while you do most of the listening. Your mission is to find out as much as possible about the candidate, and you cannot do this if your mouth is engaged.
The more comfortable the candidate feels while talking with you not only enhances your chances of getting the information that you need, but also the chances of the candidate wanting to join your team.
Learning what is important
Learning what a candidate knows is almost as important as learning who they are. This goes back to making the candidate comfortable and letting them speak.
By asking difficult questions, you will make them feel uncomfortable and not expose their truest personality. You can also achieve this by monopolising the conversation, coming to the interview with a less than positive attitude, or even by bad-mouthing the candidate’s current employer. Instead, by being welcoming, warm, and mostly quiet, you quickly discover what kind of a person they are. You get an idea of whether they will match your company’s culture, be agreeable to other employees and meet your expectations.
Among the things you should watch for during an interview, some of the most important are:
Money Talk: If the prospective employee focuses on compensation, that is a red flag. Everyone needs money, and there is no shame in discussing compensation. But a candidate fixated on rewards is not going to be fixated on providing value.
Outbound Attitude: What did the candidate think of their prior employer and job? If they disliked their employer or the type of work that they were doing, this may be a problem. The main reason employees leave or search for another job is that they did not like their immediate supervisor. But this dislike may be the employee’s perception or poor people skills. Otherwise, liking their immediate supervisor is a positive.
Dress for no Success: How an employee came dressed for the interview may tell much. The goal is to see if the way they dress is comparable with what you expect, because you are a product of your corporate and group cultures. The systems programmer discussed above might set off warning bells if he did show up in a suit and tie, as would a potential CFO arriving in sneakers and blue jeans.
And the judges score his performance as …
Micrel used a 10-point rating scale for each of the categories we applied to a candidate. Your company should have a different set of criteria, but following the Micrel model is a great start.
We scored people on appearance, personality, written skills, technical expertise in the job being considered, cultural fit, verbal skills, an “overall” rating, and finally if the interviewer would consider the candidate for the hire (even if the interviewer was outside of the target department).
At Micrel, we looked for a composite score of seven or higher to even consider the employee. If the primary interviewer – the likely boss – would not consider the candidate for the hire, the prospective employee was not picked unless the application was kicked up to the next level and the decision was made there (very rare and under unusual circumstances). Otherwise, at least four out of the six people doing the interviewing had to agree to hire the candidate and the candidate’s composite score had to be seven or higher.
Knowing what you cannot know
There are some things you cannot tell in an interview, and that is why references are required.
A friend of mine once built a technical support team from the ground up. All the new employees were brilliant and outlasted my friend, with the exception of one fellow.
During the interview cycle, the candidate impressed interviewers. He was a solid personality fit, a good cultural match, and showed great drive. He also ended up being a chronic alcoholic who missed work after each of his only two pay cheques. None of this was even remotely apparent during interviews.
Reference checks are mandatory and the employee should supply at least three qualified references, not including their own family or friends; and these people must be technically within the area being considered.
Where possible, find two other references that a candidate did not list, be they former co-workers, bosses or even found with a deep scan of the employee’s social media accounts.
Hire above the wire
If you are lucky, you will have multiple, highly qualified candidates from which to choose. But sometimes you do not. Avoid succumbing to the temptation to hire less than the best.
An employee who doesn’t meet the minimum requirements, who doesn’t fit the culture, who leaves interviewers feeling flat, will only slow down your company. Leave slots unfilled until the right person arrives.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Youth Employment An Opportunity
South Africa has a high youth unemployment rate – it is vital for business to consider alternatives for youth employment.
A young female graduate with hands-on experience in setting up and running community projects, had resourcefully turned a hobby into an income-generating small business to support herself, while seeking employment… a skilled person, wouldn’t you say? It took her five long months to find employment – and in that time she received 50 rejections – 50 rejections with no useful feedback as to why she was being turned down. We employed her – and within the first few days she’d surpassed our expectations, had added ‘value’, so much so, that two weeks later we assigned her to a project.
It’s this kind of potential that company recruitment approaches seem to overlook!
There are 6-million unemployed young people in South Africa – and the social and economic transformation economy that is crucial for the country, is an economy that has been growing at less than the minimum 5-6 percent required to shrink unemployment, largely due to the under-performance of main institutions.
Business accustomed to turning problems into opportunities of value-creation regards the South African Education and Training system as one that does not deliver in equipping young people with the requisite work and readiness skills. There are government tax breaks and grants which provide opportunities for short term employment, but unfortunately these do not create value, nor are they sustainable as they are not used strategically.
Last year I had the good fortune to attend the Youth Employment Enterprise Skills Solutions (YEESS) summit in Nelson Mandela Metro – engaging with the young attendees I found that they were determined to change the view held by business that they are considered a risk, to one which recognises that they can, and do, add value and assist in realising opportunities, particularly because of their age -related attributes that give them the edge.
- are a cost advantage – they cost less (South African staff is paid on the basis of the years of work rather than the value)
- have a higher level of energy – they work faster and for longer hours
- have flexibility – they learn new tasks /systems quickly, and are often more innovative
- can increase revenue – they enjoy engaging with customers, and being ‘entrepreneurial’ (eager to promote products and services in the market)
Business should consider these opportunities – the model that many businesses currently use pays young people a stipend which usually just covers their living costs and employs them for a short period; and then the norm is to “find” something for them to do to keep them busy… a soul-destroying experience that in no way creates value and is certainly not one on which to build a career.
Alternatives to the existing model are to:
- clearly pinpoint the opportunities and define the value (that the potential employee is required to add)
- provide training – measuring potential is a challenge – a short training programme for job-seekers can clearly identify the ones who benefit most, and are thus likely to be the most valuable – and there is the plus of 4 BBBEE Skills development points for the training of unemployed people
- provide a ‘proving’ period (3 to 12 months) where goals, expectations and support are clearly laid out -this provides an important business foundation experience in a productive environment considerably improving the chances of the young person’s absorption into the business culture.
By changing the way one views youth unemployment – to see youth employment rather as an chance to reduce costs, increase revenue and contribute to the building of skills and training future entrepreneurs – presents the perfect opportunity for business to contribute to the country’s future stability and gain economic returns.
Temporary Employment Providers — Friend or Foe?
Contrary to the fact that legislation states that temporary employees work under a dual relationship between a TES provider and their client, the relationship has been questioned, confusing the situation and muddying the waters.
Currently, under a dual employment relationship, employees are given the protection of employment benefits under the TES provider and, after a three-month employment period, attain extra protection by being considered under the employment of both the TES provider and their client.
Yet various unions have pushed back against TES providers, citing that ‘labour brokers’ don’t have the best interests of the workers at heart. So, are TES providers truly the enemy — or could they be the solution?
What is a TES provider?
The term ‘labour broker’ is being bandied about with startling regularity. Surprising, because ‘labour brokering’ is actually a concept that no longer exists in legal terms, according to Joanette Nagel, Labour Specialist at Hunts Attorneys.
“It’s a term associated with ‘bakkie brigades’, those once comfortable picking up ‘piece workers’ and exploiting them with little to no consideration for labour laws,” Joanette explains. “Today’s TES providers are reputable organisations that, with the backing of the law and strict policies, provide a valuable service while ensuring that the rights and wages of temporary employees are in line with permanently employed staff.”
Sean Momberg, MD at Workforce Staffing Solutions, agrees: “A dual relationship where the employee is employed by both the TES and the client after three months means that the employee is actually afforded more protection. If, for example, the client falls into circumstances in which they can no longer honour the contract, such as if they go insolvent or a project is cancelled, the TES provider is still bound by contract to the employee and their rights to compensation, among others, are protected.”
The role of a TES in business
According to the Global Employment Trends for Youth 2017 study, conducted by the International Labour Organisation, the rapidly changing labour landscape has made the expectation of traditional or permanent employment less realistic than ever before.
“There is a global trend towards temporary employment that is supported by a new trend of flexibility in career choices as well as employment environments. The demand for TES providers to play a more active role in the labour market is higher than we have ever known,” affirms Sean.
Organisations will also benefit from this trend, especially as businesses can outsource all non-core related labour requirements, allowing them to focus on their core purpose and not concern themselves with the labour function, or the overheads associated with human resources. “A TES takes on the responsibility of employment, remuneration, legal disputes, strike mitigation, employee wellness, interactions with unions, and many other HR concerns that are extremely resource intensive,” says Sean.
A TES ensures economic continuation
“President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his recent YES initiative launch, that even those with further education often struggle to bridge the gap between learning and earning. TES providers help with bridging this gap, offering skills development that guarantees jobs,” notes Sean.
“TES providers are here to stay and offer the best of both worlds to organisations and employment seekers alike. Dual relationships continue to protect workers, underpinning and promoting their rights, while helping businesses to cover any skills and employment gaps within their organisations without having to invest in huge HR departments and legal representation to do so.”
Spotting a reputable TES provider
- Registered and compliant with the Labour Relations Act (LRA)
- Likewise with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and relevant bargaining councils
- Has the necessary insurance and off-balance sheet financial protection in place
- Able to provide proof of regular auditing
- Able to show full legal compliance and holds a letter of good standing.
Million Rand Questions Answered By Founders Of Multi-Million Rand Businesses
Don’t waste your time asking job candidates to name their greatest weaknesses (yes, everyone will say they’re a perfectionist). Instead, try these four tips from seven entrepreneurs who offer up their best strategies.
1. Interview for growth
Building and maintaining a sustainable business is having the right infrastructure to do so, and that takes people — great people. The problem is that while you’re on your growth path, you can’t necessarily afford the best and most experienced in the market, so the trick becomes hiring people who you can see will grow with the position — you’re not hiring for now, you’re hiring for where you want to be. When we interview, we look for hungry people.
We want to know where they see themselves five years from now. — Steven Kark, Paycorp
2. Look for accountability
One of our favourite interview questions is ‘Tell me about when you missed a deadline.’ It’s an immediate red flag if they say they never have; either they’re lying or they’re not accountable. We’re looking for an answer that says they had an issue, what that issue was, that they recognised it, and how they found a solution — solution and accountability are key. We also believe technology makes the whole process easier, particularly if you are stretched for time. Spend time designing questions and then get someone else to ask them. Video each interview, watch the interviews in your own time, and then select the top candidates for face-to-face interviews. — Elvira Riccardi and Donna Silver, Afrizan
3. Dig into their current environment
We can’t compete with corporates on benefits, so we offer something even more valuable: Time and flexibility. There is a caveat though: Don’t employ someone whose benefits were better than you can offer. We interviewed someone who was a perfect candidate, except she was coming from a large corporate that offered an on-site masseuse for free, amongst other things. As much as we loved her, we knew we wouldn’t hold on to her. She was used to an office environment that we could never offer.
You need to be hiring people who are stepping up; not the other way around. We always dig into what their current office environment is like. — Renay and Russell Tandy, Ngage
4. Make them sweat
For years we had issues around high staff turnover. We realised that the problem started in the interview process. We were hiring the wrong people who didn’t suit our culture, and they would quickly burn out, or challenge our expectations. We realised that 80% of the success of a hire is culture. Natie Kirsh used to recommend going for a drive. He said that if you sit in the passenger seat and just chat, asking any questions that come to mind, the candidate will soon reveal themselves in the simplest ways. You’ll see the person, and you can make a judgement call on whether they suit the requirements of the position and the company.
We also love the questioning method of four-year olds. Whatever the answer to a specific question is, follow it with a ‘why’.
At the beginning it’s not even about the answer. Candidates will always arrive at an interview with certain rehearsed answers. If you keep asking why, eventually they have to start giving you completely unrehearsed, unplanned answers, and that’s when you’ll get a real sense of who they are. — Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved, The Creative Counsel
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