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Help Wanted: How to Get the Best

If you’re looking for a few good employees, you’re not alone. But to attract qualified applicants, you need to revitalize recruiting and organize your hiring process.

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Tired of placing costly "help wanted" ads in your area newspaper only to have unqualified, unmotivated job candidates respond — if any at all? You’re not alone. According to Labor Department statistics, the work force of today is growing by less than 1 percent annually. That means it’s getting harder and harder to find employees at all, let alone reliable ones with good attitudes. In fact, there’s almost negative unemployment in the automotive-service industry, which means there are actually more job openings than there are qualified technicians to fill them.

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As if that weren’t enough to contend with, statistics also show 50 percent of all new employees leave within six months. This means you may have to fill the same position several times in one year — a costly undertaking when you consider the training it takes to get a new technician up to speed.

Discouraged? If you’re one of the many shop owners struggling with finding and hiring qualified, motivated employees who’ll stick around for more than six months — whether they’re painters, front-office staff or estimators — an organized selection and hiring system can save you time, money and stress.

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Staggering Statistics
Think you’re ahead of the game saving boocoo bucks on salary after someone’s been fired? Think again.

"On average, it will cost you between 300 and 700 times the person’s hourly salary to go through the process of finding, screening, hiring and training a new employee with both the attitude and the skill to do the job well," says Mel Kleiman of Humetrics, Inc., a company that specializes in employee-recruiting and -selection systems, screening tools, training, and consulting services.

Poor hiring decisions are also costly in terms of lost profits, decreased production and customer dissatisfaction, says Kleiman.

In addition to jeopardizing your shop’s assets, reputation and security, each new employee increases your legal exposure. Kleiman says 90 percent of all workers compensation claims are made in the first 90 days on the job. If you hire an employee who’s irresponsible, he could easily cause someone else to get hurt — and your shop could be held responsible for the accident. As if that weren’t enough, every employee who leaves your shop is a potential situation for legal action. More and more dismissed employees sue former employers for discrimination — and win!

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There Is Hope
The difference between a successful and not-so-successful employee is attitude, says Kleiman. Research shows a good attitude is one of the most important qualities an employee in the autobody industry can possess. More than 87 percent of employees fail at the job or leave not because they can’t do it but because they won’t do it.

How do you avoid battling body techs with bad attitudes? Don’t hire them. After all, the best way to get rid of a bad attitude is to not hire it in the first place. It’s easier to hire an employee with a winning attitude than to train someone to have a winning attitude. Believe it or not, teaching the skills needed to do the job is simple if the person has the right attitude.

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What can you do to be sure you hire quality applicants with the right attitudes? Since the hiring of new employees is the most crucial management function there is, create a selection system to ease stress and improve results.

The first step, says Kleiman, is to develop an efficient recruiting program. After all, you can only hire the best of who applies. Focus on people who give you good customer service and be creative in your recruiting efforts. For instance, pay bonuses to workers who find qualified people among friends and acquaintances and another bonus if the employee stays on the job at least six months; sponsor internships and work/study programs with high schools; use the Internet to post job openings and look over resumes; or recruit over a wider area, even reaching out 50 miles or more by taking part in job fairs and running ads on radio, in newspapers and on television.

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Once you’ve attracted applicants, it’s time to start evaluating your choices. Instead of interviewing the applicant first and gaining all your information that way, it’s proven to be more efficient to test the applicant prior to the interview. Using pre-employment attitude and personality evaluations will help eliminate the wasted time spent on many unqualified candidates.

Reference Check
Most of you will agree it’s important to get references from job applicants’ former employers. As many of you may also know, getting information from those references can be more difficult than pulling teeth from a parakeet. Many employers have become increasingly reluctant to release specific information about their former employees due to fear of legal action.

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Great. That’s one more hiring challenge to add to the list.

But the importance of checking references can’t be stressed enough. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 20 to 25 percent of all résumés and applications contain at least one major discrepancy.

If you’ve met with resistance when checking references or find yourself unlucky in the future, try these strategies:

• Reference-verification forms, which are successful about 95 percent of the time, have been developed to help gather information. Try them.

• If you’re referred to the human resources department, call back later. You may get more information from a different person.

• Ask a different member of your staff to try. Sometimes, the compatibility developed between the reference checker and reference giver can make all the difference.

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• Ask to speak with a former co-worker of the candidate rather than a supervisor. You may get a more willing response from someone else.

• Develop a positive relationship with the reference giver because this will often help you get more information. Pay attention not only to what’s said but how it’s said.

• Ask the reference giver to describe the candidate’s strengths rather then weaknesses. A short or vague list will tell you a lot about the candidate.

• If nothing else works, appeal to the candidate. Inform him that you’ve attempted to check his references unsuccessfully and need help.

For those leery about giving honest yet unflattering references, there’s good news. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s Government and Public Affairs Department, more than 25 states have passed laws protecting employers who provide good-faith references and release truthful information about employees. Defamation suits won’t hold up in court unless a reference intentionally provides false information about a candidate to a prospective employer.

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Prep Work
Before you go into an interview, make sure you’re prepared. After all, the more you know about a prospective employee before the interview, the more effective you’ll be in the interview. Remember, one hour of planning saves three hours of interviewing and evaluation time. And we all know time is at a premium.

The first step in preparing for an interview is to review the candidate’s résumé, application and any other information you’ve gathered to get an overall perspective. Experts suggest looking for:

• Inadequate or incomplete responses to questions.

• Potential strengths in work experience and job duties.

• Inconsistencies or areas of potential weakness.

Once you’ve reviewed the résumé, generate a list of questions to ask in the interview. At this point, you should have some idea of what you want to learn about an applicant before you go into the interview. Ask yourself three simple questions:

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• What do I want to know?

• Why do I want to know this?

• What questions do I need to ask to get this information?

When developing questions, remember to consider all areas of the job. Statistics show more than 80 percent of employee turnover is attributed to factors other than inability to do the job. This implies that the fit between the employee and the job goes beyond skill level. To increase your chances of selecting the right person for the job, investigate this fit in all areas relating to the position, including capacity, attitude, personality and skill.

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The Right Questions
There are five basic types of interview questions, each with a specific purpose. To get the best responses, it’s important to know when and why to use each.

1. Open-ended questions are meant to get the applicant to provide more than a simple "yes" or "no" answer and to expand on a topic. An open-ended question you might ask is "What is it you like most about being a technician/bodyman?"

2. Closed-ended questions allow for only a "yes," "no" or other specific response and are useful for obtaining specific answers. Examples: "Do you mind working overtime?" or "What levels of productivity were you able to maintain in your previous job?"

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3. Leading questions imply what the answer should be or what you want to hear. For example, "You do enjoy working with people, don’t you?" or "I’m sure you wouldn’t mind working weekends, would you?"

But be cautious. Using leading questions gives a quick applicant the "right" answer. For example, if you said, "This job involves a great deal of stress. How well do you handle stress?" the applicant would only have to say, "Stress is no problem," or "I deal with stress quite well."

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4. Sensitive questions allow you to explore delicate issues in a non-threatening way. For instance, you need to know why an applicant has left his job. So you might ask, "Could you tell me why you left your position with ABC Body Shop?"

5. Hypothetical questions help you explore the applicant’s problem-solving and decision-making skills. An example of a hypothetical question is, "Suppose you’re very organized and, every night before you leave the shop, you make a list of things to do the next day. But when you come in one morning, several people approach you with projects that are urgent and need done immediately. What do you do?"

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Structural Work
Let’s face it, interviews are stressful. Sweaty palms and nervous toe tapping are all par for the course. To alleviate some stress and help the interview go smoothly, the folks at Humetrics, Inc. suggest you:

• Begin the interview by greeting the applicant and introducing yourself.

• Try to establish rapport with the applicant. Set him at ease by engaging in small talk for a few minutes about common interests, current events, sports, etc. Relaxing the applicant this way will allow you to get a more accurate picture of his "real" self.

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• Explain that the purpose of the interview is to acquaint the interviewer and applicant, to help the shop make the right hiring decision and to help the applicant make a good choice about a job.

• Explain the interviewing process to the applicant. Let him know you’d like to gather some information about him before answering any questions he may have. Encourage the applicant to write down any questions that may arise during the interview to make sure they don’t go unanswered.

• Begin to ask the questions you’ve prepared prior to the interview. Start by asking non-threatening questions dealing with the applicant’s job history, work experience, etc. Let the conversation flow naturally to keep everyone at ease. If you see an easy way to work in a question you’d planned to ask later, ask it when the opportunity arises. The more natural the conversation, the more open and honest the applicant will be.

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Hassle-Free Hiring
Let’s face it. It’s tough to hire the perfect person for the job — and it’s getting tougher. But with an organized recruiting and hiring system, you can better your chances of hiring a qualified, motivated employee who’ll stick around for awhile.

Once you’ve found qualified applicants and start the interviewing process, remember to compare each applicant to your established standard — not to each other. Resist any temptations to add new standards after they’ve been set because an applicant touted qualifications you didn’t originally include in the job profile. It’s important to be fair and objective in your hiring process.

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With all the long hours and hectic schedules involved in running a body shop, the last thing you need to do is waste time on unnecessary hiring steps. By using an organized employee-selection system, you’ll save yourself time, money, legal exposure and — perhaps most importantly — stress.

Writer Melissa McGee is managing editor of BodyShop Business.

The Right — and Wrong — Way

Just as there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there’s more than one way to ask a question. How you ask a question depends on how you want it answered. Open-ended behavior questions yield much more useful information than closed-ended ones. For example:

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Wrong (closed ended)

1. Do you feel you’re qualified for this position?

2. Were you able to handle difficult on-the-job situations easily?

3. Are you a good decision maker?

4. Do you set periodic standards of performance for yourself?

5. Can you learn quickly under pressure?

6. Have you ever thought of doing any other type of work?

7. Do you usually work at your maximum?

Right (open ended)

1. How have your past job experiences prepared you for this position?

2. Would you describe an unpleasant work situation and tell how you dealt with it?

3. What methods do you use to make decisions?

4. What methods have you found successful in setting job objectives for yourself?

5. Under what kind of conditions do you feel you learn best?

6. If you could structure the perfect job for yourself, what would you do and why?

7. What kinds of challenges do you feel bring out your full potential?

Information provided by Doremus Associates.

Recruiting Cards

Recruiting cards are, well, just what they say they are: business cards with a recruiting message, such as, "Good Service — We’re always looking for good employees like you," printed on them.

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If you think recruiting cards are something you’d like to try, remember these tips:

• Include contact information and an invitation to call you for a confidential interview somewhere on the business card.

• Carry the cards with you at all times and give them to people who provide you with excellent service.

If you’d like more information on designing and using recruiting cards, contact Humetrics, Inc. at (800) 627-HIRE.

More Legal Issues

Your shop must honor job applicants’ requests not to contact their current employers. Take this to heart:

When Rodger Sullivan applied for a job with the U.S. Postal Service, he marked "no" on the application where it asked permission to contact his current employer. The Postal Service ignored his request and called his employer anyway, causing Sullivan to lose his job. The U.S. Postal Service is now being sued for invasion of privacy.

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Also, when accepting job applications, protect yourself from lawsuits by stating that the application is active for 30 days only. Why? An applicant can’t complain or take you to court if 120 days later, you don’t consider him for another job opening.

Critical Interview Questions and Answers

Once you’ve determined the right questions to ask candidates, do you know how to evaluate their responses? If an applicant tells you he’s done quality work for all his employers but thinks his best work is yet to come, should you view him as well-grounded or egocentric?

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As the interviewer, asking the right questions is only half your task. Garnering the right information from the responses is equally important.

1. Tell me why you’re interested in this job?

Your objective in this frequently asked question is to separate the candidates who just want a job — any job — from those who are genuinely interested in your shop and the job you want to fill.

2. Can you describe for me a typical day in your current/previous job?

This forces the candidate to be specific and gives you a chance to see how closely the candidate’s behavior traits relate to the profile of the job you’re trying to fill.

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3. If you ran into this situation (give a typical problem situation the candidate might be expected to deal with), how would you handle it?

The more specific you can be when you ask this question — that is, the more the question relates to specific technical requirements or knowledge — the more valuable the answer will be.

4. Describe the best boss you ever had.

The answer to this question usually indicates whether the candidate likes to work closely with a supervisor or prefers to be left alone. A description could also suggest how receptive the candidate is likely to be to coaching.

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5. What did you do in your last job to make yourself more effective?

The more specific you can get the candidate to be, the better. For example, if a candidate mentions technical training, look for some correlation between the classwork and the benefits or potential benefits to the job.

6. What have been the biggest failures or frustrations in your work life?

The answer will often reflect how well they know themselves and how comfortable they are about revealing their weaknesses. However, be alert for experienced candidates who are shrewd enough to reveal "weaknesses" that could be interpreted as strengths. Press for details.

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7. How do you rate your progress to date?

This question is geared to measuring the applicant’s self-esteem. You want to hear applicants say they’ve done well so far but that their best work is yet to come.

8. What did you dislike about your last job?

Of course, no job is perfect. But it’s also important to be able to perform with co-workers under less-than-perfect conditions. Therefore, you don’t want to hear applicants complain about former bosses or co-workers personally. Any criticism of the former job should be couched in more positive terms, such as, "There wasn’t enough opportunity to advance."

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9. What does it take to be successful in your specialty?

This is an indirect way to get applicants to reveal their own strengths and weaknesses. When talking about success, they’ll name what they perceive to be their own strengths.

10. What can you do for us that someone else can’t do?

This should come at the end of the interview when the applicant has a better picture of what the job entails. If neither of you has an answer to this question, this isn’t the person you want to hire.

Information provided by Doremus Associates.

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