Hiring for Skills and Fit

Back in the day when I catered, I hired assistants to help wash dishes and serve.  One day, my assistant Jean showed up for work with his friend Therecia. “She needs the work more than I do,” he said. His implication: from that day forward, she was working for me instead of him. “It’s just washing dishes,” he added.  “Did you tell her what the job is?” I asked of Jean.  He nodded.  And with that, he left.

I looked at Therecia and particularly her shoes.  She wore stylish leather boots that had a one inch heel.  “Are you going to be okay in those? It’s going to be a lot of standing. ”They’re very comfortable,” she replied.  It was an awkward start to her employment with me.

With 20 minutes to get to the client’s house, I was grateful just to have someone in the kitchen with me.  And as Jean had said, how hard is it to wash dishes? Not particularly hard, but one needs to be systematic and efficient to manage the piles of dishes that stack up very quickly.  All the dishes need to be scraped first, then rinsed, then washed, then rinsed again.  If you scrape, rinse, wash and rinse each plate one at a time, you’ll be washing dishes all night. The fast pace of the kitchen requires a team to work in sync with each other, watching your colleagues in action and supporting their work.  The same is true of farming.

On that first night, Therecia worked fast but at some point I looked over and she was barefoot. The shoes were too uncomfortable for that kind of work.  She learned quickly how to work efficiently and in sync with me, and she learned even quicker what shoes to wear.  After 6 months, she was a tremendous asset to the business.

While I didn’t have much choice in my decision to hire Therecia, I learned a lot about what makes a good employee and the skills I needed for my business.

As a business owner, you can take any warm body that comes your way (as I did), or you can make deliberate choices in the kinds of people with whom you want to work.  Crafting a job description will help you articulate the skills and work-styles that are a fit for your business.

There are three components to think about:

  • The specific tasks of the job
  • The skills and experience required
  • The temperament of the person

List out the different duties of the person you want to hire. As a CSA manager, they may be in charge of talking with customers and managing money.  Field crew employees will weed, till, harvest and package. A driver needs load a truck, navigate city streets and deliver product.

The tasks will inform the skills required.  A field crew person needs to know how to drive a tractor and use farm equipment. A CSA manager needs to understand your software management system and be good at customer service. The driver needs a commercial license and the ability to lift heavy boxes.

Some jobs require customer interaction, but not all.  Some require attention to detail, but not all.

Most jobs will require some level of training – Whether it’s your specific POS system or how you like to manage inventory.  There are also skills that can be learned on the job or you can train for: whether it’s using specific software (such as mail chimp, QuickBooks or Word) or knowing how to milk a cow or shear a lamb.

Potential hires with experience will require less training from you, the employer.  This also means you will pay them a higher wage. You may prefer to have young, inexperienced workers so you can train them exactly as you want them to perform their jobs.  Or you may not want to train anyone and want someone who can come in, put their head down and “get ‘er done.”

Understanding the level of experience you desire in your employees will save headaches later.

Just because you have the skills required for a job, doesn’t mean you have the temperament for it.  A computer savvy person may have terrible interpersonal skills and may not be good at talking with customers.  Further, some people are not suited to work in a fast paced environment.  You’ll be spending a lot of time with your employees; and while you don’t necessarily want them as friends, you want to like and respect them.

As you think about hiring employees, list out the qualities you value in a worker. Things like:

  • Good with people
  • Flexible
  • Self-Starter
  • Punctual
  • Likes a fast paced environment

Not all hires necessitate an official job description. But for your own clarity and for interviews, it helps to have these notes listed.   If you will use a job description for a public posting, you can use the Job Posting Template.

One thought on “Hiring for Skills and Fit

  1. These are all great hiring points, and I especially agree about your thoughts on temperament, for us that is just as, if not more important, than skill set. Skill sets can be taught.
    However as a business owner the bigger issue we face right now is where to FIND new employees. Avenues that worked great for us in the past like Craigslist, contacting local culinary schools, and word of mouth, are no longer yielding results. We have paid for many ads over the last year and instead of the 20 – 30 applications we might receive – 1 or 2 might trickle in and even then candidates don’t always reply back when you try to reach them for interviews.
    I need to know WHERE do business owners find employees these days? Where do you publish your help wanted ads? Where are people looking when they are looking to find work?

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