Small business owners who need seasonal help face a dilemma -- they have to hire quickly, but they also need to hire well. According to HR professionals, rushing into hiring decisions, even if it’s seasonal help, is one of the worst things you can do. So how can small business owners avoid making bad employment choices?
Ann Fisher, president and owner of HR Alternative Consulting, Inc., provides human resource services to both large corporations and small companies. Fisher offers five key points for hiring seasonal employees. Savvy small business owners add their own “hands-on” and unique insights into the hiring process.
1. Start with Good Preparation
“Approach your seasonal hire as if it’s a full-time position and prepare a very detailed job description,” Fisher advises. “If you are specific with exactly what you’re looking for, you will eliminate turnover.” Fisher also suggests preparing thorough interview questions and using them for each candidate.
Clothing designer Dana Killion of Killion, a line of contemporary women’s clothes, agrees that being prepared pays off with good employees. “Hiring is always a 50-50 situation. It’s as much my job to set up an employee for success as it is the employee’s to perform,” she offers. “In a short-term hire situation, the balance swings even more toward my end. I have to both choose wisely and set proper expectations for the results.”
2. Find Potential Candidates Through Word of Mouth
Placing ads in print media used to be the standard way to attract job candidates. But Fisher doesn’t believe small business owners necessarily need to advertise.
“Referrals from word of mouth, family, and friends are often the best way to find people. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting a 'Hiring' sign on your front door,” she suggests. “Use social media -- post the job on your Facebook page or Twitter.”
Boutique owner Katharine Elliott of Tailfeathers, a boutique in New Albany, OH, has had good luck with the word-of-mouth candidate search. She’s hired her loyal customers for seasonal help. “They have expressed interest in working in my store and I know upfront that they love my merchandise. Because they’ve bought product for themselves, as employees they can offer personal ‘testimonials’ to my customers.” Elliott also says it’s “important that we’ve already interacted informally, so I have insight into whether we click or not.”
3. Structure Your Interviews
As a human resource pro, Fisher is very cognizant of the legal aspects of hiring employees. It’s common for small business owners to take an informal approach, especially with seasonal help. but Fisher advises caution. “It’s a mistake to hire just from a resume. Have each candidate fill out a job application because it’s a legal document. You must be cautious about discrimination during the interview and hiring process. Also, don’t just hire based on a gut-feeling -- you want the most qualified candidate for the job.”
Fisher suggests using behavioral questions will give business owners insight into how the candidates might respond in certain situations. One good determining factor is past performance. “If they’ve worked in retail before, ask how they handled an angry customer.”
Spending quality time with candidates is also a good idea. Tanea Smith is the owner of the online stationery store, She’s Got Papers. Smith uses young interns, especially during the holiday season. “When I’m considering interns, I make it a point to take them to lunch. I do this because it gives me a chance to get a feel for their personality and to learn what their ultimate goals are. It also allows me to share with them how I started She’s Got Papers and why I’m so passionate about it.” Smith finds that in turn, her potential hires will share their dreams and goals.
4. You’re hired!
Fisher warns that having your legal ducks in a row is critical at this stage. “Make sure you’re following all federal and state employment laws and that all required forms are filled out. Be aware that state laws vary; for instance, the minimum wage is often different.” (The U.S. Department of Labor website is a great resource for federal law information and has the required forms online.)
At the hire is a good time to reiterate the job’s parameters -- expected hours, acceptable dress, etc. The work schedule is particularly crucial in retail. Elliot emphasizes that flexibility is needed in her boutique. “I have to help employees understand that retail in small stores is fluid -- dead at times and at others you might have a customer stay way past closing time and you have to meet their needs.”
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5. Invest Time in Training
It might be tempting for small business owners to skip over training to get the seasonal employee out on the selling floor or into their job tasks. Linda Harris and her husband Ken have a busy seasonal gift and antique shop. Harris has learned that good training spells out expectations. “After 16 years, I finally printed a simple training manual. Nothing beats working alongside your new hire, but having your mission statement and principles of service and quality in print is extremely helpful. Also, don’t assume they know the basics… write down the simplest daily tasks.”
Catching on quickly, having good chemistry with customers, and taking initiative are all wonderful “extras” in seasonal employees. But it’s a nice perk if they also pick up on your pride and enthusiasm in running your own business. Stationery designer Smith sees it as an opportunity. “The core message behind my company is living your dreams, loving yourself, and staying inspired. With my interns, my primary goal is to get help, but also to make sure they walk away with the knowledge that they too, if they choose, can be entrepreneurs. It’s a “win-win.”