How To Hire and Keep Great People

By Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Bruce Weinstein wrote The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees to reveal the business value of high-character employees, and to offer tips for identifying, recruiting and retaining them. “I’ve wondered on more than one occasion, in an economy where jobs are still scarce, how is it possible that an employee would be dishonest, or uncaring, or fail to take his or her job seriously?’’ he explains. “And more to the point, why would a business hire such people and keep them around?” In this edited transcript of our interview, Weinstein shares insights and advice to help small business owners hire people with not only the right skills, but also these crucial character traits: honesty, accountability, care, courage, fairness, gratitude, humility, loyalty, patience and presence.

Bad apples are no good in any company, but why are they especially damaging to small businesses?

The most valuable commodity a small business has is its reputation. If even one person who works for such a business is dishonest, unfair or impatient, that has a huge impact on customers and ultimately the bottom line.

There’s a quantifiable cost to businesses when employee behavior is less than exemplary. Employees who are actively disengaged cost U.S. businesses between $450 and $550 billion per year, according to a State of the American Workforce report from Gallup.

High-character employees benefit businesses in four ways:

  1. They make coming to work a more agreeable experience for everyone, which is good for employee morale.
  2. They tend to be loyal to their employers.
  3. They contribute significantly to the organization’s financial health by being highly productive and developing strong relationships with clients.
  4. They reflect well on the company, which is valuable for its own sake and also promotes positive word-of-mouth.

So how can we avoid hiring employees who could hurt our business?

The biggest mistake small business owners make when hiring is focusing obsessively on what applicants need to know or do. As important as knowledge and skills are, a person’s character is what makes the difference between a good employee and a stellar one.

When you prepare a job description, discuss character as an essential component of the position, not something that simply adds value to it. Doing the job well has to mean acting with honor and integrity, not merely hitting sales numbers or closing deals. In job postings, mention up front that you’re looking for people of high character. Don’t be afraid to use words like honest, fair, ethical, honorable and integrity in the ad.

That should bring in better candidates. What should we do when interviewing prospects?

I’ve developed a series of questions that small business owners can use to evaluate the character of job applicants. For example: “Describe a time when you had to disagree with someone in authority and stand your ground. What was the situation? How did the person react? What did you do?”

Interview questions are only part of the evaluation process. It’s also critical to get feedback from references you know. And it’s vitally important to pay attention to how you feel when you’re in the presence of the applicant. Is there something that doesn’t quite feel right?

Of course, feelings don’t tell the whole story. We all have biases that can taint our objectivity, and it’s essential to be aware of these obstacles when we’re evaluating candidates. But if you sense that a job applicant isn’t being honest in his or her answers, it’s worth pursuing such doubts and finding out whether there is evidence to support your feelings.

There are two morals here: a) first impressions don’t tell the whole story, and b) the way someone treats you in the interview isn’t necessarily the way they treat others.

Your goal is to discover the extent to which the candidate’s conduct is consistent with the company’s values.

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