How to Hire Great Staff

From job description to job offer, create a hiring process that works for you.
by : 

Jacki Smith

February 1, 2014
How to Hire Great Staff

Ask yourself...

  • Do you keep an employee longer than you should because you don’t want to deal with another potential hiring disaster?
  • Does your hiring process consist of tossing applications in the air and hiring the person whose résumé lands on top?
  • Do your interviews last longer than a first date?
  • Do you feel as if you are interviewing to replace your BFF?
  • Do you work insane hours just to avoid having to hire someone?
  • Do you always hire your friends?
  • Have you lost all your friends because you hired them to work for you?

If you said yes to any of these questions, it’s time to brush up on your hiring skills. If you also laughed at the truth of any of the questions, it’s definitely time to brush up on your hiring skills!

Many business owners wait until the last minute, sweat bullets at hiring time, and put up with unacceptable behavior from employees just to avoid the interview and hiring process. But, hiring doesn’t need to be a crap shoot. With a few basic tools, you can transform your hiring process from a nightmare to a dream team of A-game employees.

Know what you’re hiring for

You may think you’re hiring a clerk or a delivery person or a bookkeeper for your store. Who you are really hiring is a public representation of your company, someone who will either support or hinder the growth of your business. When you’re clear how this position helps you grow your company, what values are needed to do the job, and what the goals of the specific position are, you paint a clear picture of who you want to hire.

A good job description can save you from making big hiring mistakes, but what makes a good job description? Besides the obvious task list that belongs to each position within the company, what does it take to do the job effectively and represent the company values? Often, one employee does several jobs; clarifying the needs of each job your new employee will hold helps put the blurred lines of their daily tasks into crisp, clear focus. Here are a few aspects that are job description “musts”:

Core job values. List three core values (qualities) required to do this job, describing each value in two to three sentences. These job-specific core values need to be in alignment with your company’s overarching core values.

Core work focus. In five points or less, what is the main focus of this position? If you have more than five points, you are blending two jobs into one. It’s normal for anyone to wear more than one hat, but knowing which hat is which makes for a focused and successful environment.

Effect of position on the company. Everyone affects your bottom line and the overall success of the company. Every employee needs to know how their direct efforts relate to your business as a whole. They may not know that they want to know, but once they do, you are fostering an employee vested in the overall success of your company. On the flip side, if they show they don’t care about the viability and success of their employer, do you really want that person on staff?

One-year benchmarks of success. Think about what you want your potential new employee to master in their first year on the job. Benchmarks expand on the core focus of their work by supplying measurable goals. Communicating these benchmarks to new employees and having them handy for their yearly review makes your life so much easier.

Three-year picture of job growth. This may look like over-planning for a ground-floor position, but this shows a potential staff member what a future in your company may look like. This also helps you focus in on where you as the boss want to be in three years and the type of person you need in that job to get you there.

Training needed. Starting with the basics, think about all the skills and knowledge needed to master the position you are filling. Does your new employee need a wide knowledge of aromatherapy, social media, and display techniques? Some of this training is unique to your company and some you may need classes for. Knowing what training is needed helps to identify the candidate with the optimal mix of skills and knowledge.

Issues and challenge of the position. Every job has a unique set of circumstances; if you are aware of them, you can choose the person who can shine under those conditions. If you need someone who thinks on their feet and is willing to assume authority in the moment, a shy high school graduate may not be your first choice. Does the job you are hiring for require your staff to be on their feet all day? Do you have challenging customers that need a cool head to service them? Does your employee need to be on call and flexible with their hours? Is your store heavily aromatic, like mine, requiring someone who is not sensitive to lots of fragrance?

You can even take this one step further and assign points to each part of the job description to rate job candidates during the interview process, making the final hiring decision easier. This technique is especially handy if you have a pay range you are willing to offer: the higher the points, the higher the starting rate. Skills cost money and, inversely, the more you need to train a new hire, the more your long-term cost will be.

Before you decide on a starting rate, balance the going rate for this position with the unpaid perks of working for your company, such as flexible work hours, work at home, and training/certification in a valuable skill. Is this job perfect for a single mom, student, or other unique life circumstances?

Know what you fire for

You already have your job description and, hopefully, a company handbook, but all that is useless if you are inconsistent in your expectations for the job. Having your own benchmarks of training, behavior, and compatibility in line with your company values, mission, and vision make the training and disciplinary process less emotional and dramatic. Consistently communicating and applying these benchmarks to your staff help them understand what you need and allow them to shine within the boundaries you have set.

Not having boundaries and expectations with your staff makes it hard to keep them accountable and productive and will come back to bite you when you have to discipline behavior. Rating employees on their skills and mastery of your company’s core values helps you know how to reward, who to mentor, and who to free up for their next opportunity (translation: fire!). Your employees are supposed to make your job easier and your working environment less stressful!

Attracting applicants

You are prepped to fill the position; now you just need qualified candidates. No matter where you post the job, what attracts the right people is the way you write the job posting. Stay away from that 20-word job posting with pay rate, experience required, and your phone number—the least compatible applicants will apply for that job. Treat this job posting like a dating ad; you want to attract the perfect candidate.

The job description you created is the beginning of your help-wanted ad. Know what an employee wants in a job and answer the question of why they would want to work for you. Sell your company in the ad and make it inspirational. Draft your job posting with key words and ideas in the three following areas and write it in a unique and fun way:

WHY you will want to work for us (you are selling the candidate on your company)

  • Why the new employee will be an asset to you
  • What the position will entail
  • Benefits of working for your company

WHAT you get to do (the roles and tasks they will do in this job)

  • List a couple of interesting key things they will be doing (stay positive!)

Do YOU have what it takes? (this is where you list what YOU are looking for in the ideal candidate)

  • Experience
  • Education
  • Skills

Use this job posting everywhere, even handing it out when you talk to friends, family, and random people about it. Make sure every applicant sees the job posting. You can even do a bit of pre-screening over the phone, quizzing them on why they are interested in applying for this job and how they think they fit the description in the posting.

The quagmire of hiring friends and family

The first rule of hiring is do NOT hire your friends, though it’s frequently done because it’s so easy to match the friend who needs a job with your need for a new employee. It seems the perfect fit, and your friend would be so grateful for the job. But when you hire a friend, you are asking both of you to move from a place of equality to a place of hierarchy.

If you absolutely must hire friends, have an open and honest discussion with the friend before you both take the plunge and let them know their application will be given equal consideration with all other applications you receive.

Make them formally apply, check their references, and have someone else interview them. Don’t assume just because you bowl on the same league or have Sunday dinner together every week you know their work ethic. Really, if they can’t bring you a résumé, they may be looking for a handout or a free ride from you.

Show them your job description, minimum requirements for the position, and pay structure. If you do offer them the position, as with any other employee have them sign a copy of the job offer and keep a copy on file so there is no confusion later as to what they are supposed to do.

Talk about the culture of the business and that you will be their boss when they walk through the door. You will expect them to follow the job expectations of everyone on staff. They will receive no special treatment; they will be expected to be on time, reliable, and treat you as the employer. Preparing in advance helps avoid hurt feelings and firmly establishes your work relationship.

The interview process: Shut up and let them talk

It is the norm for the inexperienced interviewer to do most of the talking and the experienced interviewee to try and get you to talk even more! When you do all the talking, the candidate instinctively knows exactly how to respond in a way that fits your needs. Hiring rule #2 (after not hiring friends): Do very little talking in the interview.

Rule #3: Ask questions that will tell you about their character. When you get them to relax a little by answering the technical experience questions, move on to casual questions that tell you more about their work ethic, how they manage their stress, and what their core values are. It’s surprising how much information a candidate gives in an interview, so keep asking until you get a clear “No” or “Yes” in your mind. Here are some questions to get you started:

Where do you see yourself in five years? This gives you a read on whether they are in a transition point in their life or are on their chosen path. It will also show whether they are engaged in their life and have passion for anything.

What is your philosophy of (fill in the blank of the job, such as retail, sales, accounting, marketing, construction)? The answer to this question tells you whether your values are in alignment with theirs or they are just giving you the answers they think you want to hear.

How do you deal with stress on a daily basis? Everyone has stress; you want to know how they deal with it. You will quickly get a picture of whether they live a stress-and-drama-filled life that they may bring to work. True story: A candidate actually said to me in an interview, “I just bottle it up until I blow.”

What is your philosophy on conflict resolution? This answer will give you hints as to whether they are passive-aggressive, take responsibility for their own actions, and are realistic in their expectations of others.

Tell me about your oldest friend. This surprise question will tell you a lot about who they are. If their oldest friendship is fairly new, it tells you you need to ask more questions about how they manage their relationships.

What is your best characteristic? Your worst? This is the truth-serum question. Listen carefully and ask more probing questions to challenge them on their answers. True story: A candidate actually answered that his worst characteristic was he was always late and liked to procrastinate. When pushed for more details, he revealed he’d been fired from a few jobs because of this. When I asked how he had fixed this, he said he had not yet!

What is the most authority or responsibility you have had in any job or personal experience? This question will help you align the experience candidates list on their resume with what they are telling you.

You’ll like a lot of the people you interview, and that is where the tough choice comes in. If you have any doubt or your gut is telling you no, trust it. No is no and you will never regret not hiring them. If your gut says, “THIS IS THE ONE!” go ahead and double check your decision. You will never regret digging deeper; you will only regret not digging deeper and later suffering unpleasant surprises by your new staff member.


Now is the time to take the job description you penned and create a productive and pleasant environment for your new employee. Begin your new staff member’s relationship with your company in a unique way to set a positive tone. Consider starting them on a Friday with a welcoming party. Give them the royal tour, have them fill out their paperwork and hang around to get to know you, the other staff, the building, and your culture. On the following Monday, they will be less nervous and already thinking positively about their new job.

Most importantly, be ready for them to actually do their job. Put them to work. Show them from the beginning that you expect them to be industrious and hardworking, for the good of all.

Jacki Smith is Founder and Enchantress of Coventry Creations and designer of the Blessed Herbal Candles. Jacki has a passion for small business (she owns three), has two books under her belt, and is a regular contributor to Retailing Insight. Contact her at