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posted: 3/5/2012 6:12 AM

Don't ignore character traits when hiring employees

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"The new worker who doesn't quite fit isn't the end of the world -- if your company has 15,000 employees," says Jeff Rosset. "But if you have 11 employees, it's a problem."

Looking only at a prospective employee's job skills and ignoring character traits is one of the mistakes small businesses tend to make when they hire, says Bob Podgorski. He's manager of extension services at Harper College's Prospect Heights satellite location, and since 2003 has coordinated the St. Hubert Job and Networking Ministry in Hoffman Estates.

Hiring does seem to be happening. "It's not 2006, when a business might have had 20 employees before it went down to 14," notes Rosset, director of marketing at MidwestHR LLC, a Warrenville PEO (professional employer organization) that serves the Chicago market. "But now that business is at 16 or 17 employees and going in the right direction."

The key is finding the right employee. "Small businesses should screen for people eager to learn, because in small businesses new skills often are required quickly," Podgorski says. "New employees must be collaborative, able to work in close-knit teams, and flexible, able to wear different hats because goals often change."

Your interview with a prospective employee may matter most. "Never ask 'yes' or 'no' questions," advises Jeff Krug, president, J. L. Krug & Associates Inc., a Geneva coaching firm. "Ask scenario, or open-ended, questions. If your interview style is 'This is the job. Can you do it?', the response will be, 'Of course I can do it.'"

Suppose, however, you're in retail. Krug suggests scenario questions such as "Tell me about the last time a dissatisfied customer came in. How did you handle the situation?" The answer, Krug says, will give you a good feel for how the candidate might perform.

(If you roll your eyes at the thought of developing what-would-you-do-if questions, type "open-ended questions" into your search engine and you'll find dozens of samples.)

Even a good interview process "gets you only 15 to 20 percent of what you need to know," Krug says. Background checks and references are important. Check driving records and education. Do a criminal check. Know what to listen for when you call references.

You also can pick up information from the walk-around as you show your facility to the candidate. "Candidates think the interview is over at that point, but it's not," Krug says.

You need qualified candidates to interview, of course. Job boards are one place to look. Rosset adds LinkedIn posts and "telling people, 'I'm hiring a sales rep. Do you know someone?'"

Podgorski suggests community centers, community colleges, job groups and outplacement firms. With 2,700 jobseekers, many of them senior executives or managers, the St. Hubert program is a potential source, too.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at

2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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