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11:00 PM   April 19, 2014
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Best Practices

When Al Bell, CEO of Moochie & Co., interviews potential managers, he likes to stall a bit while the candidates roam through store merchandise. Watching their reactions tells him volumes when determining a good fit.

“We always say they must love dogs, cats, people and the merchandise,” says Bell. If a candidate picks up a leash and smiles, that’s a good sign.

If a candidate doesn’t immediately warm up and relax after an icebreaker, that’s a bad sign.

“I make small talk for a while early on and they don’t realize it’s part of the (interview),” Bell adds.

Many potential employees know retail and exhibit good work ethics. However, do they truly love animals? Résumés and typical interview questions about goals and schooling provide only part of an assessment when retailers discern whom they should hire and who should work elsewhere.

“I’ve learned it the hard way,” admits Leanne Durnford, owner of Leanne’s Pet Shop in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. “They have to have a keen interest in animals, not just need a job.”

Interview Tips

Are you witnessing excessive turnover? Paying attention to body language during an interview reveals important clues about a potential hire’s true ability:

  • Watch how quickly a candidate relaxes.
  • Does a potential hire’s face light up when discussing animals?
  • Fidgeting when asked how he or she handles stress can represent a sign of trouble.
  • Do candidates make small talk with employees during a tour? Do they react positively to merchandise?
It might seem that today’s hiring market, which offers more choice and more people looking for work, should encourage retailers with open positions. Nevertheless, how do retailers determine if someone wants a permanent opportunity or just something to tide him or her over? If laid-off candidates tell interviewers they desire a career change, do they believe it?

“There’s no question there’s a lot of available talent out there,” says Steve Stromp, an employment consultant based in Dayton, Ohio. “You must be selective.”

Stromp points to a theory titled “Targeted Selection” as a solid approach to weeding through applications and interviewing candidates so the most relevant information comes to the forefront.

In addition to focusing on job-related dimensions, roles, knowledge and experience, targeted interviewing assesses behavioral information and motivation levels. It consists of three main components: situation, action and result. For example:

  • Tell me a situation that required you to be creative. How did you respond and what was the result?
    .
  • Let’s say a customer comes in to complain about a dog-food price. How do you handle the situation? What result indicates your approach worked?

Stromp says Targeted Selection eliminates unrelated questions that offer no usable data.

“If you ask a question such as, “Why do you want to work here?’ the answer will be ambiguous,” he explains.

Durnford needs only two additional employees besides herself so she must find exceptional people. Though she likes it when a candidate’s work history includes animals, it’s not required.

Overall, Durnford reports, “The interview is more important than the résumé.”

She spends an hour with potential employees, keenly observing their reactions regarding animals.

“You get a feel for who they are,” she explains.

Stromp says a tour reveals much about potential hires, including their emotional responses to animals and products, and how they interact with other employees. He advises engaging employees in the interview process, relying less on interviews conducted by one person. After relevant questions get determined based on specific skill sets, a rating system of 1 to 5 helps compare notes from individuals.

Since Moochie & Co. prides itself on carrying upscale product lines, employees must motivate customers.

“I’m big on active selling,” Bell says.  “I like to find that in someone’s background. They need to understand the urgency of the transaction.”

Even though, in today’s job market, many potential employees look for work solely for financial reasons, Stromp advises not counting someone out who must take a pay cut.

Some people, particularly baby boomers, often have a supplemental income.

“Look for someone that took early retirement,” Stromp recommends.  “They can be satisfied with (lower pay).”

Betsy Richards, director of career resources at Chicago-basedKaplan University, emphasizes paying attention to a candidate’s questions.

“If a person asks about the industry, company, long-term benefits, professional development and potential career ladder, [he or she] is more likely interested in a career transition,” she says.

Stromp and Bell agree, when candidates desire a career transition, management experience in another industry isn’t enough. For example, what in their background indicates a willingness to work nontraditional hours and capitalize on the critical holiday rush? Will they balk at coming in on scheduled days off? Will they mind a smaller office?

“Retail is not for everybody,” Bell notes. “I would be slow to accept someone who wants to move from another industry into retail.”

Bell says he does believe in checking references, even though answers often provide sketchy data. If unsatisfied he keeps looking, calling a corporate office if necessary. He will also visit a potential employee’s previous workplace.

“You can find out a lot from employees,” he says.

Bell does not do pre-testing, however.

“If I’m completely honest, it’s expensive,” he adds.

Even though engaging a company that specializes in conducting background checks and reviewing legalities of hiring costs money, the modest fee may pay off, Richards says.

Glenn Laborda, manager of Absolutely Fish in Clifton, N.J., is one of the lucky ones, as he’s located within walking distance of most candidates.

“We typically attract those who have their own tanks,” he says. “They come in and say, ‘Are you hiring?’”

Laborda follows a strict approach.

“We don’t have people without experience,” he adds. “It’s more knowledge than visual clues. We get a lot of the science kids.”

If Targeted Selection offers a way to identify potential hires, Stromp says store culture keeps them onboard and comes from the top down. Pay raises represent a temporary satisfaction. When the fast-food industry faced excessive turnover, it instituted perks such as tuition reimbursement and flexible scheduling.

“Sometimes we treat employees like fifth-graders,” Stromp explains. “It implies a lack of trust. What [retains] people is the quality of their work life.” <HOME>


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