This is the time of year when high school and college students look for summer moneymaking opportunities. This means it's a great time to find temporary staff for your business.
Having an extra pair of hands for a few months can help you get a jump on neglected projects or catch up enough to take a vacation.
We use interns from Pace University in New York as our temporary helpers. They help us catalogue information and maintain our organizational structure. In exchange, they receive school credits and get a chance to observe our marketing team at work.
Interns can be more difficult to find than summer employees, but both are a possibility. Start your search for summer help at high schools and colleges. Most schools allow you to post positions in high school guidance offices and college career centers.
Once you begin your hunt for qualified candidates, follow these do's and don'ts to locate the one who is right for your company.
-Do write a good job description. List the responsibilities you want your part-time worker to manage and the qualities you need him or her to possess to get the job done. After you've finished, divide these items into two categories mandatory and optional. This will help you hone in on strong candidates and quickly nix those who can handle the optional work, but who don't have skills for more-complicated tasks.
-Don't meet everyone who responds. After screening resumes and selecting a handful of potential candidates, start the hiring process by conducting phone interviews. This is more efficient than a face-to-face meeting because you can end calls with weak applicants quickly.
Spend more time with candidates who show potential and invite them to meet in person. Ask them to review an item related to your business before they come, such as your Web site or a product brochure. During the face-to-face interview, ask for feedback on the item. Their insights will tell you a great deal about their level of critical thinking and self-confidence.
-Do test skills. Uncovering a candidate's skills can be a challenge, especially if he or she does not have an extensive work history. To find out how applicants think and how they will handle the tasks you plan to give them, offer scenarios from a typical workday and ask them to describe how they would manage them.
-Do make a list after the interview. Right after candidates leave, write down your impressions and any concerns about their ability to do the job. This will help you remember details about the interview when you sit down to make a final hiring decision. Also, you might want to divide the items on the job description into those you feel the candidate will do well, and those he or she may struggle with.
-Do check references. No matter how confident you are that a candidate will meet your needs, take the time to call a few references. You can keep these phone calls simple by asking three questions: What are the candidate's strengths? What are the candidate's weaknesses? Is there anything else I should know?
-Don't hire on a whim. Some businesspeople are tempted to hire the wrong person because they need help desperately and don't have a lot of time to devote to looking. This is a mistake. Having the wrong person in place will drain time from your day even faster than the hiring process does. This doesn't mean you should wait for a part-time worker who has three years of experience in your field, but it does mean waiting for someone who is logical, a good communicator and a problem-solver.
Many newly released students are eager to work for small companies because they've watched peers make it big by joining growing businesses on the ground floor. Over the past couple of years, I've hired a few recent graduates, and I have benefited from their high energy and positive attitude.
As stated, the key to separating good contributors from slackers is careful resume review. Time invested in resume scrutiny has netted me a few diamonds in the rough whom I have brought on board at a reasonable cost and trained according to my standards.
To help separate extraordinary applicants from ordinary, watch for these characteristics that can be gleaned from resume details.
-Organizational skills. The way applicants organize their resumes can shed light on their organizational skills. For example, most of the executive-level people I have hired submitted one page resumes that are highly organized despite multiple advanced degrees, awards and extensive work experience. At the lower level, candidates have less to tell and should, therefore, have streamlined resumes. Beware of resumes that are difficult to read or have shaky organizational structure.
-Enthusiasm. The level of involvement applicants had in their previous jobs can serve as a barometer for future work. Scan resumes for mentions of proposed initiatives that were adopted, participation in committees or involvement in work-related events. These are signs that a candidate took an active interest in his or her job.
-Leadership skills. Resumes can also demonstrate whether or not applicants were trusted and respected by others in their companies. Hunt for evidence that applicants were asked to work closely with upper-level management or to lead projects independently. These are signs that their supervisors enjoyed working with them and that they were seen as capable of managing change.
-Can-do attitude. Solid performers are often rewarded for their work with opportunities for advancement. If a candidate's resume suggests that he or she was promoted quickly and/or frequently, you may want to take a second look.
-Longevity. Candidates who have stayed with their previous employers for a number of years are more likely to remain at your company long-term. On the other hand, if applicants have bounced from position to position every year, they may leave your company after a short time. If such a candidate interests you because of his or her skills, ask what prompted these job changes. If the person moved on for reasonable reasons, call references from past jobs to verify that the information offered is true.
-Small-business focus. Applicants who have worked with small businesses in the past are likely to understand the work environment and challenges they will encounter at your company. People who have only worked in corporate environments may have trouble adjusting to the flexible structure and limited resources of a home-based business. If you're interested in an applicant with a big-company background, explore work-environment issues such as kitchen privileges and interactions with children or pets with him or her. This will keep post-hire issues to a minimum.
Obviously you can't tell everything about candidates from their resumes, so it's a good idea to develop questions that will uncover the information you need before you meet with applicants.
Alice Bredin is author of the "Virtual Office Survival Handbook" (John Wiley & Sons) and a nationally syndicated columnist.
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