Nine months have passed since we began the process of getting DSL, and our service just went live last week. Our path from query to connection was a jumble of miscommunication, false promises and technical mishaps.
First we had a problem determining whether or not service was available in our neighborhood. One company would say yes; the next would say no.
We finally determined that service was not available and that the yes-men were just trying to get a signed contract.
After service became available, our local phone company sold us a business package that didn't meet our needs. In this case we got caught between a sales team that over-promised and a technical team that couldn't make the package work. We lost three months while the two groups tried to work out the problem.
Eventually, we selected a new provider that gave us a 40-day installation estimate. This provider missed every milestone in the delivery schedule and waited a week to respond to our customer-service inquiries.
The time my staff had to spend battling with this company cost us a huge sum in lost productivity. Though the company finally provided us with reliable DSL service, we'd hesitate to recommend this firm to other companies.
What we learned during our DSL ordeal is worth sharing to prevent you from suffering through the same frustration. If you're ready to take the DSL plunge, use these tips to avoid headaches.
-Determine availability. One of the primary factors that determine whether or not you have access to DSL is your proximity to a telephone company's central office. To find the closest central office, visit www.dslreports.com.
-Prioritize your needs. Companies that provide DSL service create service packages to appeal to different market segments. Create a chart of providers in your area and compare their prices, bandwidth offering, customer-service channels, security measures and any other details that are important to you. This will help you pinpoint the provider that can best meet your needs.
-Talk to other users. If you know people in your area who have DSL, find out which service provider they selected and why. Ask if they are satisfied with the company's customer service and if they have suffered service outages. Also, find out what questions, if any, they wish they had asked before signing on the dotted line.
-Check the installation date. Three different providers will give you three different installation dates. This is because each one may follow different installation procedures, and some may be facing order backlogs.
Ask each provider to thoroughly outline steps in the installation process and request a firm estimate on when your DSL service will be up and running. Try to get this estimate in writing.
-Have a backup system in place. If you rely heavily on the Internet for your business operations, you may want to hang on to your current Internet connection during the first few weeks of DSL usage. This will provide alternate access in the event of a DSL service outage.
Once you are certain DSL service is running smoothly, you can get rid of your old connection method. Paying for dual connections may seem like an unnecessary expense, but considering the cost of lost productivity if your Internet access is interrupted, the investment makes good business sense.
Questions for Job Prospects
One of the biggest hiring mistakes is to pick an employee based on instinct.
Neophytes to the hiring game sometimes get "a good feeling" from a candidate and make a job offer before carefully reviewing the applicant's approach to work and ability to handle required tasks.
This often results in hiring people you like, but not necessarily people with the right job skills.
While instinct certainly plays a role in hiring, don't bring new employees onboard without exploring their backgrounds and work attitudes. It's very important to ask the right questions when you talk with potential hires on the phone or in person.
Spending a few minutes developing questions for candidates will ensure that you get the necessary details in the limited time you have with them. Some interviewing strategies for drawing the most information from applicants include keeping queries open-ended by avoiding yes-or-no questions and asking about specific topics, such as previous job responsibilities or hypothetical decision-making scenarios.
Here are examples of questions that will help you uncover details to make an educated hiring decision.
-How did you organize work in your last job? Candidates' abilities to articulate their organizational processes will clue you in to how they communicate and how much thought they give to working efficiently.
-Which of your previous supervisors did you like best and why? This question can uncover candidates' preferred work environment and management style. It draws attention to details such as how comfortable they are with independent work, whether or not they appreciate feedback and, in extreme cases, if they may be unproductive. You can also flip the question and ask about least-favorite supervisors.
-Can you tell me about a time when you disagreed with your manager's approach to a problem and how you handled it? This will help you separate people who will stand up for the good of your company from those who will work passively. Look for someone who can express opinions without being confrontational.
-Do your grades adequately reflect your capabilities? The way applicants just out of college answer this question will tell you if they evaluate their skills objectively or if they have a sense of being under-appreciated.
If the latter is the case, dig deeper to determine if they are unaware of their own limitations or have reason to feel the way they do.
If you're interviewing a candidate who has been out of school for a number of years, substitute the word "position" for "grade."
-Why are you interested in joining this company? This basic question will tell you how much potential hires know about your business, as well as their philosophy toward work.
Strong applicants will have a reason for wanting a position with your firm, such as the desire to work in your industry. Avoid applicants who simply say they need a job.
Equally important to asking the right questions is knowing which questions employment laws forbid you from asking. These include questions relating to race, age, gender, marital or parental status, ethnic heritage, and religion.
A good rule to follow is: If the question does not relate directly to the job, don't ask it. It pays to be cautious, as even an innocent question about the year of their high school graduation can be interpreted as an attempt to calculate a candidate's age.
Some federal hiring laws apply only to businesses with 15 or more employees, but following these rules is a good idea anyway. This will ensure your hiring practices remain legal as your business grows.
In addition, some states have laws for smaller employers with which you may need to comply.
Alice Bredin is author of the "Virtual Office Survival Handbook" (John Wiley & Sons) and a nationally syndicated columnist.
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