Third-party testing for job candidates and current employees might help prevent expensive personnel mistakes.
|Tom Swartz, CGR.|
Feinmann is an advocate of using third-party testing organizations for evaluating the personalities, skills, temperaments and aptitude of individuals for particular jobs at his $4.5 million company. Gilday has used similar tests but now relies more on the gut instincts honed during nearly three decades of running his $4 million business.
Tom S.: Peter, what kind of testing do you do?
Peter: I test all my employees plus any potential employees. We go through a fairly rigorous process. One of the things I figured out when I was working with an outside consultant is that I tended to hire people with similar strengths and weaknesses. That was fine when the company was small. But as it got bigger, I started seeing gaps, particularly around developing managers who had a good feel for systems and procedures. I’m very good at that, but as the company grew larger, I couldn’t manage all those methods and procedures.
Outside testing objectifies a subjective process. I used to go on my gut and do pretty well. But as the company got larger, I found the gut was not the most reliable tool. I also found that rehiring and retraining is an exhausting process, so I started looking for a system that would help me define the job we were hiring for and how we could match the right candidate to the job.
Tom S.: Tom, at one time you did outside testing, but now you go in-house for testing when hiring.
Lately we’ve been doing interviews. I ask probing questions about the candidate’s personality. Are they high-energy? Are they high-maintenance? How much supervision do they need? Can they be trained? How rigid or flexible are they? I’m looking for a person who fits the culture, the energy level. Then we’ll move him through the training process through the company. But I’m looking for attitude, energy level, whatever I think fits.
Tom S.: Peter, Tom has said he is interested in energy levels, whether the people are flexible and whether they’re going to fit in the company culture. What do you look to get out of the tests?
Our most recent hiring was for an administrator for our sales and design department. We identified that a main component of this job was going to be setting up systems and procedures in the department so that we deliver information to the production team in a much more consistent, less haphazard manner. So we were looking for candidates for whom systems and methodology was a key component of their skill set.
I met someone I adored. The old Peter would have hired her because he liked her. But as she went through the tests, she didn’t show the same skill set of developing systems and procedures as the person we did hire, who in two months has done exactly what we were looking for.
Tom S.: Tom, what kind of questions do you ask to tell if someone will fit your company culture?
Tom G.: I try to find out about their energy: What do you like to do? What do you do for fun? What do you do when you get home from work? What is a typical day for you? Then I ask questions about what they tell me. I ask very comfortable questions about them, and through that we get a pretty honest appraisal of who we have sitting across from us even before I have to worry about the skill level. I really look for attitude and energy, so I may get through this in 15 minutes and be able to say, “Thanks very much. We’ll call you.” I won’t have to spend the whole hour and a half.
If you ask enough questions, you start to find out who is sitting there. I don’t want to get somebody in here who’ll decide they don’t like it here after 15 months or 12 months or six months and move on. That’s expensive.
Tom S.: We give our carpenters a skill-level test. Maybe the test we need is more of an attitude test than whether they can pound nails. Peter, do you use different companies to test for different positions?
Peter: Most of my testing is done through my Sandler Sales coach, whom I’ve known since 1994. One he uses is DISC. The D stands for dominance, I is for influence, S is for steadiness, and C is for compliance. If you’re looking for a carpenter who has a strong personality and can juggle a lot of jobs and has good people skills, you want to hire someone with a higher dominance personality with good influential skills. Sometimes you’ll find someone with a high dominant personality but low influential skills, but they tend to tick people off. They don’t know how to get people to work for them. They just know how to do it better than anybody else. But if you’re looking for a guy to do fussy finish work in the corner day in and day out, you want someone who is a steady and compliant personality, who really wants to get it perfect.
We’ve used the tests for matching carpenters to clients. We’ve matched a high-D carpenter to a high-D client because we knew that client needed somebody to stand up to them. At the other end, we’ve matched a high-S, high-C to a high-S, high-C client who wants everything perfect and every bit of information explained to them every day. If you try to have a high-D explain something to a guy like that, he’s just going to drive him crazy. We find that our salespeople have to be high-I’s; they have to have good people skills. But our estimators have to be high-S’s and high-C’s because they have to be comfortable counting up sticks of lumber day in and day out.
Tom S.: Peter, is there a cost associated with these tests?
Peter: Yes, they run about $100 to $300 per test, depending on how many tests we’re combining. The costs for tests where I’m evaluating positions get into $1,000 to $2,000.
Tom S.: Do you also use these tests when you’re promoting someone into another area?
Peter: Yes, and now we’re looking at skill sets. We’re actually looking at hiring a new production manager, and we have a couple of in-house candidates who want the position. For us, it’s a matter of “Do you have a skill set in terms of the profile that matches who we’re trying to hire?” We’ll put those people through the same process as if they were coming from the outside.
Tom S.: Peter, have you ever hired a person against the test results?
Peter: Yes, I did let my gut override the test results. That person is leaving at the end of the month, and it’s been a long two years for all of us. I’m a “half-full” kind of guy, and I was sure I could change the attitude. That was at the end of the first year.
In the middle of the second year, I handed the supervision of this person to someone else in the company, and that person has been working toward termination of this employee in a win-win fashion. I much prefer a termination to be win-win because a firing can be ugly. We’ve helped this employee realize she doesn’t really want to work in support of other people anymore, and she has actually thanked us for that. We’ll shake hands, give each other a hug and go on with our lives.
Tom S.: Tom, what do you do when your gut lets you down?
Tom G.: The employment market around here in the last three years was very tight. So in some instances I changed the job descriptions to try to hire based on the résumés and interviews I was having. That turned out to be a mistake. The quality of the people I hired wasn’t what I needed.
Matching the candidate with the job description is tough, and waiting sometimes is the hardest when you need help and people are stressed because you don’t have the help. But in the long run, it takes more time and more energy, and it’s more traumatic, to make a mistake. It’s better to hold the steady course and go with the initial plan, but it’s difficult.
Peter: You’re right. When you rush and make a mistake, it’s so much more expensive than waiting three months longer.
Tom S.: Do either of you do drug and alcohol testing?
Peter: No, we haven’t done that kind of testing.
Tom G.: We don’t do drug and alcohol, but every person who comes through the door signs a release for us to check their background. We do a criminal check through federal and state, and we get a copy of their driver’s license. If we hire them, we get proof of car insurance.
We’ve had some very interesting things turn up. We’ve had some interviews go real well, but then have something like arrest for possession of a controlled substance. We ask if there’s anything likely to turn up in the background check, and they’ll say, “No, no, nothing.” Then that turns up, and now they’ve not only got the criminal record, they’ve lied to us. The criminal check these days is very important.
Tom S.: What words of wisdom would you give a remodeling contractor who’s struggling with how to hire for what position?
Tom G.: Unfortunately, developing skills for hiring takes a long, long time. If someone’s skill level isn’t up there, the costs of these tests of $100 or $300 are dollars well-spent to avoid a disaster. I’ve hired some people who’ve turned out to be disasters, and it’s been a traumatic experience for everyone involved. Testing will confirm some of the ideas you may have about the person sitting across from you, or it may give you another insight into this candidate’s capabilities, attitudes, skill level and how they’re going to get along with the rest of the people at your place.
Peter: I have found that testing has opened up a whole new world to the way I do my hiring. I’d tell them to do the DISC test. They can contact the Keyline Company at www.keylinecompany.com. It helps you understand who your people are, accept them, price them accordingly, manage them accordingly, hire them for the right job. If you’re looking for a manager and you’ve got a guy who likes to work sequentially, you’re going to be pretty frustrated, wondering why this guy’s screwing up so much. It helps break down your expectations in a realistic manner.
I’d also say that the basic background checks that Tom is recommending are a great idea, particularly for the field staff. It’s probably less of a problem with the office staff.
Selected portions of the interview are available on the audio page.
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