Take it Slow: 6 Ways to Improve Your Hiring Process

Originally published
Originally published: 8/1/2012

But when it comes to firing, be swift and discrete.

Over the past 22 years, I’ve hired a lot of the wrong people, and then did what most of us do — I kept them too long, and they cost me a lot of money. I now subscribe to the “hire-slow-fire-fast” axiom. Hiring is an art, not a science, and a resume alone won’t tell you if the person is right for your company.

Let’s say you are in the motel business, and a clean-cut guy, Norman Bates (remember the movie Psycho?), applies for a job. His resume looks fine (lots of experience in motel management), he is well spoken, and he interviews well. Would you hire him without checking him out further? Hopefully not, but how often do we do just that?

Here are six ways to improve your hiring skills. Yes they will slow you down, but that’s better than going fast and making a hiring mistake:

1. Do background checks: We belong to a networking group for independent HVAC contractors called Excellence Alliance. Part of the membership includes background checks. Every potential applicant gets a background check, and if they drive our trucks, we do a motor-vehicle-records check as well.

2. Test for drugs if you say you are a drug-free workplace: Just asking someone if they do drugs is not the most accurate way to confirm they don’t. We found that 30% of those we test who say they are drug-free will show positive on their tests.

3. Check references: And not just friends and families. Ask for supervisors and coworkers of previous employers.

Here’s what to ask:

  • What was the candidate’s attendance record? Was the candidate on time and dependable?
  • Is this person a team player or does he excel by working alone?
  • What are the candidate’s three strongest qualities?
  • Would you rehire them?
  • Should I hire them?

4. Use personality tests: Unlike the first three, testing personalities is not a make-or-break area, but it is good to know if the person fits your business culture. We use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment, which is quick and easy.

There is actually a short version of the test that can be taken “free” at: jtypes1.htm.

5. Have at least three interviews, and have different people interview: Then meet and discuss findings. You’ll be surprised at the different observations and perspectives that each person brings to the discussion.

There should be a variety of questions, but it is interesting to have a few of the same just to make sure you get the same answer. We divvy up a series of questions, about 10 to 15 for each interviewer.

6. Ask the applicant, “Why should I hire you?” Their answer may be different than yours.

According to a Harvard Business School study, making poor hiring decisions can cost a company as much as three times an employee’s annual compensation package. (This includes not only base salary but also commission and bonus.) So if you keep the wrong people for a few years, it can really place a strain on your business.

When to Say Goodbye

So we hire too fast, but when should we let them go? You should have a com- pany handbook and have causes for termination listed, but here are eight things that we are always on the lookout for:

1. Speaking to or communicating with a manager in a manner that is disrespectful.

2. Using a position/title as a means to indicate to upper management/owners “the rules do not apply to me.”

3. Frequently using the “blame game,” perceived discrimination, or perceived lack of funding for frequent failures to exercise or execute basic job responsibilities.

4. Failing to stay on task while other workers complete their job duties. (Yes, other workers take notice and report to upper management).

5. Causing time- and energy-wasting drama by participating in gossip.

6. Being a “what’s in it for me” employee instead of “how can I help add value” employee.

7. Showing indignant behavior to the company’s customers and upper management and/or ownership.

8. Thinking “they can’t survive without me” and not being a team player.

If any of these happen, they typically will happen in the first few months of employment, which is during the training period. Usually a supervisor will pick up on the bad attitude, or a co-worker will bring it to his attention.

In our employee handbook we ex- plain how managers will proceed if there is a problem. The process has five steps: 1. Verbal warning 2. Written warning 3. Second written warning 4. Suspension 5. Termination.

How to Say Goodbye

A firing should never be a surprise to anyone. Carl Greenberg, President of Pragmatic HR, advises that you do this over the course of about four weeks so the employee has a real chance to correct and improve performance.

A 90-day probation is not always the best way. You should know within the first few weeks if they are a good fit or not. If it comes time to terminate, you’ll need to be able to present specific information to back up your decision. From the time of hire there should be a record of meetings and any verbal or written warnings.

You should accompany any original warnings with realistic goals that are actually measurable, says Greenberg — such as “increasing sales by at least x percent.” If they don’t achieve those goals, they shouldn’t be surprised when they are let go; no one can argue against hard numbers.

The firing process should be done in private, but I recommend having another manager or lead person present as a witness. We have an exit form that basically states why the person is being let go and a statement that they have turned in all of their company property, keys, credit cards, etc. Most will sign it, but some choose not to. Either way, whatever they don’t turn in or owe the company, they are responsible to pay.

Keep the firing meeting short and sweet, and make it absolutely clear that there is no room for discussion on the matter. Example: “I’ve reviewed this with you twice, once on the 5th and again on the 11th. Unfortunately, I now need to let you go.”

Review the exit form, get a signature if possible, and then walk them to either their company truck or desk, let them collect their personal items, and then walk them to their car or take them home. If it is a service technician, we will typically do a quick inventory of the entire company truck they drive. It’s not up to them to determine what tool belongs to whom; we have a tool sheet that has company tools and personal tools listed. We use direct deposit for payroll, but the last check is always sent to them with “final check” written in the memo.

The firing process is never anyone’s favorite thing to do. It’s actually very uncomfortable; but at times, it must happen in order to keep and run a productive and successful business.

If we hire slowly though, our chances are much better that we will have to fire less.

Greg McAfee founded McAfee Heating & Air Conditioning Co. Inc. in 1990 when he was 27 years old. Today, in addition to running his business, Greg consults and teachers others about successful business management. For more information, visit his Website at