This Question May Be the Only One That Matters

June 6, 2014

 

The ad read, "Part-Time Bookkeeper/Office Manager." The recruiter posted it on Craig's List and LinkedIn as well as several other sites. More than 100 individuals applied.

 

The recruiter carefully screened the resumes for the criteria that she believed would produce the best candidate for her client. The focus was on skills, behaviors, and experience. The recruiter interviewed six potential employees by phone. From these, she scheduled the most promising three to interview with the small business owner, herself and one other qualified person. She crafted a list of questions and developed a case situation to test for the right behaviors and knowledge. After the interviews, the recruiter checked references, criminal background and education and offered the job to the favorite candidate. The applicant requested that she be given a day to consider the offer (a bad sign).

 

The next day the applicant turned down the job offer stating she needed a full-time job with benefits. REALLY? Did she not understand that this was a part-time job? The recruiter was astounded. She had discussed the number of hours needed by this small business owner. She had reviewed the hourly wage, the lack of benefits and the working conditions with each potential employee. She had been explicit. Now she would have to start again and her client would have to wait longer for help to arrive. The process had failed.

The failure was in the first question. The recruiter had asked, "Are you looking for a part-time job?" Each applicant had answered, "Yes." This, however, was the wrong question. The right question was, "Why are you looking for a part-time job?"

 

Today's job market is flooded with highly qualified unemployed people. However, many of these folks want full-time positions. Who can blame them? A full-time job by definition means more hours and therefore more money than part-time employment can offer. Full-time positions are more likely to offer health benefits, paid-time-off and other perquisites desired by most applicants. Many of these job seekers are willing to take a part-time position as a stopgap while continuing to look for a full-time position. If they have exhausted unemployment and other benefits, part-time work may be their best or only option at that time. While we understand the motivation of these candidates to apply for and accept part-time jobs, their desires don't mesh well with the needs of the employer.

 

There are legitimate and practical reasons for preferring part-time work. We have found successful hires in retirees who only want to work a few extra hours to supplement a fixed income or special expenses such as travel or hobbies.  Sometimes workers have other obligations and personal interests (pursuing a degree, participation in their children's activities, caring for aging parents) that make working 40 or more hours each week unattractive or impossible. In these cases, the flexibility that often accompanies part-time work can be an added bonus. Others want to "keep their hand in the game" but don't need the money. Still others desire the companionship and camaraderie that work colleagues can offer. While you should not pry into an applicant's personal matters, you need to assure yourself that the candidate has a legitimate and long-term reason for his or her preference for part-time work.

 

If you are looking for part-time labor, make sure that your first question is, "Why are you looking for a part-time position." If you don't get an answer that makes sense, none of the others will matter.

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