Q. I have had problems hiring people. I work hard to find a qualified employee. I know that my compensation and benefits are competitive. But, when I make the offer, I’m turned down. Do you have any thoughts regarding what could be going wrong?
A. We don’t know the details of your situation, but our guess is that you may have a problem with the first impression that you and your company are making on the applicants.
We’ll illustrate what we mean with an example. The applicant walked up to the company, climbing over the piles of dirty snow melting from a recent storm. She wondered if the dirt and water would ruin her shoes. She reached the door to the small construction firm and knocked. A young woman dressed in jeans and a tee shirt answered the door. She had a toddler perched on her hip. She said that the owner was running a few minutes late. She told the applicant to take a seat, pointing at the slightly dirty sofa against the wall and returned to her office with her baby.
The applicant looked around the room. The floors were dirty, the walls bare. The coat closet was open about six inches. She could see that it wouldn’t close because it was stuffed full of boxes and baby paraphernalia. The only other furniture in the room was a high-top table with three chairs.
The owner arrived about five minutes later. He was speaking loudly on his cell phone. He nodded to the applicant, putting up one finger as if to say, “I will be with you in just a minute.” The owner finished his phone call, and introduced himself. He invited the applicant to take a chair at the table. The employee with the baby joined them and the interview started.
The applicant tried to concentrate on the questions, but the baby kept squirming in his mother’s lap—grabbing at and banging on the laptop she had brought to the meeting. When the mother tried to quiet him, he started crying. She put him down to appease him. The toddler began to run around and under the table, between the legs of the adults.
Fifteen minutes into the interview, another employee entered the office to join the meeting. The owner made the introductions. He apologized to the applicant and asked her to go over her background again for the latest arrival. With only three chairs, the employee sat on the sofa. This created a new distraction for the toddler and his mother as she tried to keep her son from crawling up on the sofa. Her efforts only caused the toddler to cry again. She scooped up the child and went back to her office. Unfortunately, this is a true story.
There are hundreds of articles on the topic of how applicants should present themselves to prospective employers to make the best first impression. We think someone needs to talk to business owners regarding how they present themselves to prospective employees. In recent years, the job market has heated up considerably. Unemployment is low. Good employees are difficult to find. Most applicants are receiving multiple job offers. How do you get these great candidates to choose your organization over the competition?
The first step is to show your company in its best light. Think of this as a first date. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s cliché, but true. Studies show that you have approximately 10 seconds to create a picture in the mind of your perspective employee that will be hard to change and could make the difference in landing the candidate you want.
Going back to our example:
Be on time, and be prepared – Don’t keep the applicant waiting. Being late sends a message about personal importance. Being ready to greet the applicate at the appointed time shows respect and sets a positive tone for the interview. Make sure that you have a copy of the applicant’s resume, cover letter, and the questions you plan to ask printed before the interview. All participants should be on time.
Dress appropriately – If you work in a construction office, you don’t need to wear a suit. However, you are running a business. Both you and your employees should make an effort to dress in business casual—your applicant most likely will.
Greet the applicant with a smile and a firm handshake – A nod and hand signals are obviously not acceptable. Give the applicant your full attention. Look them in the eye and smile. Introductions should include everyone’s individual role as it relates to the job for which the applicant is applying.
Ensure your office area is neat and tidy – It doesn’t cost a lot to keep your office clean. As we said to the owner of the construction firm, sweep the floor and wipe down the table. Shovel the sidewalk in front of your building and clear a path. Make sure you have enough chairs for everyone to sit together. If your office isn’t big enough, find another location to hold your meeting or invite fewer people. Even if your business doesn’t cater to the public, it is not an excuse to have a messy office. Show that your company has personal pride. Applicants want to know that their office area will be a nice place to work.
Eliminate distractions – We understand that a toddler in an office is extreme, but other things can be distracting as well. Turn off cell phones. Designate someone to answer the company landline if applicable. Choose a less busy time to hold the interview.
In today’s tough job market, the littlest things may make the difference in your landing the best applicant. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or time to keep your office looking neat and professional. Look at your environment from the eyes of a potential employee and make appropriate changes. You only get one chance to create a positive first impression. Don’t blow it.