Retail Hiring 101: The no-nonsense approach to finding the best employees for your shop.

By Mikke Pierson and Rich Rubincam of ZJ Boarding House

Your employees are the most crucial part of your business. Period. Their passion, product knowledge, dedication, and commitment are key to providing the best quality customer service. They are the primary reason your business will survive and prosper.

So finding and hiring good employees should be a process that is ongoing — not something you think about only a few weeks a year. One trick is to always accept applications (even when you’re not hiring) to maintain a good pool of candidates. Take the time to interview likely candidates even if you’re not sure when you’ll need someone. Retail can change at a moment’s notice, so be ready.

Another element to hiring good employees is to have solid hiring practices and policies in place that are followed consistently. It’s important to take hiring seriously, and that starts with the right employment application. You can find an example of a good employment application here . Make sure the application has an “at will statement included that allows either the employee or employer to end the employment at anytime — even without cause. Does an “at will signed statement mean you can fire someone for no reason? Not necessarily.

State and federal laws regulate terminations — for example, you can’t terminate an employee due to their race, gender, ethnicity, union sympathy, disability, or any number of other reasons. If you terminate an employee for an illegal reason, you’re liable under these laws even if your shop is located in an “at will state. Regardless of where your shop is located, you still should have justifiable, non-discriminatory business reasons for any discharge (for example, poor work performance that has been documented and filed).

Why? Because if an employee makes a legal claim for an illegal discharge, the employer is normally required to state a legitimate reason for the discharge. While it’s legal to fire someone for no reason in “at will states, it’s not smart. Always have a legally defensible reason for any discharge — even more reason to document work performance, behavior, and attitude issues related to each employee and keep them on file for future reference. Although almost all states are “at will states, you definitely need to check what the laws are in your area.

Once you have a good application, make sure it’s available to anyone. Potential applicants should feel free to fill one out in the shop or take it home and return it later. Instruct your employees to never tell applicants whether the shop is hiring, and that they should always accept all applications gladly from whomever wants to hand them in. Not accepting applications or giving potential applicants hope that they might be hired has led several retailers to discrimination lawsuits, so it’s important that your whole staff understands how to treat the potential applicant.

If a store manager is free when an application is handed in, they should try to spend a few minutes with the person informally and take some basic notes. It’s important to take notes on a separate sheet of paper (not on the application) because the actual application will eventually become a part of the future employee’s file that they have a legal right to see. Early note taking can greatly help the person in charge of hiring weed through a thick pile of applications later.

When it’s time to hire, the person doing so should study and review all the available applications. If you find that you don’t have enough suitable applications on file, consider putting up a sign on the front door, advertising in a local paper, or posting a job notice at the local schools.

Everyone has different hiring styles, so stick with the one that works for you. Some retailers like to hire younger employees and train them, while others prefer more experienced employees. As you eliminate any applications from further nsideration, don’t throw them out! It’s recommended to keep them in a separate file for up to six months before discarding.

[IMAGE 1]Scheduling formal interviews is usually the next step. When you make phone calls to set up a meeting with the potential employee, ensure that the applicant knows it’s just an interview and that you’ll be interviewing several people. Whether you get a hold of the person or not, it’s a good idea to make note of when you called. Try to schedule the interview at a time and place where you won’t be interrupted.

Before the applicant arrives, briefly review the application so you’ll be ready for the interview. Have an extra notepad and pen ready to jot points down that come up during your discussion. At ZJ Boarding House, we like to use a prepared list of questions to help us with the initial interview. When the applicant arrives for the interview (were they on time?) be ready with a friendly greeting and try to make the person feel comfortable. If time allows, maybe introduce them to a few other employees.

Once you sit down, take a couple of minutes for small talk. This helps you ease into the interview and set a friendly tone. Sit in a relaxed manner facing each other and always maintain direct eye contact. As the interview progresses, try to keep your focus and don’t spend too much time taking notes. Avoid falling into the “story telling trap, because it often slows the process down greatly. Plus, it’s crucial that the applicant spends most of the time talking. Try to avoid asking simple “yes or “no questions that can be answered with a simple “yes or “no. Ask leading questions so that the person can provide you some insight into who they are.

The interview should typically run about 30 minutes or less. When it’s finished, let the applicant know you’ll be calling them back. Don’t pin yourself down to exactly when — tell them it may be a few days. Applicants who don’t know what to expect next can often call too many times. Be sure to thank the person sincerely for their time and interest, walk them to the door, and give them a friendly good-bye. Don’t let them feel that they probably have the job at this point — remain middle of the road with your feedback. When they leave, they should feel the interview was well done and that after you complete all of your interviews, they’ll receive a call from you.

The next step is narrowing down the applications and checking references. Checking references is a must! At this point it’s a bad idea to tell an applicant they didn’t get the job, or to be certain you’ve already found the right person in case the reference checks start changing your mind. Again, you must check references! You can learn the most amazing things about the person. Be prepared, though, checking references can be difficult. Some people will tell you a lot, and others won’t tell you anything. It is always a good idea to check at least one work reference and one personal reference. Try to find out if your candidates were good employees and why they may have left. Were they reliable, self-motivated, and eager to learn? The safest question to ask is, “Would you hire them again? At the very least, establish that they did indeed work there and when.

After the reference checks, you may be ready to hire, or you might want to call candidates back for follow-up interviews. Sometimes a second interview is a good idea if you feel another manager should have the chance to speak with the applicant. Once again, if you choose to do another interview, follow your previous steps by making them feel at ease when they arrive.

If you’ve done your interviews and checked references, you should be ready to make your decision. When you call the person to offer them the position, remember to be direct, professional, and (if they accept) set up a time when your new hire can come back and get signed up.

Now comes the difficult part: you must call all the other applicants. Try to do this over the phone, and when possible, don’t leave a message on the machine or with their roommate. Thank them again for their time and interest, but tell them you’ve selected someone else for the job. Keep the conversation short with positive overtones and wish them the best in their job search. As a footnote, you might let them know that you’ll hold on to their application, and should there be another opening, you may call them back later.

Hiring is a direct reflection of your business. The applications, the interviews, and the hiring processes must always be handled with professionalism and consistency. Your ability to find the right employees makes a huge difference to your business.

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This is the first in a series of articles brought to you by the Board Retailers Association to help educate retailers across the country. The Board Retailers Association was formed to support boardsport retailers in a variety of ways: to give members group discounts, to provide a unified voice with manufacturers, to help promote consumer awareness and shopping at boardsport retailers, and to help educate boardsport retailers. For more information or to join the Board Retailers Association, please go to www.boardretailers.org or call Roy Turner at (910) 509-7475 ext. 112.

the phone, and when possible, don’t leave a message on the machine or with their roommate. Thank them again for their time and interest, but tell them you’ve selected someone else for the job. Keep the conversation short with positive overtones and wish them the best in their job search. As a footnote, you might let them know that you’ll hold on to their application, and should there be another opening, you may call them back later.

Hiring is a direct reflection of your business. The applications, the interviews, and the hiring processes must always be handled with professionalism and consistency. Your ability to find the right employees makes a huge difference to your business.

____________________________

This is the first in a series of articles brought to you by the Board Retailers Association to help educate retailers across the country. The Board Retailers Association was formed to support boardsport retailers in a variety of ways: to give members group discounts, to provide a unified voice with manufacturers, to help promote consumer awareness and shopping at boardsport retailers, and to help educate boardsport retailers. For more information or to join the Board Retailers Association, please go to www.boardretailers.org or call Roy Turner at (910) 509-7475 ext. 112.