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Interview Tactics that Work

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The importance of effective hiring cannot be overstated, says Mel Kleiman. And he would know, having helped countless shops find and hire employees as the founder of Humetrics Inc. 

“The most important decision that you as an owner make every day is who you allow through the door to help you take care of your business,” he says. “You are only as good as the people you have working for you, especially in the collision repair business. Your people are more than just your employees. They are, in reality, directly affecting your product. The companies with the best people end up producing the best product. We need to make hiring into a core competency.”

The problem, he says, is that shop owners typically aren’t interviewing and hiring enough to become truly good at it. Standard interview questions no longer work and shops often hire great applicants, but not great employees.

Daren Fristoe, president of the Fristoe Group, a human resources firm that provides services to all of the Sherwin-Williams A-PLUS Network of shops, agrees. In this economic market, he says, interviewees are often better at conducting interviews than the interviewer.

“The challenge we have today is that so many candidates are exactly alike,” he says. “So many people walk through the door that are qualified on paper to do the job.”

To break through the canned answers and into meaningful conversation in interviews takes creativity and thinking outside the box. Kleiman, Fristoe, and Ron Perretta, an industry consultant and shop owner, outline some of their proven interview techniques and tips to finding the best hire for your business.

Consider the Interview as a Test

“The number-one key to remember in interviewing is that everything you do in the hiring process is a test,” Kleiman says.

What he means is that every action you have a job candidate take should have a purpose. For example, if you give the candidate an application blank and instruct them to fill it out completely without leaving any portion blank, take note if they follow your directions.

“Guess what happens almost 15 percent of the time? They leave it blank,” Kleiman says. “They just told you they can’t follow direction or they don’t care.”

Consider what kind of qualities you’re looking for in the position and try to tailor the interview to provide insight into whether or not the candidate matches those qualities. For example, if you’re looking for a punctual customer service representative to man the office at 7:30 a.m., have the candidate come in for an interview at 7:30 a.m. If you’re looking for a hardworking technician who can keep up with the intense workload of your shop, ask about the hardest job they have ever had. Along those lines, Kleiman recommends asking: What made it hard? How long did you last at it? What made you leave?

“The point is to have them show you they can do the job,” he says. “Those type of instructions measure things like dependability, reliability and responsibility.”

Start from the Beginning

Ask any interviewee and they will have more than likely heard the following in a past interview: Tell me about your last job. While it’s been touted as an important step of the interviewing process, Kleiman says it’s an ill-advised one.

“Everybody has a canned answer for their last job. The problem is, you’re watching the movie backwards,” he says. “Movies watched backwards don’t make sense.”

Instead, he suggests starting from the beginning and asking, “Tell me about the very first thing you ever did to earn money.”

“It’s a story prompt,” he says. “It will tell you more about attitude or personality than any other question you can ask.”

It doesn’t matter if the first job is irrelevant from the paint and body industry, Kleiman says; even childhood jobs like babysitting or mowing the lawn can reveal a multitude of information about the candidate’s level of responsibility and growth.

“Ask them what the three things they learned were, how they got the job, how their responsibilities changed by the time they left the job,” he says. “Chances are, no one has ever asked them about the first thing they ever did to earn money. They won’t be able to use a canned answer and will be forced to speak more honestly and freely.”

Ask Them to Be King

Fristoe also believes in having the candidate create a narrative and does so through a simple question: “You’re king or queen of the shop for a day. What does that day look like?”

“We all have to work, so what do you love doing and what do you hate doing?” he says. “It takes them off their résumé and canned answers and they either communicate or they don’t. If you get those blanket answers of, ‘I love doing everything,’ you’re probably not for me because either you’re crazy or you’re lying. Everyone has something they don’t like doing.”

At his two-location repair business in Pennsylvania, Perretta asks a similar question during his interviews and says it has instantly revealed who is the right or wrong fit for the job.

“I was hiring a CSR and the question I asked her was, ‘What is it that frustrates you most about people?’ She says to me, ‘I have my own problems, so when people sit and tell me about their problems, it really frustrates me.’ As soon as she said that, I explained to her, in this position you’re going to be dealing with nothing but problems so this isn’t going to be the best job for you,” Perretta says. “Just subtle questions like that allow you to bust through some of the things that you otherwise find out further down the road.”

It’s Time to Get Personal

Fristoe says that behavior-style questions are the key to putting candidates at ease and creating a more conversational interview.
“I stay away from, ‘Where do you see yourself in three to five years?’” he says.

Instead, he advises to get personal. For example, if someone has lived all over the country, ask why they have moved so frequently.

“Now it’s shifted gears and it’s personal,” Fristoe says. “Those stories are things that you don’t see on a résumé. They become very interesting. Asking those questions bring out a spark in their eye.”

Perretta says he always makes it a point to ask about candidate’s families, their kids or hobbies.

“All those kinds of things give you a better feeling of that person,” he says. “Ultimately, your gut makes a decision.”

Get a Feel for Their Financial Situation

Although Perretta says he often trusts his gut when it comes to hiring, he’s also a fan of the cold, hard facts, including driving history and the candidate’s financial situation.

“I understand that everybody gets into bad situations, but I like to get a feel for their financial situation,” he says. “Here’s what I’m looking for when I ask about their credit history: Are you paying your water bill, gas bill, electric bill? We know people get into situations with making their car payment or house payment, and that’s one issue. The other issue is, ‘Do you have the ethics to pay the basic stuff that you have to pay for?’ There’s that point where, is it a bad situation or a habit that’s going on?”

Perretta also looks at a candidate’s driving history for any violations and asks them to submit to a drug and alcohol test. The key to this technique, however, is making sure you stay legal. Most state government websites list guidelines pertaining to labor laws and legal/illegal interview questions; those should always be checked as a refresher.

Above all else, Fristoe says to remember that the goal with interviewing is to predict future behavior.

“I am all about the skillset but also the chemistry and the ability of the candidate to learn and grow,” he says.

The best way to predict that behavior is to have a structured plan. Find the interviewing style that works best for you and your shop and create a written set of questions around it.

“It’s got to take the same preparation that they put forward in repairing a damaged vehicle,” he says. 

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