Construction marketing ideas: Systems and surprises

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Last Thursday afternoon, our administrative employee/office manager said she would be leaving a week Friday to new employment with a company offering “benefits”.  She said she had applied to the other, reputable organization before taking our job a few months ago, but could not decline the other offer.

Fair enough.

But on Tuesday, I’m on a plane to Chicago for eight days to attend the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) conference.  Our “back up” administrative employee is a summer student, about to return to school.  We don’t have a deep office staff — administrative overhead is a business killer — but we certainly need someone to do this job or things fall apart, fast.

In this situation, as in other crises and challenges within business, I’ve learned the best approach is to “follow the system” but be prepared to modify things to address the immediate problem.

We, indeed, have an administrative hiring system.  The opportunity is posted on the (free, in Canada), federal-government administered “Service Canada Job Bank”, an online employment registry.  As the work does not require extremely scarce skills qualifications and (unusual for an Ottawa-area business) does not require English/French bilingualism, we can be expected to be flooded with applications, quickly.  (Bilingualism may be important in a government town with a large Francophone population but, after all, we deliver an English-language news media and information service.)

Job applications are normally invited by email to a special address that can be funnelled to the adminstrator’s desk for further processing.  However, as we don’t have time to waste, I directed them to my own in-box.  It quickly started filling up.

Our system is to conduct a quick initial review, without worrying much about the details, for the initial mass of job applications.  (Some are probably lost in spam block, not a big problem considering the volume.)  Every “literate” response receives a questionnaire with a personalized cover letter describing the job in greater detail.  It takes just a few seconds of cutting and pasting to personalize the communication, which few candidates ever receive from other employers.

The questionnaire includes some standard questions, verifying availability, the candidate’s ability to provide valid references and, for the administrative position, some mind-teasers, grammar and simple math questions.  These are designed to be “culture neutral” to avoid any human rights/discrimination issues.

Our experience is that about 20 to 30 per cent of the people who send us resumes complete the questionnaire.  We thus don’t waste time on reviewing resumes for people who either don’t really want the work, or should never be considered anyways.

The next stage in our recruiting policy is to examine the resumes and cover letters and call candidates who provide valid, literate responses for a brief qualifying phone interview.  The main task at this stage is to see if they can communicate reasonably well on the phone and whether there are glaring inconsistencies between their answers and their reality (yes, people can get help on answering the questionnaire!)

Normally, this process takes a week or two, but in the pressure here, I needed to accelerate things, so I visited the office yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  I printed out the questionnaires and resumes for about 25 candidates, quickly pre-screened, narrowed the list down to six or seven, and then started calling.

Here, “luck of the draw” took over.  If you were home and able to answer the call, you had an edge.  This is because the next stage of our evaluation process, the working test, requires candidates to come into the office for a half day’s casual employment (with compensation).  As I’ll be leaving Tuesday morning, I had only one day for this step — and this means I had two slots, morning and afternoon, today!  I left a couple of messages for candidates (telling them if they didn’t call back right away it probably would be too late) and reached a couple of others, who I screened with a few more questions, before inviting them into the office today.

The on-site assessment will lead to the next stage — the most successful candidate will be invited to join us on a temporary/casual basis until we can verify references and prepare/provide our employment contract for review and assessment.  The successful candidate will have at least four days work with the incumbent and we have a written policy and procedures manual for the work, to help guide the newcomer.  We can also call on former employees for additional training.

Of course, there is a chance something will go wrong here.  The new hire may last a week, and get another, “better” job — or simply not work out.  However, we’ve reduced the risk of bad hires (and the need/time to wade through dozens of resumes) with the questionnaire and live evaluation systems.  Normally, I could delegate much of the work — but I also appreciate that urgency and the need for quick decision-making sometimes makes delegation unwise, so I took a few weekend hours to screen and evaluate the candidates myself.

Our recruiting and hiring systems provide guidelines and processes to follow.  Do you have your own marketing and business systems in place?

Should we make changes because of the most recent experience?  Maybe, indeed, we should offer a benefits program to employees.  These programs can be costly, of course, and once they are in place, they become “entitlements,” which you end at your own risk.  Let’s re-review the issue in the business planning process . . .

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