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By LauraLee Rose, Missouri Enterprise Project Manager and Six Sigma Black Belt

When “Joe” walked into the office to interview for a frontline manufacturing job, he didn’t need to say a word.  His actions and body language had already spoken volumes.  He plopped into a chair, leaned back with his feet out in front of him and crossed his arms over his chest.  His posture alone answered most of the questions we were going to ask.  Yes, in the first 30 seconds, before a single question had been asked, he had earned himself a “Thanks, but no thanks” handshake, followed by “Next!”

This scene unfolded as I was assisting a large Missouri manufacturer with interviews for summer temporaries.  But “Joe’s” problems were only the beginning.  The Human Resources Department had decided to include some of their front-line supervisors in the interviews.

On the surface, this was good.  After all, these were people who would be directly supervising these temporary new hires.  But the practical reality was not so good, since the supervisors had never been trained or coached on how to conduct a good interview.

The well-intentioned supervisors were treating the interview process essentially as a popularity contest, tending toward people they “liked”, while totally missing critical cues that should have given them pause.  It wasn’t their fault.  They’d never been taught or practiced basic interviewing skills that would greatly increase the company’s chances of finding successful new hires.

This company is not alone.  Too many manufacturers fail to recognize and value the importance of holding proper interviews for job applicants.  When new hires fail, the response is too often, “We can’t find good people!”  Well, in a sense, that’s true, they can’t.

But perhaps the problem lies partly within; the company isn’t as good as they could be at identifying and finding good people.  Think of it this way…a new, complex machine comes onto your plant floor, and you’re excited about its potential to greatly enhance your throughput and operational efficiency.

You wouldn’t just tell your supervisors to “get that thing up and running!”, would you?  No, you’d probably have training sessions on the capabilities and workings of the new machinery so your supervisors and equipment operators know how to maximize the benefit of the new equipment.  The machine is new to them, so you train them how to use it, and even if your people have some experience with this machine, you still do training as a refresher and to make sure they know how to use it right.

Same thing on interviewing.  The job might be new to them, or it’s time for a refresher course to make sure they know the right skills for the job and to reinforce best practices.  Teaching your supervisors how to interview and make good decisions on selecting new hires can greatly improve your chances of “finding the right people”.

Here are some key things interviewers need to know:

  1. What’s legal to ask?  What you can and can’t legally ask can be confusing. For example, while you can ask an interviewee how many days of work they missed in their last job, you can’t ask them how many sick days they had.  Or suppose you’re wondering how old an applicant is?’d better not ask.  The wrong questions could put the company into legal trouble, so some basic instruction on how to legally handle an interview is critical.

  2. Nonverbal cues.  If an applicant can’t stop fidgeting, or slouches, crosses their arms or doesn’t make eye contact, you may have problems.  If an applicant can’t put up a good front for the interview, imagine how they’ll be once they hit your plant floor.  Remember that actions, even subtle ones, speak louder than words.  A professional can teach your people how to look for and understand important verbal cues.

  3. Behavioral questions.  Knowing how to ask the right questions is a skill, too, and it’s perhaps the most important thing to help you identify good applicants. In addition to questions about experience and capabilities, it’s important to also probe into an applicant’s behavioral habits to identify traits that will be a good fit for your workplace.  For example, if you’re looking for good team players, you might ask, “Tell me about a time you worked with someone who wasn’t doing his or her share of the work.  How did you handle that situation?”  The applicant’s response can tell you a lot about how well they’ll interact with others and how they’ll deal with problems.  Expert guidance on how to ask the right questions will help your people make much better hiring decisions.

  4. Active listening.  This is a hugely important skill for interviewers, yet many hamper their listening skills by busily taking notes or thinking about the next question when they should be intently listening to an applicant’s response to the current question.  The less prepared or skilled an interviewer is, the worse the hiring outcome potential.  Some basic training on how to conduct an interview can go a long way towards improving the active listening skills of your people.

FACT:  Each bad hiring choice can cost a company 1.5 to 2 times the annual salary for that position!  Multiply THAT number by your turnover rate, and the numbers are depressingly impressive.

GOOD NEWS:  In this time where finding and hiring the right people has become such a challenge, manufacturers and other employers are realizing the importance of exceptional interviewing and hiring skills, and they’re seeking expert assistance to help them do better.  

Missouri Enterprise understands this very important issue, and has developed a customized course to help your supervisors become better interviewers who can greatly improve your hiring success.  Unlike a book off the shelf, our program is customized to meet your company’s unique needs, including development of the right questions you should ask to properly assess and qualify applicants.