This is the last part of our 3-part guide to hiring for your store in 2020. Just to recap, here are all the topics we've covered and the parts we covered them in:

  • Is it really time to hire, or should I put it off? (Part 1)
  • For which roles should I hire first? (Part 1)
  • Should I hire a generalist or a specialist? (Part 2)
  • What are the upsides and downsides of remote workers? (Part 2)
  • How should I evaluate potential new hires? (Part 3)
  • What should I do to prepare for my new team member? (Part 3)
  • If I need to let somebody go, when and how should I do it? (Part 3)

With that said, let’s dive into part three.

Myths of Evaluating Potential New Hires

When it comes to hiring new team members, you need to vet them. That goes without saying. But there are some misconceptions around the hiring process that we need to dispel. In short, these are:

  • Interview skills equate to on-the-job skills
  • University degrees matter
  • References are reliable

Interview skills

By far, this is the dumbest myth in existence. Luckily, it's been slowly debunked in recent years. However, the misconception persists among many. It raises the question: why do interviews at all? To date, the best person I ever hired was hired via chat on Upwork.

At best, the only reason to do an interview is to confirm that the person isn't a complete psycho. At worst, it's a fool's errand in evaluating a person's actual ability with incredibly limited information.

All of the most common interview techniques achieve the opposite of their goals. For example, one standard method is to put your interviewee on the spot and ask them tough questions, to see how they act under pressure. That tactic puts people on edge, but you don't want people on edge in a job interview. If your goal is to learn more about them, how they think, and what type of person they are, you want them to feel comfortable. When people are comfortable, they share more. Besides, anybody who feels totally at ease while you grill them probably is a psycho.

What's more, the answers any questions you ask during interviews have been well-rehearsed ahead of time by your job candidate. In short, you don't meet a real person during an interview, but a carefully sculpted replica.

My advice:

  • Keep interviews incredibly short and casual
  • Invite the person to a team meeting or company outing to see how they act in the wild
  • Conduct interviews off-site

University degrees

Simply put: the higher education system is behind the times. There’s no way around it.

Instead of attending university, students can learn valuable skills much faster and much cheaper online.

So, if you aren’t already, ignore the fact that a job candidate went to a fancy school. It really doesn’t matter. Instead, look at their actual work experience and personal projects to gauge their skill level.

What’s more, ditch the degree requirement from your job listings. By including it, you’re missing out on a massive amount of talent that will never apply.

References

Repeat after me: references are NOT reliable. Any reference that a job candidate provides to you will be tainted. That's because they're only giving positive references from people who like them.

Instead of relying on their supplied references, contact old employers referenced on their resume or LinkedIn. Ask them tough questions like:

  • What was one challenging thing about working with X?
  • Was there ever a time when X didn’t complete a task on time or meet your expectations of quality?

If you do decide to contact their supplied references, ask them the same questions above.

Other tactics for evaluating new hires

Aside from dispelling the myths above, it’s probably helpful for me to provide some better tactics for your use. These are:

  • Test projects
  • Trial runs
Test Projects

Before committing to hiring a full-time employee, you want to get a sense of how they work. My favorite way to do this is to provide a test project. For example, when I’m hiring a new writer, I have them write a test article first. If it’s good, I keep them. If it’s bad, we won’t be working together.

For a test project to work, two things are needed:

  • The project must be paid
  • The project must be representative of real work or a real project.

In other words, I always pay for test projects, and they are almost always real projects that need completing.

There is a risk here, of course. You could pay for a test project for which the result is so bad that it goes in the trash bin. However, if you don't pay your candidate for the test project, it's unlikely you'll get any good people to follow through with it. Most of those willing to complete unpaid test projects are not highly skilled in their area of work (e.g., they’re looking for their first gig, etc.).

There is one exception. If the test project has zero commercial value, takes a relatively small amount of time compared to the value of winning the position, and is still representative of a real project, then you might get away without paying for your candidate’s time.

In most cases, it's quite challenging to construct a realistic work scenario with those constraints. As such, most test projects should be paid.

Trial Periods

The idea behind a trial period is similar to that behind a test project. The only difference is that you’re testing your job candidate over time, usually as a paid contractor, instead of for a one-off project.

During the trial period, you must provide your new team member with established goals and parameters for success (which we'll cover more in the next section). What's more, the trial period should last between one and three months. You shouldn't need any more time to evaluate your new hire's performance. Of course, you can always end the contract early if things aren't working out.

The general idea here is to hire quickly and have the ability to remove somebody just as quickly if they aren’t working out.

Preparing for New Hires

Many new employees struggle to perform at new or growing organizations for one simple reason: the organization simply isn't ready for them.

My story

My first 'real' job was at a marketing and sales agency that was growing super quickly. In the time I was there (~2 years), my department tripled in size.

I was hired for a relatively new role that my employer nor I really understood. While the freedom felt exhilarating at first, it quickly became frustrating as my boss began to develop unclear expectations with unquantifiable parameters for success.

That situation caused me to experience panic attacks for the first, and only time in my life. Eventually, I called a meeting with my boss and his boss to talk it out. We found a way forward for a while, but it was still clear that the organization didn't know what they wanted to do with me or those who were also in my role but on other teams. Over time, that lack of structure took me down a path that I didn't enjoy, provided little value to the organization, and resulted in my resignation.

Looking back on the situation, I realize that, although I loved getting a paycheck, the agency could have saved a lot of money by not having that role at all. Unfortunately for them, they wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars per year figuring that out.

What to do instead

I have several vital recommendations here:

  • Don’t hire for a role which you don’t understand
  • Set out clear, yet flexible expectations for this role

As you may recall from the previous pieces in this series, we talked about the benefits and drawbacks of hiring specialists versus generalists. I mentioned that you should prefer to hire specialists for many skill sets needed to run your store. That much is true. However, just because you aren't an expert in the role for which you're hiring, you still must understand the positions for which you recruit. Otherwise, how will you be able to evaluate your new hire's performance?

I'm not saying that you need to become an expert in Facebook Ads or conversion rate optimization (CRO). I'm only suggesting that you ought to understand the fundamentals and current best practices of every role you add to the organization. If you don't, at best, you risk massive underperformance or, at worst, being taken advantage of.

Once you understand the role, you must clearly lay out your expectations lest you fall into the trap of my first professional employer. Your guidelines and goals don't need to be incredibly strict. Business is unpredictable, after all. However, you should have a good sense of the realistic accomplishments that you want your new team member to achieve. Things like:

  • CRO: achieve an X% conversion rate increase in the first Y months
  • Ads: increase click-through rate (CTR) on Facebook Ads by X% in the first Y months
  • Customer service: Reduce returns by X % in Y months
  • Customer service: improve net promoter score to X in Y months

Once a candidate becomes your final choice, or close to it, go over these goals with them to see how they resonate. Does your candidate think the goals are realistic? Do they seem confident about achieving them? What obstacles do they foresee? What ideas do they have to accomplish these goals?

What to do when things don’t work out

No matter how hard we try, sometimes people aren’t the dedicated and talented workers we thought they’d be. Maybe they have an attitude problem, are too competitive with other employees, or perhaps they simply lack the expertise or talent to do the job which they were hired to do. In any case, letting people go is an inevitable part of doing business.

What not to do

When it’s time to let somebody go, there are a few things you should avoid if you want to retain any good standing with the person you’re firing or maintain your public reputation. These are:

  • Ghosting
  • Not giving credit where it’s due
  • Leaving people in the lurch

Ghosting

Ghosting is the act of merely disappearing when you're unhappy with your new hire. This mostly pertains to contractors (especially remote contractors), as it's pretty impossible to ghost employees (legally). I've been guilty of ghosting freelancers in the past, and it doesn't sit well with me. Instead of ghosting, if you're not happy with the work your contractor is providing, let them know precisely what you're unhappy with and why it's not working.

When you provide feedback, instead of ghosting, it allows your contractor to improve. Who knows? Maybe you can turn their performance around. Otherwise, if you do need to let them go due to work quality issues that can't be rectified, by talking about the problem, your new hire is far less likely to spread bad word of mouth about you and your store.

Giving Credit

Even if you're unhappy with the person you're letting go, there were probably some things they did correctly. Let them know what those things were. At the very least, this provides a bitter-sweet ending to the relationship and lets them know where they are strong in their work. Doing so helps you maintain a good reputation among employees and potential new hires.

Leaving people in a bad spot

Whatever your policy on severance packages, try to find a way to make the transition out of your employment a bit better for the person you're firing. Getting fired is never fun, but for many, it can be devastating on an emotional and financial level.

Perhaps you can keep them on as a contractor for some tasks they were good at. Maybe you know somebody who has a role that matches their real skill set. Otherwise, perhaps you can provide a little bit of financial assistance to help them through to their next gig.

Anything you can do will be much appreciated.

What you must do

Aside from avoiding the above bad practices, you must employ the following tactics to maintain your reputation, keep your organization safe, and bolster your remaining team's morale.

  • Act quickly
  • Remove all access
  • Let the team know what happened
Act quickly

If there’s a toxic employee or somebody who is massively underperforming, you must act right away. First, of course, take corrective action when you see somebody behaving or working poorly. If the situation cannot be fixed, let them go immediately. The longer you let them stay, the more the cancer grows and affects your entire company culture. As they say: one bad apple spoils the bunch.

Remove all access

No matter how well you try to handle the situation, some people will not respond well to being let go. That's why you must have a plan to remove all access to sensitive systems before you have your meeting with the person you're firing. As such, you should retain super admin controls over all your critical systems in your business. No exceptions.

Tell the team

Some companies, perhaps most, like to keep the reasons for somebody’s firing a secret. Others are much more open. I’ve worked for both, and I can tell you that the latter is far better.

If team morale is at all your concern (which it should be), you should let people know what happened. You don't have to go into detail about the situation, but you should provide at least a general reason for firing one of their colleagues. Otherwise, your team will worry that they might be next on the chopping block.

Here’s a good example:

"As most of you probably know, X's last day was yesterday. I just want to clear the air as some rumors are going around. For the last two months, things weren't working out with X in their particular role. It's something that X and I have discussed over that period in multiple meetings, but sadly we couldn't find a suitable resolution. As such, X was let go. To respect X's privacy, I won't go into more detail about the situation. That being said, X was with us for a long time, and we love them. X is a part of our family in many ways. We've parted on as good of terms as possible under the circumstances, as well as provided a generous severance package so X can be secure while identifying new opportunities. I truly value all of you so much, so please, if anybody has any questions at all or feels concerned, email me personally or schedule a meeting on my calendar."

Many will disagree with this tactic, but using it achieves a critical mission: maintaining team morale. By providing context to somebody's firing, you let other team members know that they are safe and that their firing won't come as a surprise.

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Well, the journey has come to an end. We’ve covered a lot in this hiring series, and I hope you feel prepared to grow your team in the new year. Happy 2020!