|By Rick Mullen
Busline Magazine Associate Editor
Speaking to an audience of business owners recently, business consultant Beth Borrego shared some “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to hiring and evaluating employees.
“One of the biggest challenges we all face as employers, is hiring quality employees,” Borrego said. “And, of course, once a person is hired, you want to keep him or her.”
Before a quality employee can be hired, a company must first find candidates for the position. Borrego offered some tips when it comes to mining for good people. While there are many online sources to help employers find people, she also suggested thinking outside the box in the hunt for employees.
“You can go to colleges to post jobs. You can go to high school job fairs. These are things you can do outside of the normal online postings,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a little more creativity to find people.”
Once ads and postings begin bearing fruit and resumes start coming in, Borrego separates them into three categories — “the no’s, the maybe’s and the yes’s.” She then starts making phone calls.
“I’m not going to bring anybody in and meet with them until I have had a talk with them first,” ‘Borrego said.
Borrego listed several laws employers must be familiar with in hiring employees:
Relevant Labor Laws:
■ Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
■ Age Discrimination in Employment Act;
■ Americans with Disabilities Act;
■ Equal Pay Act; and,
■ Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986.
“Employers need to make sure they are following these laws when hiring,” Borrego said. “Depending on the size of the business and the number of employees, some of these laws may not apply in every case. Make note, employers should familiarize themselves with these laws to make sure they don’t get into any trouble.”
The “Go’s” And “Stops” When Interviewing Candidates
In the interview process, there are certain areas of discussion that are off-limits, Borrego said. See the topics below:
■ Place of birth;
■ Marital Status; and,
“You can’t talk or ask about these topics,” Borrego said. “There should be no questioning concerning these subjects. Now, if through the course of the interview, the candidate happens to bring one of these subjects into the dialogue, and you did not ask about it, don’t say a thing. Let the candidate finish what he or she is saying, and move on. It is not up for discussion.
“There are some things you can and can’t ask. In some cases it is the way you ask the question as to whether are not you are going to get yourself in trouble when interviewing.”
Borrego broke down what can be discussed and what cannot be asked into two categories — “go” and “stop.” The “go” category designates what is acceptable to ask, and in the “stop” column are forbidden topics. Listed below are some “goes” and “stops:”
Go: If they are over the age of 18.
Stop: Their age and date of birth.
“You can ask someone if he or she is over 18, but you can’t ask the age or date of birth of a person,” Borrego said.
Go: What schools a candidate attended and if he or she completed a degree.
Stop: Year of graduation.
“You can ask what schools candidates attended and if they graduated. You can’t ask the year of graduation, because that would be an indication of how old a candidate might be. Stay away from the year,” Borrego said.
Go: If they are able to perform specific functions or tasks related to the job they will perform.
Stop: If candidates have disabilities or physical conditions.
“You can ask if they are able to perform specific functions related to a task within the job they will be performing, but you can’t ask if they have any disabilities or physical conditions,” Borrego said.
Go: If they are legally authorized to work in the United States.
Stop: If they are a citizen, what is their birthplace, or what is their national origin?
“You can ask if the person is legally authorized to work in the United States, and you should,” Borrego said. “However, you can’t ask if candidates are citizens, what their birthplace is, or national origin, because you don’t have to be a citizen of the United States in order to be here legally working,” Borrego said.
Go: What languages do you read, speak or write fluently?
Stop: What is your native tongue?
“You can ask people what languages they can read, write and speak fluently, but you can’t ask them what their native tongue is, because that would be profiling,” Borrego said.
Go: What is their current address or phone number and do they have any alternate locations where they may be reached.
Stop: How long have they lived in a particular location.
“You can ask for the person’s current address and phone number, and if he/she has any alternate ways you can reach them,” Borrego said.
She also explained an employer cannot ask if a person is transient or has a hard time staying in one place, etc.
Go: What days are you available to work?
Stop: What religion do you practice?
“You can ask what days a person is available to work, to determine if his/her schedule will work with your schedule — that is very fair,” Borrego said. “However, you can’t ask what religion a candidate practices. You can ask if he or she is available for work all days of the week and to work overtime.”
Go: Are you able to work with our required schedule?
Stop:Which religious holidays do you observe?
“You can ask candidates if they are able to work the required schedule — that’s fine; however, you can’t address whether or not they would be able to work because of a religious holiday,” Borrego said.
Go: Are you able to start work at (insert start of business time)?
Stop:How far is your commute, or do you live nearby?
“You may certainly ask if the candidate is able to start work on time,” Borrego said. “We can ask, for example, are you able to come to work at 7 a.m?, but we can’t ask where candidates live and how long a commute they have.”
Go: If the applicant has ever been convicted of a felony.
Stop: You may not ask about arrests that did not lead to convictions.
“You can ask a candidate if he or she has ever been convicted of a felony, but you cannot ask about arrests that did not lead to convictions,” Borrego said.
Go: How many days of work did you miss last year?
Stop: How many sick days did you take last year?
“People take off work for a lot of reasons. It doesn’t mean they have a medical condition,” Borrego said. “A person could have had a family member who was ill and needed care. It doesn’t mean the candidate was sick. You can ask how many days a person missed last year, but you can’t inquire about his or her health or well-being.”
Go: In the past, have you been disciplined for violating company policies forbidding the use of alcohol or tobacco products?
Stop: Do you smoke or drink?
“You may ask if candidates have ever been disciplined for violating company policies that, for example, forbid the use of alcohol or tobacco products; however, you can’t actually ask if they smoke or drink,” Borrego said.
Go: Do you use illegal drugs?
Stop: Do you take drugs?
“This distinction is important,” Borrego said. “You can ask candidates if they use illegal drugs. ‘Illegal’ is the important word. You can’t ask if they take drugs, because just asking if they take drugs includes prescription medication. Therefore, the word ‘illegal’ has to be in there if you are going to make that inquiry.”
Go: Are you able to reach a shelf 5 feet tall, and are you able to lift 50 pounds?
Stop: How tall are you and how much do you weigh?
“You can’t ask candidates how tall they are or how much they weigh, because you can’t physically profile someone to get an idea of their body type,” Borrego said.
She also suggested asking “open-ended” questions as the best way to get to know a candidate.
“You need to start doing a little digging. Get to know the person sitting across from you. Get a feel for if he or she is going to be a good fit for your company,” Borrego said. “Furthermore, get a feel for if what is on the person’s resume is real. Let’s face it, we all probably have had somebody, at some point, who really didn’t tell us the whole truth.”
Ten common interview topics and/or questions:
■ Tell me about yourself;
■ Tell about a difficult situation with which you were faced and how you dealt with it;
■ Tell about a time when you were confronted with an unpleasant customer and how you dealt with it;
■ What do you know about the company?;
■ What is your greatest achievement?;
■ Why should we offer you a job?;
■ What are your strengths?; and,
■ What are your weaknesses?
“The important thing here is to ask questions and then be silent,” Borrego said. “Give candidates a chance to answer the question. If they want to skip out on a question, don’t let them. There are some questions you might ask that are open-ended they are not going to want to answer, especially the one about a person’s greatest weaknesses. People hate that question, and I ask it every time. Everyone wants to skip it, but I won’t let them. What I typically do is give them a couple of my own weaknesses, and then I ask again.”
Borrego said it is common when an employer is interviewing a prospect to ask about his or her prior employer, asking such questions as, “What did you like about this job? What didn’t you like about this job.”
“When I see the reason a candidate left his or her former job was due to a personal conflict, I ask, ‘What do you mean? Can you elaborate on this?’ — and I listen very carefully,” Borrego said.
In addition, Borrego suggested, in the case of a job opening that requires a certain amount of experience, the interviewer should “do some fact checking” on the candidate’s claim of prior experience.
“As a business owner, you probably know every facet of every job in your company,” she said. “Therefore, when you have somebody sitting in front of you and he or she has on their resume that they have performed this specific task for the past three jobs, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to ask them about it. I make them tell me everything and I listen very carefully.
“Sometimes a person will give a vague description of the job. In that case, I dig a little deeper. A lot of times, I find out the candidate was kind of along for the ride, but he or she really didn’t do all the work. So, you have to dig and ask questions and probe deeper about the skills a candidate says he or she has.”
For those candidates who were in the running for a particular job opening but were not hired, Borrego said she always follows up to let them know she cares and understands how hard it is to look for a job. There is also an added benefit in keeping lines of communication open in case she might want to tap them for future employment.
“Personally, I want my business to be well thought of. I want to be professional, and I want the people who interview with me to know that I care about the employees I hire, so I follow up,” Borrego said. “I let them know if they are unsuccessful. I thank them for their time. You may have a half dozen people who are pretty darn good. You may hire two. The other four will be really grateful that they heard from you, because you may be the only one to follow through and let them know they were in the running. Furthermore, if those first two don’t work out, you may find yourself going back to the four.”
Before pulling the trigger and hiring a prospect, Borrego said there are some tasks that are important. Indeed, she will not hire a person until these questions have been satisfied.
“Background checks are important. Contacting a prior employer to see if the candidate is eligible for rehire is important. Also, checking references is important,” Borrego said. “However, most important, in my opinion, is drug testing.”
A Guide To Evaluating Employees
After an employee is hired, sooner or later it will be time for an evaluation. In preparing an evaluation form, Borrego said one method is to compartmentalize specific work attributes.
“Each segment would include definitions. The scores would act as a guide to pinpoint areas at different levels of achievement,” she said.
On a scale of 1 to 4, the numbers might be defined as:
■ 4 = Exceeds expectations;
■ 3 = Sometimes exceeds expectations;
■ 2 = Meets expectations; and
■ 1 = Fails to meet expectations.
Borrego outlined the traits of employees using the traditional “A, B, C, and F” grading scale, coinciding with the 1 to 4 number scale.
“The grades relate to the number scale on an evaluation form, as a way to define them,” Borrego said.
They are as follows:
Meets expectations (A):
■ Consistently excellent quality;
■ Excellent ethical business practices;
■ Accurately follows instructions;
■ Very high quality work;
■ Actively seeks improvement, makes suggestions; and,
■ Requires little or no re-do or correction.
“The ‘As’ are your shining stars,” Borrego said. “These are people who you grow and train to possibly become managers themselves. Move them up. These are the ones you really want to retain.”
Sometimes exceeds expectations (B):
■ Produces high quality work;
■ Makes few errors;
■ Minimal re-work required;
■ Strong commitment to quality of work; and,
■ Strong commitment to company principles.
Meets expectations (C):
■ Mostly follows established work methods;
■ Mostly follows guidelines and policy;
■ Mostly works toward quality outcomes;
■ Produces acceptable work; and
■ Has minimal errors, some re-work required.
“We’ve all had ‘average’ workers. There is nothing wrong in having average employees,” Borrego said.
Fails to meet expectations (F):
■ Difficulty embracing and adhering to quality standards;
■ Difficulty performing tasks as directed;
■ Marginal to unacceptable work;
■ Frequent errors requiring repetitive redoing; and,
■ Constant explanation of a job previously explained many times.
“If you have somebody who scores ‘Fs’ across the board, you have a big problem on your hands,” Borrego said.
While anyone can have a bad day from time-to-time, Borrego said, the “Fs” are consistent, day-in and day-out, in their failure to meet expectations.
“Nobody is perfect. As business owners, we tend to want everybody to work as hard as we do,” Borrego said. “We want to hire miniature versions of ourselves. Guess what — that is not reality. It doesn’t work like that. You are going to be very frustrated if you think you can hire someone and create a ‘mini-me.’
“The best thing you can do is to set up productivity standards; have an established, regimented system written down; train people; and make sure everyone is on the same page with methodology how to do the job. In addition, employees need to know what the expectations are, and then we can help them succeed. We must nurture and help people get better, while giving them positive reinforcement. Let your employees know where they are falling short, and how to correct their mistakes. And, at the end of the day, thank them for their hard work.”
Contact: See Dirt Run! Inc.,
13616 Warrior Brook Terrace,
Germantown, MD 20874.
Lancaster, CA’s AVTA
Continues Holiday Tradition
With Stuff-A-Bus Toy Drive
The Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA-Lancaster, CA) all-electric Stuff-a-Bus annual holiday toy drive took place in December. AVTA’s staff and charity volunteers collected donations of new toys and clothing items for local children in need during the holiday season.
The goal was to collect enough toys, clothing, and other gifts to fill the bus to the roof. They succeeded with nearly $34,000 donated by community business sponsors to help purchase items for the toy drive.
Major sponsors included Walmart, BYD, AVTA’s operations contractor Transdev, High Desert Medical Group, Moore and Associates, Lancaster Jethawks, Complete Coach Works and Opsec Security, who collectively donated more than half of the overall total cash raised to purchase gifts for the children.
The cities of Lancaster and Palmdale also helped by hosting special events to support AVTA’s Stuff-a-Bus. The City of Palmdale (CA) challenged its employees to donate to Stuff-a-Bus with a contest, and pledged to collect at least 400 toys and gifts. Officials from the city of Lancaster and Re/Max joined forces on a shopping excursion that also helped.
On December 10, the Stuff-a-Bus was in the Palmdale Chamber of Commerce William J. “Pete” Knight Hometown Heroes Christmas Parade. Later that same day, the bus was in "A Magical BLVD Christmas," on Lancaster Blvd.
“Our Stuff-a-Bus toy drive is an effort that we are all proud to be a part of,” said Executive Director Len Engel. “It’s a holiday tradition that not only helps those in need, but gives many others the opportunity to give back to the community. It's a win-win for everyone involved."
All items donated stayed in the Antelope Valley, and benefitted children from Grace Resource Center, South Antelope Valley Emergency Services of Palmdale (SAVES), Children’s Center of the Antelope Valley, Children’s Bureau, the Child and Family Guidance Center and the Marco & Sandra Johnson Foundation.
Volunteers from each charity, along with AVTA staff members, gathered December 14 for the Bagging Party, to bag up all of the donated toys and clothes.
AVTA provides local, commuter and dial-a-ride service to a population of more than 450,000 residents in the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale as well as the unincorporated portions of northern Los Angeles County. Its total service area covers 1,200 square miles and it is bounded by the Kern County line to the north, the San Bernardino County line to the east, the Angeles National Forest to the south, and Interstate 5 to the West.
Visit www.avta.com for more information.
Hometown Trolley Honored
Hometown Trolley, a third-generation family business located in Crandon, WI, recently shared its company story, on the national stage, at the 2017 America's Small Business Development Centers Client Showcase & Reception.
The Capitol Hill event celebrated small business and the success of SBDC clients around the nation.
Hometown Trolley, one of 14 companies in the showcase, is a North American manufacturer of trackless trolleys.
“Combining 19th-century charm with 21st-century technology, Hometown Trolley has more than 2,300 cars in public and private transportation use, mostly in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean,” according to the company.
“Kristina Pence-Dunow, president and CEO, has led the company through a turnaround and modernization. Since 2010, Hometown Trolley has acquired its major competitor, built a new 18,000-square-foot production facility and has grown from 12 employees to 47. Sales have quadrupled since 2013 and are projected to increase through next year.”
Kristina Pence-Dunow, president and CEO of Hometown Trolley in Crandon, WI, has led the company through a turnaround and modernization. Since 2010, Hometown Trolley has acquired its major competitor, built a new 18,000-square-foot production facility and grown from 12 employees to 47.
Company innovations include such green options as propane and natural gas, as well as an all-electric, zero-emission model. Hometown Trolley now also has a "low boy" floor design that offers street-level boarding.
Pence-Dunow worked extensively with UW-Green Bay's Small Business Development Center for expansion and capital needs.
"When I first visited Hometown Trolley, it was evident that this was a business where ownership had a compelling vision. Our role was to help crystallize that vision and assist in converting that vision into a tangible concept," said Chuck Brys, SBDC consultant.
“In 2016, 240 businesses were started and 2,393 clients received consulting through the Wisconsin SBDC Network. Companies working with SBDC specialists obtained almost $76 million in loans and investments and created/retained 892 jobs.
“Nationally, more than 17,000 businesses were started last year with SBDC assistance, leading to 98,660 new jobs.”
Hometown Trolley said its goal is to double production again by 2018.
One opportunity area is exports; the company recently provided quotes to possible customers in Ireland, South Korea and Mexico.
Further development of environmentally friendly options remains a priority. Hometown Trolley said it believes electric is the future of transportation. Also, a new modern bus that operates on liquid propane gas is in Federal Transit Administration testing, with a target market of tour companies and the National Park Service.
"Hometown Trolley is a third-generation family business and a woman-owned manufacturer. It was founded in 1976. The company’s 100 percent American-made trolleys are designed in replica of the streetcars of the 1800s," said the company.
Hometown Trolley is a 2016 nominee for Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year and was recently honored with a 2016 Manufacturer of Distinction Award - Northeast Wisconsin by Advance, the economic development department of the Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce. Visit hometowntrolley.com.