James Morrell has over 25 years experience in natural foods retail management. Over those years he’s done a lot of hiring. I’ve written about hiring in this column before, but for a fresh perspective I turned to James, now a consultant in fresh category management.
What do you look for when you’re hiring?
The resume and past experience are a starting point but I look for a demonstration of interest and motivation to do the job. I look at how candidates conduct themselves throughout the entire hiring process. How do they respond to phone and email communications? They often give subtle cues about how they’ll perform on the job. When contacted, do they respond right away? Do they seem genuinely excited? Do they ask good questions? Or are there substantial delays in their responses that aren’t adequately accounted for?
In interviews what’s most important to me is the communication of sincere interest. For a produce staff position, do they talk unprompted about their garden or cooking or diet? I’m looking for motivational fit—alignment between what people want from the job and what the job offers. That’s the biggest predictor of success. When times are tough, when the work gets tedious, people who have a personal connection to the job will thrive. People who are there only for the paycheck or a transition to something else may not have the motivation to go the extra mile, and will often perform at the lowest acceptable level.
Tell me about a hiring mistake you made and what you learned from it.
It’s great to make exceptions for people who lack experience but have the drive. It’s great to give a break to, say, someone who is really nervous and inarticulate in the interview. But there have been candidates who looked great on paper and said the right things, but just wanted a job to tide them through a career transition. I thought I was doing them a favour but they thought they were above doing the actual work and didn’t last the probationary period. I don’t believe people can be overqualified but they can be undermotivated. I’ve had people with PhDs who were outstanding employees. It’s not your degree that gets in the way.
How do you go about training your new staff?
First, there’s the orientation, including a store tour, general expectations and policies. Then there’s immersion in the job itself, working alongside an experienced, qualified training partner. Training should include one-on-one time with the manager. That’s when I’d give trainees the global view, the philosophy of the department—this is what we’re striving for, this is what I’m looking for as a manager, and my door is always open. This could be done as a running conversation during a department walk-through. That time is also a great opportunity for the manager to model customer service on the floor. I schedule new people to start on a day when I know a good coworker will be there, and I’m sure to be there to welcome the person to the team.
Learning doesn’t stop once a new person is trained. I look for ongoing learning opportunities, ways to introduce new concepts and prepare people for success. I used to train the way I like to learn, and checklists were not exciting to me. I thought that teaching people the “why” and “how” would help them look beyond the list. But some people need the list. Some people learn better by verbal communication, others by doing. The trainer has to respond and adapt to how the trainee learns.
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