Finding good employees is a never-ending battle for contractors. As frustrating as it can be to find and keep good people, having professional employees is the heart and soul of every contracting business.

Contractors tend to keep bad employees too long. This may be due to many competing emotions and rationales. Possibly, you’re thinking the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. Maybe you’re busy and just hope the problem employee will miraculously straighten up. Perhaps you’ve gotten emotionally attached to the employee and have bought into the person’s never-ending stream of problems. Regardless, having employees who are underperforming drags down the entire organization. The employee you terminate rarely keeps you up at night.

If you have someone in your organization who is about to lose his or her job, there’s one important question: does he or she know it? Frequently, we have discussions with tenured employees, but they tend to be more like nagging sessions. If you do it long enough, the underperforming employee sees you as a dog with no teeth. You must give problem employees a clear ultimatum that if the behavior continues the person will be terminated. As a consultant, I don’t fire people, I merely lay out the criteria required for them to continue employment. He or she must choose to either conform to the behavior or leave.

We recently surveyed our customers to determine the profile of a long-term employee who had gone south. First, almost everyone wished they had terminated the employee years before. In hindsight, they felt that it was in both the employee’s and their best interest to move on. What was interesting is that well over half of these enabled employees had the capacity to do good work, but there was simply too much drama in the person’s personal life. Since the employer couldn’t control these outside influences, it was nearly impossible to have the employee generate consistent performance. No matter how much sympathy you show for people, you can’t wish them into compliance or wish away their poor judgment.

Let’s focus on the more positive aspect of hiring good people. Too often contractors wait until they’re desperate to hire someone and then have to accept a less-than-spectacular applicant. Contractors should always be hiring the same way they are consistently looking for more work. Finding good people isn’t easy. If you see someone working hard in a fast food restaurant, consider offering them a job. Let everyone know that you’re always looking for good people.

What do I mean by hire slow? First, make sure you take the time to ask the appropriate questions and determine if what the applicant is telling you makes sense. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Try taking a phone-interview cut. Call the applicants and conduct interviews over the phone. Tell them a little bit about your company and then ask broad questions to see if employment with your company would be a good fit. Good questions to ask include:

  • Can you tell me a little about your last job and what caused you to leave?
  • If I was to call your former employer, what would they say positive about you?
  • What would your past coworkers say you need to improve?
  • If you had the perfect job, what would that look like? (Listen, and probe into what they’re saying.)
  • What was the first paying job you ever had? (This question shows work ethic and how the person grew up.)

When interviewing field employees, ask what tools they own, what specific type of work they enjoy the most and if they would mind training someone. Give them simple tasks to perform and see what their skill levels are. If you’re hiring an office manager, have the person take a Quickbooks test or some other type of office efficiency profile.

Trust your gut feeling. What’s the person’s story? If the story makes sense, consider hiring the person. If it doesn’t, ask more questions and beware. Consider having the person work a few days as a test application. If he or she currently has a job, have the person come in on Saturday. That way both of you are protected. Do your due diligence.

 Hiring people is never easy, but you can’t give up. Also, remember that if it were easy, everyone would be able to hire. Your competitors have the same hiring issues you do. You out market and sell your competitor every day to win jobs. You have to take that same attitude toward recruiting and hiring good people. There are a lot of bad employers out there. Be a good place to work and beat your competition on the playing field.