Hiring the best hourly employees is a cocktail of preparation, social finesse, and chance.

Though you can never be certain if your investment in your latest hire will yield long-term benefits, you can definitely be certain that a lack of preparation will waste your valuable time and money.

Consider the following facts:

  • Recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training is a costly process.

    Every business differs, but the consensus is almost unanimous that it’s far more expensive to continually replace ill-fitting employees than to take your time and select the right candidate in the first place.

  • Turnover is high for hourly workers, sometimes as much as 67%, but you can beat the odds by becoming excellent at hiring and training.

    A devoted workforce of hourly employees is completely possible, if you choose the right people and provide them with a stellar work environment.

  • There are hidden expenses to the turnover cycle.

    It often takes new employees months, even a year or more, to become as productive as your best workers. Turnover also negatively affects employee morale and customer relationships, especially in industries where the bond between customers and workers is close –– like in restaurants, cafes, and bars.

  • Hourly employees directly represent your brand.

    They’re often the first person from your company that a customer or guest interacts with. Their attitude and skills can dramatically grow your business, or be a detriment to it.

By arming yourself with knowledge from human resources experts, you can save your business thousands in the long-run, build a team of excellent and motivated employees, and stay ahead of your competition.

As you’re working to recruit and train tomorrow’s key players, keep this chronological checklist handy to ensure you don’t miss a step of the process.

Prepare

  • Update or create employment application
  • Write a job description
  • Inform employees you’re hiring, so they can recruit
  • Advertise the job opening
  • Use pre-screening tools
  • Check social media to verify resume facts
  • Schedule interviews
  • Prepare interview questions

Interview

  • Interview applicants
  • Run background checks
  • Call references
  • Make an offer
  • Notify rejected applicants

Onboard

  • Conduct onboarding and training using your pre-defined processes
  • Get feedback about training
  • Encourage employee development

Help wanted: Writing job descriptions that attract top talent

Finding the perfect employee for your company’s needs starts with a standout job description. Job descriptions should blend pragmatic details about job responsibilities with language that attracts the type of personality you’re looking for. Crafting the perfect job description will cut down on time spent waiting and sifting through applications.

Write about personalities, not skills

Pat Hodge, director of hospitality and retail at Talent Plus, says “if you look at hospitality and retail, there are certain things about people that make them wired to be in those industries.” Instead of looking for people who have a certain number of years in the industry, attract top talent by identifying personality attributes: values, people skills, or teamwork, for example. “You want to write ads that, for people who read them, say, ‘that’s me,’” says Hodge. Instead of making “multitasking” a job requirement, instead, ask, “do you love a fast-paced environment and helping people achieve their goals?”

Mel Kleiman

“One thing you’ll hear often is that we hire people for what we know, but we fire them for who they are,” says Mel Kleiman, CSP and founder of Humetrics. He urges hiring managers to consider both who a person is, and what they’re good at. “Don’t hire what you need, hire what you want. Take a step back and say, what do I want in this position? What’s going to make a successful employee?”

More often than not, he says, people mistakenly hire based on capacity and skill. However, with most hourly jobs, it’s not a shortage of skills that keep employees from succeeding –– most people have the capacity to take food orders, answer phones, or sign customers up for a gym membership. However, it’s nearly impossible to change a person’s inherent attitude and personality.

A great place to start when you’re brainstorming keywords is by describing the qualities of your best current employees. What do you love about them? Are they punctual, optimistic, easily trainable? Are they driven go-getters, or compliant rule-followers? Think about the human qualities that match the need you’re trying to fill.

For example, the best sales associate for your children’s clothing store may be someone who is great with children, but who hasn’t worked in retail before. How do you write a job description to draw that person into an entirely new industry?

Laura McLeod

Use tangible details

Laura McLeod, human resources expert and founder of From the Inside Out, encourages managers to use transparent and concrete descriptions of job duties. “It has to be very clear, because some [hourly workers] have two jobs or other commitments. On the other end of it, people who are looking for overtime need to know they can do their 40 hours and pick up more.”

You should include these points:

  • Are the shifts days, nights, or both?
  • Which days of the week?
  • How many hours per week?
  • Is there an expectation, or option, of overtime?
  • What tasks will the employee be performing?
  • What are the customer service expectations?
  • What is the hourly pay, and are there tips?

Clearly stating what you expect out of an employee in this role will help weed out candidates who may lack the desire or ability to perform certain job functions.

Also, keep the whole job description as concise as possible. “Be careful not to have a lengthy list of requirements,” says Jason deFreitas, VP of Greene Resources, in order to avoid scaring candidates away. Instead, focus on what differentiates your company from others. “Try to speak to what the day would look like at [your] company.”

Keep the job title simple

In-house, you may call your bartenders “cocktail builders” or “beverage-smiths,” but don’t use that name in your public job description. Using the industry standard will help qualified job seekers recognize the role you’re looking to fill, and it will make your posting easier to find in online databases.

Publish your job description in the right place

Think like a jobseeker when you begin advertising your job opening. Where do your potential employees live and hang out? Post a sign outside your physical business, but keep an open mind to alternatives. Pin advertisements to bulletin boards at schools, universities, gyms, and other community centers. Does your dream employee frequent cafes? What about the social services office, the independent movie theater downtown, or the rec center? Place your ads strategically, with your ideal candidate’s personality in mind.

 

1 in 6 said they would visit social media first when looking for a job

 

If you’re going to advertise online, there are thousands of sites to publicize your job opening. Because of the options available, hone in on the best options by conducting a search as if you’re the jobseeker. What search terms would you use? Peruse the results. While sites like Monster, CareerBuilder, and Indeed are very popular, your ad could get lost in the crowd –– or inadvertently attract unqualified or remote applicants. However, if you need to fill many positions at once, you may have the best luck with these larger job sites.

 

of 18-24 year olds have used social media to look for jobs

 

Finally, don’t forget to post your job on your company’s social media pages. A well-timed tweet with meaningful hashtags may garner more responses from locals who already love your business than a general “help wanted” ad on Craigslist.

Here are some excerpts from real job descriptions that offer excellent keywords and tangible details:

Example 1:

Xerox is seeking Customer Service Representatives who want to provide excellent customer service to our clients. As a business world leader, Xerox offers outstanding opportunities for energetic, self-motivated individuals to make an impact as part of a dynamic call center team. If you enjoy helping others, finding solutions, and are ready to make a difference in customer service, we want to hear from you!

Example 2:

Reach Your Peak at Vail Resorts. You're someone who pushes boundaries and challenges the status quo. You're brave, ambitious and passionate in everything you do. And we want you on our team. Pursue your fullest potential and never settle in the quest to deliver extraordinary guest service. Join one of the world's 50 most innovative companies as named by Fast Company, and re-imagine a mountain resort experience with us. Welcome to Vail Resorts. Reach Your Peak.

Example 3:

The Cavalier restaurant is looking for experienced servers to join our team in executing Big Night’s high hospitality and service at our upscale London style Brasserie. At our restaurants, our servers aren’t tableside order takers, they are welcoming hosts who guide our guests through their dining experience with a warm, welcoming nature and incredibly high service standards. We are gracious, and informative, but not overbearing. One of our favorite quotes about our servers is our guests can play stump the waiter at any of our restaurants, and will lose every time.

Make your employees recruiters

Your best source of new talent isn’t the hottest job site or a contract recruiter from the outside. “My question is,” says Kleiman, “can you put a button on every one of your employees that says, ‘ask me about a great place to work,’ and they don’t say, ‘down the street’?” If your employees love their work, let them advocate for you. Chances are, they know other great people in the industry who are looking for better opportunities.

In many cases, the best job candidates aren’t those who are unemployed and looking for a job –– they’re the ones who are already working. Visit your competitors’ businesses and talk to their hourly employees. Offer an interview to the server, the retail cashier, or the front desk worker at the gym down the street if their personality matches what you’re looking for. After all, “no one ever got offended from a job offer,” says Kleiman.

Use pre-screening tools to your advantage

The danger of posting your job opening online is the flood of applications and resumes that tend to follow. How are you supposed to sort the serious applicants from those who are firing off forms in every direction?

The solution is to use a pre-screening tool or form to save time. Pre-screening tools use various benchmarks to give users a score that indicates their likelihood to be a good match for the company. “As recruiters look at the applicants coming through, they can sort them by how well they score on the assessment,” says Hodge. “The people who pass the assessment are recommended to move on in the process, and recruiters can spend their time with those people rather than sifting through resumes and trying to figure it out on their own.”

Pre-screening helps identify many of the key personality and attitude characteristics that are essential to hourly employees’ success. For instance, simply looking at one candidate’s resume may show that they have no work history in your particular industry. However, an assessment may reveal that this person is very trainable, intelligent, and a go-getter, meaning they could actually be a better fit than someone with more industry experience.

What to Look for in a Resume or Application

Before you begin honing in on your best applicants, check that you’ve set yourself up for success. If you’re not the one looking at applications, is your hiring manager trained in reading and assessing them? What knowledge did you glean from pre-screening tools –– and could you shorten that resume pile by using such a tool? Reading application info or resumes isn’t just about checking for employment gaps or relevant experience. It’s an opportunity to filter jobseekers and prepare interview questions for top candidates.

Here are the top four things to look out for in a resume or application:

  • Increased responsibility over time
  • Any long gaps in employment
  • Social media presence
  • Motivating factors

Check for increased responsibility

One of the best indicators of an hourly employee with a strong work ethic is that they have had increased responsibility in previous jobs. “See if there’s anything quantifiable that shows an actionable result of what they’ve done,” says deFreitas. “If they don’t have as much experience, did they take on volunteer or leadership initiatives?”

Employees who have embraced additional responsibility demonstrate that they have what it takes to learn and grow. It often indicates a positive attitude and willingness to work, as well, because managers only tend to trust their best employees with more responsibilities.

Ask, don’t assume, about long employment gaps

Large employment gaps on a candidate’s work history are often a concern for hiring managers, but they aren’t always cause for dismissal. McLeod says that hourly employees with a spotty work history may have switched jobs frequently in order to get more hours, higher tips, or to seek out a better culture fit.

The key is to use gaps as a jumping-off point for conversation in the interview, says McLeod. “Get the employee comfortable enough to talk about what went wrong. You can throw these things out and figure out what kind of employee this is,” she says. “The length of time [someone stayed at a job] isn’t a red flag, it’s something to notice and look at. If they get nervous and scramble, it might be a reference call you want to make…or they might simply say, ‘I couldn’t get enough shifts there.’” The rule of thumb? Always ask, never assume.

Use social media wisely

An hourly employee may be far less interested in maintaining a network on LinkedIn than an aspiring executive. However, the classic resume is shifting into one that takes a person’s online presence into account –– plus, perusing social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can help you gain a better understanding of a candidate’s personality.

 

Twitter was the most popular platform for social media job searches

 

One thing to look out for is consistency in work history across the internet. “If you look up a resume on [LinkedIn] and there are discrepancies in dates, that’s a red flag,” says deFreitas. He recommends comparing factual data across social media sites and raising any questions to your candidate in an interview.

Determine motivating factors

 For this reason, it’s important to resist the urge to hire the first person with open availability. “When a manager hires someone who is able to start working immediately, they haven’t necessarily hired the best employee –– they’ve only hired the best applicant,” says Kleiman.

 

Though this approach may fill your immediate need for a cashier, dishwasher, or sales associate, you may ultimately lose money if this candidate has a poor attitude or no intent to stay with your company for more than a few months. Screen multiple applications before you begin scheduling interviews to increase your chances of attracting qualified, eager workers.

Best Practices for Interviews

Many interviews for hourly employees follow a similar formula. You greet one another, sit down, maybe offer a beverage. You ask where they worked before, how they liked it, what their challenges were. The problem with this approach is many.

  1. It is slightly impersonal –– with no indication of what the other person is like, you’re leaving a huge question mark in terms of culture fit. 
  2. These aren’t questions that determine anything integral about a candidate’s attitude, which has far more of an impact on their ability to work well than anything else. By focusing instead on warming up to your candidate and asking personality-based questions, you can glean more insight about whether they have the qualities you’re looking for.

Before we explore the types of questions to ask, consider the structure of your ideal interview.

Interview formats: phone, in-person, or group?

The structure of your interviews depends largely on the needs of your organization. If you have a large applicant pool, a Purdue report recommends adding another layer of employee screening by conducting brief phone interviews first.

When it comes time to sit down with your candidate, a one-on-one approach is most common. However, consider including some of your best team members in the interview if the open position relies heavily on teamwork. This will give you insight into culture fit, and will also build your current employees’ trust that you care about morale. Additionally, you may invite your co-managers to take turns speaking to the potential employee so you can reduce bias and get second (or third) opinions on a candidate. Though some employers split these up into multiple interviews, it may be more convenient to perform these interviews back to back.

There are a number of interview “styles” you could use for your hourly workers –– for instance, the stress interview employs harsh tactics to simulate a typical workday, while the unstructured interview aims to break down a candidate’s professional guard and reveal your true personality. Because many hourly jobs are entry-level, it is better to avoid controversial or overly difficult interviewing techniques. Instead, get a sense of the candidate’s personality by conducting a behavioral interview.

Eliminating bias in a behavioral interview

Structured behavioral interviews are all about uncovering past behavior, to see how it might apply to their work at your company. However, the danger in focusing on a candidate’s behavior and personality is that you’ll naturally be drawn to people you like. A Monster article by hiring expert and CEO of the Adler Group, Lou Adler, states that most interviewers “overvalue first impressions and personality.”

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The remedy is to recognize that you are biased by bringing it to a conscious level. Then, you can actively combat your bias by doing “the opposite of your first impression reaction.” Namely, you should intentionally observe the positive qualities in people you dislike, and the negative qualities in people you like. Another tactic is to conduct short phone interviews for all candidates before you meet them in person, or to include another manager or team member in your face-to-face interview.

Approach the interview like a scientist. Rule out terms like “gut feeling” from your decision-making vocabulary. Instead, focus on evidence. After the interview, ask your co-interviewer evidence-based questions to get their assessment of the candidate.

Giving yourself permission to ask tough questions

Before you begin your interview, state the interview agenda and make your expectations clear. Kleiman recommends beginning by gathering information from the candidate, then telling them about the job and the company, and finally answering any questions they have. Give yourself permission to ask tough questions by being completely transparent with the candidate. Here are examples of what you could say:

Here are examples of what you could say:

1
“I don’t mind if you’ve been fired, resigned, or quit a job. As long as you tell me about what happened, I can take it into consideration.”

2
“I’m going to do a criminal record check and a credit check. If I find a problem you haven’t told me about, I won’t hire you. But if you’re honest with me now, I can take it into consideration.”

3
“I’m going to check all of your references, so please be honest with me during our conversation.”

If you set an expectation of honesty and transparency, you’re more likely to get real responses from your candidates rather than rehearsed ones. This also gives you the opportunity to share your company’s values upfront –– perhaps you don’t mind candidates with criminal records, but punctuality is the most important thing to you. Setting the expectation early will help you, and the candidate, recognize whether the job is a good fit.

Top interview questions

Generate your interview questions from the keywords in your job description. If you’re looking for a self-starter, ask about a time that the candidate accomplished something with no training. If you’re looking for someone with people skills, ask them about a time they went out of their way to help a guest or customer. Don’t spend too much time going over the details of the candidate’s application or resume: the purpose of the interview is to get to know the person and speak candidly about the work and your company.

  • "Tell me about a time your were given increased responsibilities, and how you handled it".

    Though not every hourly worker will want added responsibility at work, this question will be a good indicator of how an employee handles pressure and challenges.
  • "Tell me the story of your work. How has it evolved over the years?"

    Often, a candidate’s most recent job isn’t a great representation of their entire work history. They may have left because of an unfair boss or something else outside of their control. By asking your candidate to tell a linear story about their work history, you may discover things you wouldn’t have by asking the standard questions.
  • "Other than being sick, what is a reason you might have to miss work?"

    It is illegal to ask about disabilities and childcare responsibilities in the US, but asking this type of open-ended question may help you uncover potential challenges in scheduling. Because absenteeism is a leading cause of termination among hourly workers, you can potentially save yourself time and money by weighing the risk of a new worker’s likelihood to be late or absent.
  • "How do you see yourself progressing in this role?"

    This question helps determine whether someone is a good culture fit, says Hodge. “You may have the aptitude to be a great manager, people person, so forth. Culture fit is almost as important as everything else you assess for.” For example, if your store contains primarily long-term employees who have earned increasing responsibilities and new job titles over time, you may want to pass on candidates who are just looking for a job to pay the bills. It will also help determine how much guidance this person will need: they may prefer a clear hierarchy of roles that they can envision themselves moving through, or they may prefer to take on new responsibilities organically.

Other considerations

  • Warm the candidate up. You’re not a drill sergeant: you’re a person talking to another person. “Make a personal connection,” says McLeod. “In particular with hourly employees, it’s important because language may be a problem, they may not be from this country, or maybe they don’t have a lot of practice or skill interviewing.” If your candidate is uncomfortable, they’re not going to share much. Help them warm up by complimenting something they’re wearing, asking them about their weekend, or talking about where they grew up. If the other person feels comfortable, you’ll get a much clearer pictures of who they are, rather than the dressed-up, scripted version of them.
  • Have a system in place. Make sure your hiring managers are trained on conducting productive interviews. “When you have a large applicant pool, it’s especially important that there’s some consistency in the [interviewing] process,” says deFreitas. Establish guidelines well before you begin interviewing.
  • Think about the interview from the candidate’s perspective. Sell your company to the candidate, help them see your excitement and what you’re hoping for in the role. Encourage them to express what they’re looking for. For instance, asking about what they didn’t like about their previous job might clue you into how they can find greater fulfillment at work for you. Remember: the interview isn’t just about questioning your candidate. It’s a chance for them to see why your company is better than the one down the road.
  • Avoid touchy subjects. To avoid legal gray areas and possible lawsuits, don’t ask your candidate about his or her age, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, or disability status.
  • Take notes during, or immediately after, the interview. Though you may be certain you’ll remember everything a candidate says, anything could happen between that interview and the moment you sit down to select your new employee. It’s easier to shed bias and study your options objectively when you’ve taken notes.

The Selection Process

Choosing your new employee is equal parts deliberation and intuition. You probably already have your favorites, but it’s essential to take your time and compare your notes from each interview. It’s common knowledge in psychology that we tend to favor people who are more like us in appearance and demeanor, so it’s especially important to take a day or two to decide.

Once you’ve let a little time pass, look over your notes. There may be some candidates that clearly fall short of your expectations and go straight to the “no” pile. However, if you’re stuck deciding between two fantastic applicants, ask yourself –– what is the one thing I need most in this hire? According to a Muse article by career expert Terry Tierney Clark, identifying one crucial need and analyzing the candidate’s ability to fill it will help you focus your attention. Another similar technique is to ask yourself, “which candidate would impress my boss the most?”

Legal considerations for hiring

Conduct background checks

If you’re going to conduct criminal record, driving record, or credit checks, consult with a local lawyer or HR expert to ensure compliance with laws. For example, some states have made it illegal to require criminal offenders to check the box on many standard job applications indicating their status. In other areas, it may be illegal altogether to run criminal background checks.

Regarding credit checks, in the US, you must obtain an employee’s consent before doing so, says the SBA. “Make sure your team is trained from interview questions to resume review, to make sure you’re not doing anything that will put you in liability of violating laws, EOC, or other types of discrimination,” says deFreitas.

Call references

Is it always necessary to call references? It depends. If red flags were raised in the resume screening or interview process but you think the candidate is worth pursuing, a reference check may be exactly what you need to clear the air.

When calling references, says McLeod, it’s important to listen to what’s not said. “It’s technically illegal to say anything inflammatory about the employee,” says McLeod, so the solution is to offer an open-ended question along the lines of “do you have feedback, thoughts, or anything you want to share with me?” If the employee left on good terms, the manager should have no problem sharing positive information. “They’re perfectly, legally allowed to say anything positive,” says McLeod. “However, when it gets into the negative, it’s a legal issue. You’re looking for a big silence or a ‘I have nothing more to say.’” If that’s the case, consider the possibility that the employee left on bad terms.

Make an offer

When you’ve decided on the perfect candidate, call him or her immediately and make a verbal offer. If they need time to decide, agree on a deadline so you don’t miss out on other qualified applicants while waiting. If the candidate accepts, provide them with the following:

  • The date and time of their first day of training
  • A description of what they’ll be doing on their first day, and who their trainer will be
  • A description of what to wear
  • Items to bring (photo ID, direct deposit information, a work visa, or other documentation)
  • A statement of their starting hourly wage
  • A description of the introductory period, e.g., how long the employee will be in training

It’s also a good practice to notify rejected applicants by a brief phone call or email, letting them know if you’re going to keep their application on file for later on.

Onboarding

Just as an employee’s interview isn’t over when they get the job, your work isn’t over, either. Now that you’ve selected an employee to fill that empty position, it’s your responsibility to make sure he or she gets the training and ongoing opportunities they need to be successful.

This process is twofold: you must have a training protocol in place, and you must be flexible to your new employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Let’s delve into each.

Have a training protocol

There are fewer things more frustrating for a new employee than starting a new job with no guidance, especially for entry-level hourly workers. Make sure your new employee has a dedicated trainer during each shift for their introductory work period, and make sure your trainers are well trained.

Simply bestowing the responsibility of training on whoever is standing nearest to your new employee “is a disaster, for a number of reasons,” says McLeod.

1. [the trainer] may not be getting paid extra to train, and she may resent that. You’re taking time away from her job.

2. Just because someone is a good employee doesn’t meant they’re a good trainer. With hourly employees, it isn’t uncommon for “trainers” to forget to share crucial information –– or, worse, to spend the time gossipping about who to avoid, or where to get a free lunch

3. Check in with your new employee regularly. “Discuss expectations, goals for the first week,” says deFreitas, “and make sure they have what they need.” He emphasizes the importance of obtaining feedback from your new hire on the training process. “Have your employee complete a quick survey with basic questions about onboarding, so it becomes a quality check for the hiring manager so they can continue to fine-tune their process.”

Be flexible

As your employee grows with your company, you can safeguard against turnover by letting them excel at what they’re interested in –– and what they’re already good at. Be flexible. “It’s not a matter of looking at someone and saying, ‘you don’t do that well.’” Instead, say “‘let’s figure out how to train you to do it better,’” says Hodge.

If someone is a bad server because they can’t take an order correctly, offer them a position in the kitchen. If someone has poor people skills but great computer skills, move them out of customer service and into a back-office job. Hodge asserts that one tiny shift in this regard can work wonders for employee retention and morale: “if you’re in a position where you can maximize the things you enjoy doing, you’re much happier at work, more productive, and it carries over into all aspects of your life.”

Final takeaways

Recruiting and hiring can feel like a tedious process when you don’t have a system in place. However, establishing your protocol, training your team, and executing the process systematically will give you the best opportunities to connect with valuable new team members.

The best part about taking your time to establish a hiring process may be the time saved later. Even if your new employee doesn’t turn out to be as great as you’d hoped, you’ll now have everything in place –– from your job description, to assessments, to training protocol –– to turn right around and hire a replacement. Like any other business investment, it takes time and money upfront to hire well, but it pays off in the long run.

And in the best case scenario, your new employee will be exactly what you hoped for, and your team (and bottom line) will thank you for it.

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