Hiring on Enthusiasm

By Ray Pelletier

Many call center managers consider new agent hires as short-term investments in a call center’s future. However, the fact is that today’s employees are staying at their jobs longer than they did even a few years ago. With this in mind, call centers need to carefully select their new agents to ensure the best possible fit – both for the individual and for their operation. A comprehensive, multi-step interview process will ultimately lead you to the best possible candidate. While it requires a greater time investment than conducting a single interview, the paybacks are worth it. Your call center will gain an enthusiastic new employee, build stronger team morale, and spend less money replacing the “wrong” candidate.

Enthusiasm versus Skills: When employers review resumes for an open position, they often look for the person who has all the job-specific skills they want. However, the right person for the position may not be the one who has the right education or is proficient with all the industry technology. While intelligence and some technical knowledge are important, an enthusiastic go-getter with a positive attitude can be a greater asset to your call center. After all, enthusiasm is infectious and a positive person will motivate your team. Plus, you can always train someone on specific skills; enthusiasm, however, can’t be taught. Other important factors to look for are candidates who are good team players and “coachable.” The person you select should be open to taking direction and learning new skills.

Why are enthusiasm and attitude more important than skills? Because employees like being surrounded by enthusiastic, motivated people. They want to be respected and valued by their employers, and they want to trust their coworkers. Realize that in today’s economy, job security isn’t what it once used to be. The old adage of “find a job you like, work harder than anybody else, and you’ll have a job for life” just isn’t true anymore. Today’s employees know that people run companies and that people are capable of failure. They’ve witnessed many apparently successful companies fail. Therefore, don’t give your agents anything else to worry about.  Maintain integrity from the top down and let your staff know you respect them by carefully selecting their coworkers.

To ensure you select the best person for the job and for your organization, incorporate the following five practices into your hiring process:

1. Develop a mission statement for each interview: Prior to conducting any interviews, you need to know the results you want to get from the interview session. So, after identifying a candidate you want to interview, identify three items about the candidate that appeal to you and three that concern you. Write them down in the form of a mission statement and keep it nearby while you’re conducting your interview. Check your mission statement to make sure you’ve addressed each of these six items before you conclude your interview. Develop a mission statement for each interview you conduct. By knowing specific items you want to cover and results you want to gain, you can ensure that your interview time is well spent for both parties.

2. Conduct the interview in the right environment: Much like a person who first visits your home gets an impression of you, a person who visits your office gets an impression of your call center. Be mindful of the message you’re sending candidates. Make sure the reception area and your office are clean and well-appointed. Check your appearance in a mirror before greeting the candidate. During the interview, shut the door to your office and don’t answer the phone or check your email. Give the candidate your undivided attention and show respect for the interviewing process.

3. Ask the right questions: Many questions are off-limits during an interview, but plenty of others can give you unique insights into the thoughts and feelings of your candidate. Ask questions that require both technical and emotional answers, as these questions will tap into the person’s left and right side of their brain. Here are some good questions to consider:

  • What do you believe is your biggest accomplishment?
  • Who was the most challenging coach or supervisor you ever had and why?
  • What are the top three reasons I should hire you?
  • What are three reasons why I shouldn’t hire you?
  • Have you ever participated in a team sport? What did you learn from it?
  • If I could give you a magic wand, what three most important qualities would your perfect company have?
  • What question haven’t I asked you that you would like me to know?
  • What question would you like to ask me that you haven’t already?

By asking open-ended, varied questions, you will gain greater insight into the candidate and decide whether you want to ask the person back for a second interview.

4. Require three interviews before extending an offer: A manager or human resource person should always conduct the first interview. For the second interview, invite members of the candidate’s potential work team to ask questions and meet the person. This way, the group can determine whether the person would mesh well with the team. The candidate’s potential supervisor should conduct the final interview. During this time, the supervisor needs to make a final decision about whether to extend an employment offer. Sure, three interviews are more time-consuming than just one, but the rewards are worth it. When you invest this amount of time in the interview process, your prospective hires get a sense of the company culture from the beginning. They will know that the company cares about who works for them, and you will feel confident that you made the best possible decision.

5. Use a temp service when needed: HR directors feel tremendous pressure to make the right selection, not just fill a slot. Sometimes, conducting a lengthy interview process simply isn’t feasible. During these times, some companies decide to give potential employees a “trial run” by bringing someone on staff temporarily through a temp service. Employers benefit by witnessing the candidate’s attitude and skills firsthand. The team can also determine if the temporary employee works well within their group. While the company has to pay a recruiting fee, many don’t mind doing so because they’ve avoided a long and tedious hiring process – and possibly making the wrong decision. But while occasionally using a temp service to try out an employee can be a good idea, don’t make it a regular practice. Also, be aware that the training required in some call centers is so involved and lengthy that a temp may not be a practical solution. When you have an effective interviewing process in place, you can be confident you selected the right person for the job.

After the Hire: After you’ve made the final decision, go the extra mile. Once your preferred candidate accepts your offer, send them a plant or some flowers with a handwritten note saying, “Welcome to the team.” But don’t stop there. Show recognition and appreciation to your agents throughout their employment. Staff members like to know that their jobs make a difference. Motivate agents by telling them how their jobs fit into the company as a whole. Employees don’t just want a paycheck – they want to be in a positive environment doing meaningful work.

You can create a positive work environment by employing positive, enthusiastic people. Therefore, make sure your interview process is designed to really get to know your job candidate so you can learn how the person would fit in with your existing team. When your interview process encompasses these five points, you will be rewarded with positive employees who will help your organization thrive.

Ray Pelletier founded The Pelletier Group and authored the best-selling book, Permission to Win.

[From Connection Magazine October 2006]