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The three A’s of hiring

Russ Kathrein - Selling our industry

Everyone, in just about every industry, is having trouble finding and hiring good employees. Every business owner and manager you talk to will say the same thing, “I just can’t find qualified associates.” When I hear someone say this, I come back and ask them what qualifications they’re looking for. The quality that I almost always hear first is, “I want someone with experience.” That desired experience might be industry-based, or possibly in sales or managing people. Sometimes desired experience centers around product knowledge.

Through a good portion of my career, I, too, felt the need to hire someone with experience, so they could get up and running quicker. The problem we encountered over and over was that to find an A player with experience, you usually had to hire a recruiter to find that person who was already working somewhere—and then you had to offer something enticing to get them to come work for you. In a down-to-flat market, that lure might be an opportunity or an interest in their professional development. But more often than not, and especially in our current market, in order to get people to leave a job where they’re successful, you had to throw money at them. The other alternative was to post the position and hope that someone with experience applied. If they did, these individuals often carried baggage or had their own quirks that put them in the position of looking for a job. Neither of these options are very desirable, and often don’t work out as planned.

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So in consulting with others about our hiring challenge, we got some enlightening feedback and came to some realizations that made  us ditch looking for that quick fix hire that would hopefully achieve immediate results.  Instead, we started building our team from scratch by looking for people who demonstrated the Three A’s: Attitude, Aptitude, and Altitude.

Look, you can teach a new employee product knowledge. And you can teach someone about your market, your industry, and your customer base. But when it comes to Attitude, you can’t teach someone how their thinking affects their behaviors.

Aptitude is defined as someone’s natural abilities to do things. Two of the key traits we look for in a candidate’s aptitude are getting “stuff” done, and intellectual curiosity. Many employees struggle to complete tasks in a timely manner or get a project over the finish line. You can ask a couple of simple questions during an interview to flesh out if the candidate is someone who is goal-oriented and likes to complete tasks. My personal favorite is finding people with intellectual curiosity. This can be in the form of someone who always wants to try the latest and greatest idea, piece of equipment, software, etc. This trait is especially critical if you want to hire someone for a technology position. Intellectual curiosity is also a trait of someone who keeps asking questions because they want to get better.

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The third A, Altitude, was added by a friend who told me while she wanted to find employees with great instinctive  behavior  and  abilities, she also wanted people who had the ability and potential to grow in a job and in their career. She wanted her people to all have a high degree of potential to the point that she was OK with having people work with her and then moving onto bigger and better things. In that way, she felt she would truly be exposed to excellent people who would not only do the job well, but would also make those around them better at their jobs.

So while we all want to be able to hire works of art that we only have to polish a little or position better, give some consideration to hiring some really good raw material, and then enjoy making your own works of art. It might take a little more time, but if you had started doing this two or three years ago, you would have a pretty substantial collection by now.

Russ Kathrein is with the LBM Division of Do it Best Corp. based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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