Chase Hillenmeyer, vice president of Stephen Hillenmeyer Landscape Services, a fifth-generation landscaping business in Lexington, Kentucky, has an unusual habit when he takes job candidates to lunch. He pulls the server aside and tells him or her to mess up the order. The move may sound like a practical joke, but is actually an interview tactic: He wants to see how the candidate handles a bit of adversity.
On one such occasion, the waiter brought a salad rather than the cheeseburger ordered, as secretly directed. Hillenmeyer watched the prospective employee closely as he diplomatically informed the waiter of the mistake, and treated him with respect. Hillenmeyer was pleased and knew the candidate would be a good fit for his company.
Hillenmeyer was one of a trio of entrepreneurs who spoke about tearing down the job interview façade during "Power to the Small," a panel discussion sponsored by Windstream. Here are several key takeaways from the discussion:
Take a Day
Matt Sharp, who started both a gym and Causely, a Lexington tech firm that manages and promotes small business's philanthropic efforts, was a police officer before he became an entrepreneur. In law enforcement, he learned that everyone can maintain a façade for a little while. But "when you spend a whole day with them, they get worn out," he says. "If they are acting, they get frustrated."
And so, when he is hiring, he spends an entire day with the candidate, finding out who they really are. This might include early morning meetings with his team, lunch, meetings through the afternoon, a workout together at the gym (which Sharp also believes is a great way to see how a candidate responds to stress), and then dinner that night with the team.
If the candidate is able to keep a positive attitude throughout the long day, odds are he or she will be a good fit for the long haul.
Press the Flesh
Sharp says a bad hire becomes a black hole in a company's culture, bringing everyone around them down because they don't genuinely want to be there or aren't pulling their weight.
"They cause stress for everyone," he says. "Good people hate working with people who aren't on their level."
To avoid this scenario, he makes sure any candidate meets every employee, so that the people who will be working with the candidate can weigh in on whether the potential hire is a good fit for the company culture. Mingling with different personalities is a telling way to handle the hiring process, he says: "If everyone doesn't give the candidate a thumbs up, I take that as a red flag."
Set Clear Expectations
When Hillenmeyer joined the family business, his dad told him that being his son didn't mean he could slack off - he'd be fired if he didn't do a good job, the same as any other employee. That set a clear expectation for the work relationship: they are father and son outside the office, but boss and employee while at work.
"Be clear up front about what the relationship looks like and how it's going to work," he says. "That sets the tone, and then you have give-and-take and compromise."
He takes the same approach with every job applicant: setting clear expectations from the get-go so that everyone is on the same page. Hiring is one of the most important tasks of any entrepreneur, especially in the early stages when the company culture is developing. A methodical and probing approach can ensure you surround yourself with a team that works well together and is dedicated to the company's mission.