Mel Kleiman, founder and president of Humetrics, gives tips and tricks for hiring and retaining good employees. Founded in 1976, Humetrics strives to help employers reassess and reinvent the way they recruit, select, and retain frontline hourly employees and the people who manage them.
How important is experience? How often should you be interviewing? What should you look for in future employees? All of this — and more! — are discussed in this episode, which is hosted by CoatingsPro Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Chizik.
Get more resources from Mel on CoatingsPro’s website:
Questions You Need to Ask Every Valued Employee
Job Opening: “Experience Needed.” Really?
And be sure to reach out to him directly for more: Humetrics, www.humetrics.com
[This podcast was recorded on July 2, 2020.]
Stephanie Chizik: Mel, thanks so much for joining us.
Mel Kleiman: Stephanie, thanks for having me. Really looking forward to this conversation.
SC: I am too. I think it will be really helpful for our subscribers. Could you start by giving us a bit of your background?
MK: Well, let’s see. I’ve been doing this so long, if you look at the date you said I started this. I always like to tell people I’ve been doing this so long that every question that is now illegal to ask was legal when I started. [laughter] The approach I attempt to take in everything that we do at Humetrics — in our hiring process, our management process, everything else — is we continue to look at what I call “uncommon common sense.”
What I mean by that is the fact that — let me just give you an example. I think all of us need to hire people who work hard. So often I say, “Okay, you need people who work hard. How many of you ever ask questions in relationship to hard work?” Very rarely do I have somebody say, “Yes, I ask something.” Well, what do you ask? “You know, ‘Are you willing to work hard?’” Well, that’s better than the question you’re not asking. But you know what the answer’s going to be if you said to anybody, “Are you willing to work hard?” The answer’s going to be, “Of course I’m willing to work hard!”
Why not just ask somebody in an interview — for example, let me ask you a question, Stephanie. What’s the hardest job you ever had? Let’s role play for a minute, and I’m putting you on the spot in this interview, not me. I said to you, “Stephanie, what’s the hardest job you ever had?” How would you answer that question?
SC: I think I would say the job I currently have is the hardest one I’ve ever had because it takes a lot of management of my time, learning new skill sets, and people. It’s definitely a lot of balls are being juggled that I haven’t had to do in the past.
MK: Then I would ask you to expand on it. How much have I learned from you just by the answer to that question? Just think about it. So why are we not saying to everybody, because normally when we think about hard work, it’s interesting the mind first goes to physically hard. They’re building a new house next door to mine. I’ve watched these guys. They’re working physically hard.
But the fact of the matter is, some days I would love to be able to work physically hard rather than have the new responsibilities you talked about and everything else. Common sense. If this is what we need to know, what is a great question we can ask to get to it? Everything I try and do is based on, “Does it make sense? Is there a reason we do it? Is it different than what everybody else is doing? And do we get more than just canned answers?” That’s the key.
SC: I also think what you're touching on is rather than asking yes or no questions, maybe ask something where they have to come up with a personal experience or a specific example
MK: You’re always looking for specific examples. For example, the big problem — and we’re just going to talk about interviewing today — but we can talk about retention, we can talk about all these things. But for example, one of the key methods that people train on interviewing is what they call behavioral-based interviewing. An example of behavioral-based interviewing is, “Give me a time when you had to deal with a team member who wasn’t cooperative. How did you deal with it?” “Give me a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer and how you dealt with it. How you solved the problem.” The problem is, we tell people exactly what we want the answer to the question to be. I said, “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer and how did you solve the problem?” What did you tell me? Don’t tell me about the time you failed. Tell me about a time and how you solved it. The difference is we have to look at a better way to ask interviewing questions.
We really need to reinvent the hiring process. We can talk about that today, but we also need to reinvent the onboarding process. In today’s world, in the new normal — which there is no normal, if you want to do it that way — we also have to look at how we manage the management process, because it’s a different world. And it affects all of us whether we’re at a place where we show up for work everyday or a place where we don’t. Expectations are different today than they were just two months ago.
SC: Absolutely. I also think potentially the interview process, by sheer fact of having to do it virtually more often than in previous years — that’s changing the landscape a little bit as well.
MK: Yes, that’s changing it. But actually the problem in most cases, especially with — what’s a normal size of most of your members? What’s a normal size company for most of the people who read what you write? What’s the normal size?
SC: I would say it can vary from what we call mom-and-pop shops where it really is a one- or two-person company up to maybe 30 to 50 employees of a larger contracting firm.
MK: So look at that. Even your largest members, if they’re good at interviewing and they’re good at picking and they’re good at retention, how often do they have to interview? In reality, they don’t have to interview a lot because they’re not doing that much hiring normally unless they’re hiring a crew. But the fact of the matter is, you can be the world’s greatest golfer. You can be the world’s greatest tennis player. You can be the world’s greatest athlete, whatever. How good would you be if you only played one round of golf a year? How good would you be if you only played one tennis match a year? How good would you be if you only got to go windsurfing once a year? You wouldn’t be very good at it. So what we need to do is make sure we have systems that let us excel at what we’re doing. The system makes up for the fact that we don’t get a lot of practice. And the key is practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
SC: So when you talk about systems, do you mean of practicing the interviewing process internally or is it more of a constantly interviewing potential employees?
MK: I happen to think that, depending on the size of your organization — let’s assume you have three or four employees. If you have three or four employees, you should as a manager make sure that every month or two you have an interview with somebody for a potential job. How about an ad that says, “Become pre-approved to work here”? That gives you a chance that maybe you’ll find somebody that can automatically make your team better.
If you found a really great employee, even though you only had two or three employees, if you found somebody who you really felt would be great, could you find a place for them? Yeah, most of us would because we know they would generate more than they cost us. So I would say, if you have somebody who you need more than that, yes. I tell many of my clients that you have to — as a manager, you’ve got to have on your calendar as least one or two interviews a month. Must. Practice, practice. What happens if you get surprised, you find a great person? What does it tell every other employee who knows you're always looking for another great employee? What does it tell them?
SC: Tells them that they’re constantly being considered for other roles or to be replaced.
MK: Or that you need to stay on top of your game. That’s it. I think you have to look at the hiring process. If you look at it, there are four tools in the hiring process, four decisions that are made. Number one is in most cases when we hire, we look at past work experience. So if I’m looking to hire somebody, how good is their past work experience? A, B, or C? Number two is how good is the interview. Some of your best employees in your industry may not be great at interviewing. That’s okay. I’m not looking for the great communicator, I’m looking for somebody who I feel can understand and do the job. That’s the key. So we’ve got number one is past work experience that we’re looking to hire for. Number two what we’re looking for is how somebody interviews.
Number three I would recommend highly that you look at testing. Interestingly enough, testing can fall in a lot of areas. For example, if you need a specific skill, test for it. You need a welder? Have him run a bead. Right? You need to test for it. So we begin to look at that. And then references. I have a formula that says 30-30-30-10. Past work experience is worth 30 percent of the grade. So your work experience, it’s an A. The interview, you only come out maybe a B+, maybe a B–. But past work experience is an A and we test you to find out if have the right kind of attitude or skills, and they’re an A. Then I’ve got to look at my interviewing and say, “Did I miss something?”
Then references are worth 10 percent. We always want to check references. Always. But if they’re bad, then we’d better figure it out because they may be worth 100 percent. Did the person really tell me the truth? Checking references means you look at everything. Do we do a criminal record check? That’s a reference. So you have a formula that you use.
SC: I think those are great tips. What happens is someone gets an A+ in everything except is new to the industry. We’re talking mostly to coatings contractors. I guess they couldn’t get an A+ in the testing portion. How important is the past experience?
MK: If you look at another formula — I’ve got all kinds of formulas. Imagine a pyramid. At the base of the pyramid is skill, is capacity. So put a C for “capacity” at the base of experience. Can they physically and mentally do the job? That is the number one key? Not can they, but will they show up every day for work on time? Can they lift? Can they stand? Can they reach? That’s capacity. Are they smart enough to learn the job? That’s capacity. You could have everything else, but if you won’t show up for work or you can’t do it and I can’t train you to do it, then I can’t hire you. I shouldn’t hire you.
As an example, I used to own nine Hertz car rental franchises. By best service agent, capacity-wise, IQ was borderline. I’m talking about 90, maybe 92. That puts him in the borderline IQ. Tough to teach. He’s got a disability. Mentally challenged. Once he learned the job, Edgar was probably the best service agent we ever had. He never missed a day of work, always had a smile. Once he understood the checklist, if it was on the checklist it got done. Didn’t matter if the car was out 10 minutes or 10 weeks. If it was out, it went through that checklist and you checked the oil, checked the water. He did everything on that checklist every single time. I think people came just because of Edgar. Because they loved him. He cared. That’s capacity.
Above capacity is attitude. If I said to any of your members, “Give me one word that describes the best employee you have working for you,” you know what kind of words I’d get? Dependable. Responsible. Accountable. Team Player. Passionate. They’re attitudes. I didn’t get one skill word out of you. I got attitude words. So we hire for attitude.
And then personality. Jobs have personalities. Companies have personalities. We call that culture. Managers have personality. Employees — does the personality fit into the job to a point that person’s really going to enjoy and be happy doing it?
Finally is skill. The interesting thing is, University of Chicago did a study and only 9 percent of the people fail because they can’t do the job. We don’t have difficulty finding skill. What’s the problem? They won’t. They won’t do the job. So that becomes the problem. So the key is, we have to turn around and say, “If I need someone who has a skill, have them demonstrate it.” Skill’s not the problem. What is? Attitude. Hire for attitude. Train for skill.
SC: That’s a good one. I think that could also apply to the interviewing process. You put out a lot of little tidbits through your newsletter, your email distribution. In one of the recent ones that I saw, you were talking about if someone’s late or dressed in a way you would consider inappropriate for an interview, rather than just completely disregard them as a candidate, ask them to reschedule and come back, and let them know how important those things are to your company. I thought that was a great tip because that would tell you if they’re willing to adjust.
MK: That’s just it. The fact of the matter is — back to that University of Chicago study. Most of us make a decision whether we like somebody or not in less than 14 seconds. So I like your smile. I like what you wore. I will bet you in the coating industry, you’ve made a decision on somebody before they ever walked through the door because you saw them when they pulled into the parking lot. We make a decision in 14 seconds, and we don’t even know why. Subconsciously we make a decision. I live in a place called Sugarland, Texas. Could be Houston, but it’s a suburb.
If I was interviewing somebody — let me give you a better example. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Years and year ago. But hey, if I was interviewing somebody and they were from St. Louis, what do I already have? An instant bond. What’s the bond? So don’t make that 14-second mistake. Because when we find somebody we like, what do we do? We look for reasons to hire them. When we find somebody we don’t like, what do we do? Somebody walked in, and for some reason you have a prejudice against them, whatever it is. You don’t like people who are too thin or you don’t like people who are too fat or you think they’re too old or think they’re too young. You made a decision. No. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.
I can always remember one of the people I hired who — I’m not going to tell you what my prejudice is — but she hit my hot button. Let me tell you what. I put that aside for the interview. I said, “No, let’s look at her and put her behind the screen. We can’t see her.” She was one of the absolute best employees I ever hired.
SC: That’s amazing.
MK: Because I recognized, “Hey, I’m making a decision not based on fact but on feelings.”
SC: I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, and that’s exactly what you're talking about.
MK: Malcolm, in Blink, he says we make a decision, we like somebody or not in less than 1/100th of a second. That’s the key.
SC: Move past that.
MK: Yes, put it aside. In fact, in the story Blink, he talks about, one of the examples he gives if I remember correctly, there was a period of time that women were never allowed to be in classical orchestras because it was proven fact that women were not capable of being classical musicians. Genetically impossible for women to be — you got that? I’m sorry, women cannot be classical musicians. It’s impossible. One of they symphonies interviewed behind a screen.
SC: A literal screen, yes.
MK: A literal screen. They couldn’t see it. The person who was the number one candidate was a celloist who only put her initials down, did not write her name. Put her initials down and she blew everybody away. When they took the screen away, they said, “That can’t be you.” We’ve got all these prejudices that get in our way when we begin to look at it.
SC: A lot of times right now we’re talking about how you diversify your teams. Diversity means different things to different people. But there’s probably a fine line between hiring people who would meet your team’s attitude and the culture, but at the same time does that lead you down a path where you're only hiring people who are just like you?
MK: Yes. How’s that? You want a straight answer? Yes.
SC: I didn’t learn my lesson. I shouldn’t have asked a yes-or-no.
MK: Yes, but I’ll expand on it.
SC: Thank you.
MK: I’ll expand on it. They key is when you hire people just like you, you never get a second opinion. We need to look at people who think differently. That’s the key. For example, one of the questions I ask before you hire anybody, the first question is, “Can we do this job differently? Can we do this job without hiring anybody? Does this job need to be done at all?” That’s the first question you ask if you’re going to go fill a position. Well, let’s think about it. Do we really need this job done? Can we do it differently? Can we do without hiring anybody? Does it need to be done at all?
The airlines have been absolutely fabulous at getting us to do all the jobs they used to pay people to do. We book our own flights. We carry our own luggage. Think about all those things. When you get to go off the plane and walk down the aisles and you help clean it up. They’ve trained their passengers to do every single job that we used to pay people to do. Can we do this job differently? That’s the first question. Or does it need to be done at all? That’s what it’s all about.
SC: I just took a training course for being a virtual manager. One of the questions that really stuck with me is, rather than saying, “Do you have any feedback? Was this good?” you ask your employee instead, “If you could perfect this, if it was perfect in your mind, what would it have looked like?” So that you get feedback that’s more useful.
MK: Yes, it’s back to that question I was talking about earlier when you tell people, “Tell me a time you had with a difficult customer and how you solved the problem.” You tell me what the answer to the question is. If you want to talk about virtual employees — most of your readers and most people listening to this, maybe they can use a virtual office person. In reality, most of the jobs can’t be done virtually.
SC: Correct. The office staff, perhaps, but you're right.
MK: The office staff could be virtual. But the point being is, let’s look a how we make sure — when was the last time you had a conversation with any of your employees saying, “What skills do you have that we’re not using or that you’d like to develop more effectively?” The key to great hiring, bluntly, and building a great team — I’m going to take this in a totally different direction, Stephanie — the key to building a great team is not [hiring great people]. Hiring great people is only part of it. The most important part is retaining great people.
Because in today’s world, even with the unemployment rate now at 11.3 percent, where three months ago it was 3.2, the fact of the matter is, still the easiest person to leave you and end up with another job is your best employees. Now more than ever, we need to be making sure we retain the best people we possibly can. Are you making your that you’re doing the things [to retain them]? Remember, no matter what it’s like, A players never have to play on C teams. A players can always find a great team to play on. So we want to be really great. The key is, number one, doing all the things you can to be a great employer. Because otherwise, you may hire great people, but all you do is have a hole in your bucket.
SC: Right, they’re constantly leaving.
MK: They constantly just flow out the bottom. Or splash over the top.
SC: I think that’s a whole other podcast episode. We’ll have to have you back and talk about retention. That sounds like so much more information that could be shared.
MK: Yes, it is.
SC: Before we sign off, as a key takeaway, is there a biggest mistake people could avoid when it comes to hiring and interviewing? Maybe a best way to be successful?
MK: I think there’ve been a lot of tips that I’ve given. I think the one thing that many companies aren’t using, especially the smaller companies — I would be looking at making sure I add testing into my hiring formula. I would make sure that what we see in the interview is what we really get. It’s making sure you're asking the right interviewing questions and making sure we test and verify that the answers we got are really the answers that were meant to be. We didn’t hire the best applicant. We hired the best potential employee.
SC: That’s a great place to end. What a great takeaway for our readers. Mel, thank you so much for spending time with me. If people want to reach out to you after this, how should they do that?
MK: Well, there are a couple of easy ways. One is you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or make it easy, you can just go email@example.com. That’s probably the easiest. I will respond to all of them. You can call me. I answer my own phone. That number is 713-771-4401. And you can go to the Humetrics site and sign up for my blog. I don’t put it out very often unless I have something to say.
SC: You do have a lot of great things to say when u do put it out. I would highly recommend that.
MK: Thank you.
SC: Thanks so much, Mel.
MK: Stephanie, my pleasure. Have a wonderful day.