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Finding Great People for Your Team

Cameron Herold, Chief Operating Officer, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

“Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and everyone in the right seats,” Jim Collins wrote in his book, Good to Great. In his book about the Merry Pranksters, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Key Kesey said “You’re either on the bus, or you’re off the bus." I’m onboard with both authors.

In business, it’s clear that having the right people matters more than anything else. But how do you find them? Time and time again, I see entrepreneurs struggle because they don’t know how to seek out exceptional people or they don’t work hard enough searching for gems. At 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, we know that having the right people is the only way to build a globally admired brand. So we’ve developed our own process for finding the talented people we want on the bus and keeping them aboard.

I started my first real company with employees on payroll when I was twenty one. In the nineteen years since, I’ve built and run a number of companies and hired a lot of people. In 1994, I moved to Seattle to set up College Pro Painters in Washington and Oregon. Twelve months later, thanks to my 220 top-notch painters, I had no debt, and I achieved revenues of 1.4 million dollars. As president of a barter company in the late ‘90s, we hired three people a day during a period of hyper growth. And as COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, one of the fastest growing companies in Canada, I’ve hired numerous exceptional people.

These days, I continue to learn about all areas of business from mentors, books, and learning from my own experiences. The one area I don’t focus on learning about is recruiting. Why? I now realize my grandfather, Cam Shortts, taught me how to hire great people when I was a teenager. He owned a hunting and fishing resort in Northern Ontario. Curiously, the lessons I learned from him happened while we were duck hunting, not talking business. Let me repeat myself.

I learned everything I know about recruiting amazing people from hunting ducks with my grandfather as a teenager.

When I joined 1-800-GOT-JUNK? five years ago, there were fourteen employees at our head office. Today, we have a team of over 1,500 system-wide. How did we find the stars on our bright, dynamic team? It all boils down to what I learned duck hunting.

Recruiting Great People

My grandfather always knew exactly what kinds of ducks he wanted before we set out to hunt: blue-winged teals, mallards, and canvas backs. And, he definitely didn’t want mergansers. Immediately I learned that recruiting the right people is all about having a crystal clear picture in my mind of exactly what I am looking for. In my current role, I want to be sure that all new hires will truly impress every person they interact with, be it customers, strategic partners, vendors, the media, or the public at large. In other words, everyone we hire from the sales and customer service frontline to accounting and IT specialists must have the personality and skills to always exceed people’s expectations.

Forecasting Hiring Needs

Before we left to go hunting, Grandpa reminded me that we were allowed to only shoot six ducks. So, six was the goal. Not just any six. They had to be the very best six ducks..

How many employees do I need? When do I want them? Do I need to hire them all at once, or spread out over time? Perhaps I’ll want a few extra. What happens if someone quits? What about temporary staff? What if my employees leave to go back to school in the fall? These kinds of thoughts and questions will tend to arise within anyone who hires. Regardless of what you’re thinking, remember one thing above all else. If you scramble to hire, it’s game over. You lose.

At our company today, I make sure we have staffing plans and hiring needs mapped out at least one year in advance. In fact, as I write this, we have already drawn up our staffing plans by month until the end of 2009. For the next four years, we know every role we need to hire for down to the month. We have to. Given it’s our sixth consecutive month of 100 percent revenue growth, we must define the precise path to our goals well in advance if we intend to reach them successfully.

Recruiting Superstars

I learned that, if I want to shoot six ducks, I need a lot more than six shells,unless I’m an awesome shot like Grandpa was. When it came to hunting, I wasn’t a sharp shooter.

The same idea applies to recruiting. If I want to hire six people, I need to review more than six resumes and interview more than six candidates. We build the number of resumes and interviews required for each hire into our recruiting plan. To hire one truly remarkable person, we like to interview at least five people. However, we often interview many more to find that stellar individual. Recently, we scanned over 250 resumes and conducted sixteen interviews to hire one business coach.

Keep Looking

Grandpa and I would wait patiently for the right ducks to fly by. To recruit remarkable people, I’m equally happy to wait..We never compromise. Once one of my directors and I traveled to Boston to make a hire. After three intense days of back-to-back interviews, we ended up flying home empty handed. We interviewed sixteen candidates in multiple interview rounds. We combed through close to 150 resumes. Still, we walked away because we just didn’t see the right person. grandpa and I had days like that in a duck blind. But we never shot at seagulls or fish ducks. We’d rather leave without a single duck.

If I don’t find precisely the person I want right away, I keep looking. There are 300 million people living in the United States, and the right people exist for every role.

Interviewing For Great People

Hunters recognize the best ducks easily. They never shoot at the gamey, fish-eating ones. Grandpa could pick the best ducks out in the sky, even when they were flying miles away. He knew just by their silhouette and the speed of their wings flapping. It was eerie. Grandpa would point and say, “Look, some ducks!” Peering into the seemingly blank sky, I would respond, “Where?!?” He’d reply, “Right there -- two mallards and a green-wing teal.” Lo and behold, he was right. I, on the other hand, could barely tell that they were ducks. Granted, Grandpa owned a hunting resort, so he had plenty of practice. But, most importantly, he really knew without question what he was looking for.

Our company can spot ducks even if they’re flying way off in the distance. We conduct group interviews. Instead of holding the first interview one-on-one, we do it in a group. We bring in a group of six to eight candidates and have one or two people from our team interview all of the applicants at once in the same room. The point of the group interview is not to analyze skill sets or find out if they can do the job. It’s to determine cultural fit and leadership traits, which are vital qualities that really emerge only in a group interview setting.

Of course, learning what ducks look like before the interviewing starts and knowing how to interview well are also critical . . . but that’s another story.

© 2006 Cameron Herold. All rights reserved.

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