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Open House Hiring

Susan D. Hesse, Senior Program Consultant, Kauffman Foundation

For most companies – big or small, new or established – the hiring process begins with a stack of resumes. Sometimes hundreds. Sometimes so few resumes come in you might wonder if joblessness is a myth. Sometimes they’re submitted in response to an advertisement. Sometimes unsolicited.

When I started Print Management in 1987, a full-service printing resource based in St. Louis, I knew how to hire staff. Having spent nine years with Fortune 500 companies and the hotel business prior to that, I had experienced first-hand the human resource operations of some of our country’s most successful companies.

But in 1987, as a first-time entrepreneur, I knew one of the best ways to ensure the success of my business was connecting with other successful entrepreneurs. I joined the Entrepreneur’s Organization and participated in an EO peer group meeting monthly.

At a forum meeting, my colleague, Drew Smith, then owner Public Safety Equipment, a manufacturer of light bars labeled as Code 3 for emergency vehicles, introduced me to the open house method of hiring for his entry and mid-level hires.

The beauty of this process is that it enables you and your top managers to review a much larger pool of candidates than would otherwise be feasible and, ultimately, to hire people better suited to the job or jobs you’re offering and your company – people you may not have even considered if all you had seen was their resume. (Note that you can use the open house method for hiring managers, especially when the applicant pool is large, but it's still most practical for entry and mid-level hires.)

Here’s how the process works.

  • Schedule an open house at your facility for 5:00 p.m. on a weeknight.
  • Notify all the names in your applicant database and advertise in local newspapers for resumes from individuals interested in learning about one or more job openings in your company and whether or not working there might be a good fit for both of you.
  • Out of, say, one hundred responses you might get, plan on sending a letter of invitation to about sixty, detailing the specific time, place, and agenda for the open house. Let invitees know that spouses and significant others are welcome to attend. Expect about two-thirds of those invited to RSVP and about two-thirds of those to actually attend the evening event.
  • Serve finger sandwiches, snacks, and beverages. Allow guests to mingle and engage in casual conversation for about thirty minutes. Observe the excitement generated by people in the same room all interested in the same job or jobs. Have staff members circulate, listen, and take notes. Take advantage of the interesting feedback you’ll get on what people are saying about your company, competitors, and the larger community.
  • Start the formal program at 5:30 p.m. by welcoming the candidates. Briefly describe your background as the founder, CEO, or president of the company. Provide an overview of the company history and long-term goals. Encourage questions. Questions that spouses and significant others ask – such as asking about benefits, required travel, and overtime – can reveal a lot about what kind of candidates they really are.
  • Emphasize that it’s okay to leave at any time during the evening event. Convey the message: “Our goal is to find the right position for you and the right associate for our company.”
  • Introduce management team members for five- to ten-minute presentations about their departments, function, expectations, and training of people who work there. Conclude with your human resources director describing the specific details of the job or jobs, pay, and benefits for which you are currently hiring.
  • When the presentations end, invite those remaining to stay for five-minute interviews with your management team. If you have thirty people in your audience, expect about twenty-five to stay. Have each team member situated in a private office with staff escorting candidates to them every ten minutes.
  • Gather management together at the end of the evening to review the candidates. Ask each interviewer to select their top candidate and give reasons why. Note what you learn about team members and how they themselves benefit from the process.
  • Contact top picks the next day to schedule full interviews, half-day visits to the company, and any follow-up testing or profiling practices that you follow.

Approximately seventy-five percent of the time we used this process, it resulted in hiring candidates we may not have considered from the original large pool of resumes. We found that interesting but not surprising when you consider that the qualities most often sought in employees – e.g., attitude, loyalty, intellectual curiosity, passion, motivation – are what resumes tend to demonstrate least effectively.

And let’s face it. Who has time to read more than ten or twelve resumes for an entry or mid-level position, much less meet and get to know who they really are as people and possible employees in your company?

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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