The most common thing I hear when talking to owners of pet service companies is, “do you know someone who would be a good dog walker for my company.” It is hard to find good staff, and when things are stressful, most often it is from a staff member failing at a key component of the job – often just showing up on time.
Hiring good staff is the most important thing we do as business owners and it is often the most difficult. I say most important because the pet service industry is largely relationship based. While even one bad staff member can ruin relationships and profoundly damage your reputation, not to mention make you crazy, having quality staff will deepen the relationship with your clients and improve your overall brand, Hiring good people is difficult, which is why large companies have whole departments devoted to HR. So, how can you increase your chances of making a good hire and avoiding a bad one? The answer is having a solid hiring process that is rooted in a deeper understanding of what you are looking for.
When To Hire
The first step in hiring someone is recognizing when you need another staff member. Too often we wait until we are in a state of emergency and need another walker yesterday before we start to look for new staff. This approach ends with us hiring the first available warm body that answers our ad. Avoiding this scenario is key because a solid hiring process takes time to produce a good staff member.
How do we avoid this scenario? The first thing we need to do is staff properly. All of us want our walkers to earn enough money to make it worth their while, which means trying to give each staff member a full schedule every day, and we staff accordingly. However, when all of our staff are at, or near, capacity and someone calls off or quits, the result is chaos and we find ourselves scrambling our way toward a bad hire. Adding one or more staff members than you think you need, rather than giving every walker a full schedule, gives them a three-quarter schedule and builds in breathing room for when someone leaves your company. This will put you in a much better place to hire from.
Define Who You Are Looking For
Once the decision has been made to hire a new staff member it is important to have clarity on who you are looking for. I think many of us get fixated on the skill-set we are looking for when hiring. For instance, we often look for a history of working with and handling animals, which is important to be sure, but don’t prioritize the basic question of whether the person will be a good employee. This is a mistake. There is some science that is important to know when considering who we are looking to hire. What studies have shown is that people carry their job satisfaction with them from job to job. Knowing this, the first thing we should be looking for is someone who knows how to be an employee and has a history of being satisfied in past jobs.
Because of the nature of the position the second quality I would suggest looking for in a dog walker would be someone that has a history of working well without supervision. This is often linked to someone who identifies with their position and takes ownership of results. Studies show that this is also an attribute that people carry with them from job to job. So, what we should be looking for is someone who knows how to be an employee, enjoys their work life, has demonstrated an ability to take ownership of past positions, and can work without supervision.
Additionally, you would like the person with these attributes to also have experience with, and passion about, caring for animals. For many of us these qualifications may seem to be out of order, but if someone has years of experience handling dogs but can’t show up on time, be pleasant, is chronically dissatisfied with the job, and brings their drama into the workplace; they are going to make your life miserable and hurt your brand.
Creating A Job Post
Now that we know who we are looking for, how do we find them? Too often I see posts looking for dog walkers that just say, ” calling all dog lovers!, if interested call…” Our job posting will be the first contact with prospective staff members, so it is important to craft a post that will attract the person we are looking for. Spell out the attributes your are looking for. Something like this: An ideal candidate should be very punctual, have a strong attention to detail, be highly responsible and comfortable working without direct supervision. It is also important to spell out any job requirements, such as shifts needing to be covered, passing a criminal background check, access to reliable insured transportation, owning a smartphone etc. Conclude with a request that interested candidates send an email with an attached resume and the answer to a question. Questions like, “why do you feel you are a good fit for this open position?” will work well. Crafting a post in this way is designed to help weed out bad candidates from the beginning.
Deciding Who To Interview
Now that we have responses to our post, we need to decide who is worth investing more time in considering. Did they follow instructions and send a resume and the answer to your question? If they failed to do either of these, take a pass. Past and present behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. If they can’t follow basic instructions, how are they going to do with a list of instructions left by a nervous pet owner? Pay attention to the answer they give to your question. Is it thoughtful and organized? How does their resume look? Does it contain typos? Questions such as these, along with the content of their resume, will help you narrow down the field.
Next do a preliminary call to set up a face to face interview. In the call make sure to get confirmation that they meet your basic requirements There is nothing worse than completing an interview, only to find that the candidate does not have the needed transportation, or is not available for the shifts you need covered.
Conducting The Interview
The most common trap we fall into when interviewing is to find we have something in common with a prospective hire, and talk about that instead of extracting the information we need. To prepare for interviewing create a list of questions to ask each of your candidates. Be sure to ask every candidate the same questions and don’t get pushed off-course. Always be aware of what you are trying to find out in the interview process.
Remember, the first thing we are looking for is the answer to this question: do they know how to be a good employee? Here is a question designed to give you this information. “I see that your last position was with xyz company, who was your direct supervisor there? When I call them what are they going to say was the best part of working with you?” Ask the question and then watch and listen. Don’t bale them out…. silence is golden. This question alone can often tell you if you do not want to hire the person. If they start to explain why their last employer was a jerk, they will be saying the same about you in three months. Follow up with something like, “on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, how do you think (name of supervisor) would rate your performance? What, if anything, will they offer up as an area that could use improvement”
Questions such as these will give you a good read on how they function in the workplace. If at any time you get a bad feeling about someone, back out of the interview as soon as you can. Assured that they know how to be a good employee, move into questions about working without direct supervision and their experience with animals.
To conclude the interview be explicit about what you are expecting from a new hire. Something like: “I need you to be available to me (days and times) ….I need someone who understands the importance of this job and will give it the attention it deserves….. it is very easy to get distracted while doing this job, so I need attention to detail….” Tell them why people struggle in the position. Then ask, given all of this, do they feel they would be a good fit for this position? Assuming they say yes, ask if they have any questions for you. Let them know when you will be making a decision and end the interview.
Again, finding good staff can be difficult, but a solid hiring process based in a clear understanding of what makes a good employee will yield much better results. Happy hiring.