(Editor’s note: I wrote the following article excerpted here in 2006. It’s amazing how relevant it remains today even if some of the specifics about the organizations and people interviewed may have changed in the interim as have their hiring strategies.)
If you ask any 10 dealers what their biggest concerns are, it’s a good bet that one of their top concerns is finding good people. Then again, that’s a universal concern and one not limited to the office technology industry.
Nowhere is it more difficult when it comes to finding experienced candidates than on the sales side of the business. Here the pool is extremely shallow. “The age old theory on that is if you’ve got a book of business why are you going to go someplace else and start from scratch with nothing? That’s a big hurdle.” says Dave Grandelis, director of recruiting for Copier Careers (www.copiercareers.com), a recruiting firm that locates and recruits trained industry professionals for document imaging companies across the country.
Conversely, the pool is a whole lot deeper when it comes to finding inexperienced talent or those with three or four years in the business. But this brings with it another set of problems as dealers find themselves consistently challenged to convince fresh hires to stick with it. Indeed, it’s increasingly common for these folks to get frustrated and leave after a year or two because they’re not receiving instant financial gratification. But that’s a story for another time.
Overall, it’s different strokes for different folks in the way dealers find good people to fill key positions within their companies. If there’s any consistency, it’s that the old-fashioned way of placing ads in the local paper has been displaced by the Internet, and internal and external recruitment firms, and a little creativity.
Flo-Tech in Middletown, Connecticut has more than 130 employees—45 of whom are in sales and marketing. The company has a simple formula for success, at least with its sales and marketing hires. “We know exactly what we’re looking for,” says Scott MacGregor, vice president of sales & marketing.
Flo-Tech works closely with one primary recruiting firm and also posts on Monster.com. Although the latter has yielded mixed results, the former works very well. “Recruiters typically are impressed by the due diligence we do and the tools we use to evaluate candidates, but also because we can clearly define what we’re looking for,” explains MacGregor.
It wasn’t always that easy. After MacGregor had been with the company for two years, he sat down with Flo-Tech’s regional directors of sales and CEO to discuss what exactly they were looking for in a candidate by compiling a list of the qualities possessed by the company’s most successful employees. “We said, ‘What are the common denominators?’” recalls MacGregor. Common denominators include a track record of success and ability to fit into Flo-Tech’s culture among others.
Using those common denominators, they developed a candidate review form, which is used to rate every candidate after they’re interviewed. For example, after the regional director of sales interviews a candidate, he fills out the form rating that candidate in different areas on a scale of 1-10, weighted by order of importance. “If we say ‘Track Record of Success’, we’ll rate them on a scale of 1-10, which has a multiplier based on how important we think that [quality] is,” says MacGregor. After a regional manager, MacGregor, and Flo-Tech’s CEO fill out the review forms, they compare scores.
MacGregor stresses the importance of due diligence and not straying from the program. “It doesn’t matter how in love you are with a candidate or if the candidate says I need to make a decision tomorrow because I have another offer, we never skip steps in the process,” he says. Those steps include reference checks, background checks, and ride-alongs with regional sales managers.
In addition, Flo-Tech does something unique when it finds a hot prospect. “When we’ve narrowed it down to where we feel that the candidate is a good fit for us and that candidate also feels very positive about the opportunity with Flo-Tech, I give them the opportunity to speak to every person in my sales and marketing department,” says MacGregor. “Because we’re so up front, nobody ever comes in with any false expectations.”
At the Phillips Group, a full service dealership selling furniture, supplies, and equipment, in Middletown, Pennsylvania, the company relies on its internal HR department to find qualified candidates. It’s tried outside recruiters, but found they weren’t any more successful and oftentimes less successful than The Phillips Group’s own internal HR department.
Why internal HR vs. recruiters? “I question the amount of time they were putting in to qualifying these people,” says Peter Phillips, president. “Our HR department knows intimately what we’re looking for and has been hiring for these positions for a long time. I find we make fewer mistakes that way.”
Unlike some of its counterparts in the industry, the company has also been successful finding solid candidates on Monster.com. Another strategy it uses for finding good people is via networking. Managers are encouraged to keep their eyes and ears open and to foster relationships with potential candidates. “We don’t want to wait until we have an opening, but encourage them to always have someone in their back pocket so that we have a minimal amount of downtime when we do have turnover,” says Phillips.
Phillips says that the company rarely targets candidates in the copier industry because of issues with non-competition agreements. “We look for people with prior sales experience in other industries,” says Phillips. The ideal Phillips Group candidate typically has had at least one sales job and a minimum of 3-4 years sales and marketing experience.
The Phillips Group also believes in due diligence and requires promising candidates for sales and management positions take a psychological test. The company also does credit checks and DMV checks, which help gauge a candidate’s character. “We don’t put a lot of credence on references,” says Phillips who adds that the psychological exam is extremely important. “We look for a strong ego drive and if they don’t have it we shy away. It’s hard sometimes and we talk to someone and the person seems right because the interview went well, but the psychological exam comes back and says [he or she] is not a good fit. It’s hard to stick to your guns, but we really try to stick to that test. Conservatively, we find that 80 percent of the time the test is dead on.”
Copy World in Reading, Pennsylvania and All Copy Products in Denver, Colorado use their own in-house recruiters to source and qualify candidates. Copy World’s recruiting manager originally began as a contract employee, but after 90 days, Copy World President Brent Simone made it a full-time position. It’s been a wise move.
“He’s bringing more candidates in the door and he’s screening more candidates so our management team doesn’t have to get involved until the second interview,” says Simone. The recruiter also attends Chamber of Commerce events on the company’s behalf, which is a fertile field for potential candidates.
Prior to creating the recruiting manager position, Copy World used ads, outside recruiters, Monster.com, and networking to locate candidates. Since adding a recruiter to the staff, the company has also become more selective in its hires. “In the past we were hiring more expeditiously because if we saw someone we thought was close, we weren’t as willing to pass on them because we didn’t know if we’d be able to find another candidate,” explains Simone.
All Copy Products full-time recruiter has been with the company for the past three years and fills everything from administrative to sales positions. It’s not unusual for her to see as many as five candidates a week. “She does the initial screening so by the time the candidate gets to one of my managers she feels comfortable that the information in the résumé is accurate and the candidate is a good communicator, and things like that,” says Brad Knepper, president of All Copy Products. “That saves a tremendous amount of time for my management staff.”
Adding a full-time recruiter to the staff was an easy decision. All Copy had been using headhunters, which was costly. Knepper also found that they weren’t supplying him with a sufficient quantity of qualified candidates. “So we already had some expenses in the books associated with recruiting,” explains Knepper. “What I didn’t like about outside recruiters was that many times we found out a candidate was interviewing for other spots with that recruiter and sometimes within our own industry. We wanted somebody who could live and breathe All Copy and really tell our story and get the candidate fired up.”
This strategy is paying dividends at All Copy not only in the quality of new hires, but in morale. “Without question it’s helped the morale of my management group,” says Knepper. “By not spending time putting ads together, reading résumés, and doing the initial interviews, they can focus on the things they do best.”