Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff

Planning for the Recovery

This recession finally appears to be running out of steam. I have observed recessions since the 1960s, and most of the signs in the economic cycle are the same: good news on the upward curve, bad news on the downward, and a mixture of the two as the economy scrapes the bottom. We seem now to be scraping the bottom.

The national unemployment rate at press time is 8.5 percent; there will be another read on the rate in early May, and it will probably tick a bit higher again. Employment is a lagging indicator. Companies typically use overtime and temporary workers at the end of a recession before expanding their workforce. But expand they will, and with that come the headaches of recruiting: going through resumes and building a team again for the growth that will follow. Recovery periods are typically much longer than downturns, so it will be a team-building experience.

I have been looking at resumes for a living for nearly 30 years. In the early 1980s, I consulted with one of Vermont’s very large employers. We had to hire over 100 professionals within a period of about 12 months, and I needed to look at a lot of resumes. I used employment professionals and I used newspaper advertising to get the resume count up, and read over a hundred resumes a day.

I would tell people that they had about eight seconds to catch my attention, and, as we move towards recovery, you may have the same experiences. With unemployment over 8 percent right now, there will be a plethora of people to choose from and you want to reduce the margin of error.

Today’s recruiting is different than it was in 1983. The newspapers have lost their edge as a source of resumes for your business. We have moved into an age where the process is virtually all electronic. Resume sites are all over the Internet, and you cannot ignore Monster, HotJobs, and Career Builder, or craigslist, as well. The latter is best when looking for people at entry level, and the other three are more for professionals. 

With this, resumes come to your desk electronically and you need only print the ones you have an interest in. The process takes a little longer but the response time is cut to almost no time at all.

I won’t try to tell our readers how to read a resume, because we all have our individual styles. I look for the chronological experience and education first. Then I look for the specifics of experience to see if there is a match, but there are other steps companies should take to ensure the quality of a new hire.

• Give a candidate broad exposure. The more people a candidate talks to in your company, the better the fit will be. Plan on a half-day and listen to the feedback from the interviewers.

• Be sure to do a background check. There are professional companies that do this. A credit check may be appropriate for some (but not all) positions.

• Consider drug testing. Be careful to get the advice of counsel before doing it because there are some serious restrictions on testing in Vermont. It is allowed if the rules are strictly followed. 

• Check references personally. Many companies will not give references, but some still do. This is different from a background check, as you will be looking for work-ethic and personality issues. Remember that candidates are always on their best behavior for interviews. You want to find out how they are when they are on their worst behavior.

These simple but effective suggestions will help you hire people who will help your company move into the new prosperity that is surely coming. •

Dave Mount is the owner of Westaff in Burlington.

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