How to Say "You're Hired!" With Confidence
By Teddy Durgin
With the competition for top talent so fierce nowadays, hiring has taken on greater importance in the apartment sector. The real trick is in leveraging the interview and verification process so that new hires are matched well with a company and/or a specific property's values, standards, and culture. Rebecca Rosario of Full House Marketing Inc., along with Bill Nye, Chief Executive Officer for Caviness and Cates, will be leading an education session on this very topic at the National Apartment Association's 2014 Education Conference & Exposition in June. Ahead of that, she shared with us some interesting thoughts on the hiring process, in general:
NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION: How has the apartment sector changed since you first got involved?
REBECCA ROSARIO: Today's resident is more concerned about their experience than ever before. We can never be inconsiderate of the importance of a good and ready product, but how people are treated and the professionalism they are shown has become increasingly important. Your product suffers, for example, when you don't have the right maintenance people both protecting the physical integrity of the asset and interacting with residents in a way that creates customer confidence. At the end of the day, whether you are planting flowers, plunging toilets, collecting rent, or leasing units, the common end goal is to maintain and increase the value of the asset for the investor. At the end of the day, can you say, 'All of my activities were in line with that vision, that goal.' If they were, then great; A good day's pay for a good day's work! If not, then maybe there needs to be some adjustments.
NAA: What are some steps that are often overlooked that can make the hiring process easier and more productive?
RR: Begin with the end in mind. Sometimes, the job descriptions don't really line up with what it is that we are expecting folks to do in a particular role on site. Sometimes, the job descriptions haven't been looked at in years. You have to determine what outcomes you want before you write a description. Often I see an ad that indicates a company seeks someone with good communication skills. But what does that really mean? We tend to write job descriptions based on a certain set of skills. However, we tend to overlook individual attributes. For example, do you want someone who is able to work in a rapidly changing environment with directives varying all of the time? You have to determine if they shift gears seamlessly without getting their feathers ruffled. You can have someone who is very good at a particular skill, and yet they can't work well in certain environments.
It is easy to write broad-based job descriptions across a portfolio, forgetting that each individual property has its own unique personality, its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. An apartment professional at a property in a high-end, urban area is going to need different attributes than someone who will be working at a garden-style, suburban area community. A college property is going to have different needs than, say, a senior or a military housing community. So, avoid broad-based descriptions and don't forget that every property is different and has different challenges and needs. Also, and this is very important, don't write job ads to try and attract everyone! Instead, try to write ads that actually weed people out. You don't want more resumes. You want the right resumes.
NAA: How many people should be involved in hiring decisions? Can you have too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen?
RR: It's OK to have a few people involved in interviewing and hiring as long as it's not holding up the process. Are you taking so long that you are losing good candidates? Unfortunately, in working with companies over the years, we have come across situations where the hiring process took so long that candidates lost their confidence in the company's ability to get things done. Or they interpreted that the company wasn't excited about them as a candidate. I've seen it time and time again where a job candidate becomes a little disheartened, especially with a process that has taken over a month from the time of interview. That's a long time.
NAA: What type of employee do you definitely NOT want?
RR: You don't want to hire what we call an 'ID.' An ID is someone who is constantly looking for the next raise. An ID is someone who can only see their future in the short term. They don't have a long-term perspective. They don't necessarily care about the greater goal of the company or their team. They are very self-centered, and they'll jump to work with competitor for an extra quarter or 50 cents more an hour. With the right hiring process you can weed out an ID before you hire them, instead of hiring them and then having to fire them.
NAA: What are some questions that absolutely need to be asked in the interview process?
RR: The screening process is definitely where you need to ask the right questions. Some of the most important ones are situational questions -- how did they react in certain situations. I also think that circling back and asking the same question, just in a different way, to see if there is a slightly different variation is useful. You can even ask for samples of their work. Someone might say, 'I made a great marketing flyer.' 'Great! Do you have a copy?' Have a bucket of tools and ask a maintenance candidate do a simple task right on the spot. Often times, a community manager has never completed the (maintenance) task in which they expect the candidate to perform. There's nothing like doing it right on the spot.
NAA: Can you give a specific example of a new hire who you took a chance on that really worked out?
RR: One of our biggest success stories is a gentleman named Chris. He was an accounting major in college, which has not traditionally been the major we would look to for someone to do leasing. We typically look to sales and marketing people, not a numbers guy. He was in his early 20s. Based on how he answered the questions and how he interviewed, we thought, 'We have to get this guy a job in property management!' We placed him in a leasing role, and he did extremely well. Because of his aptitude for numbers, he became an assistant manager within about a year and a half. Within a couple of years after that, he became a manager. He rose really fast through the ranks. Today, a little over 10 years later, he is now in a corporate-level executive position. We saw early on that he had the potential, the interest, and the drive. He threw himself into everything and has continued to prove himself over and over again.
NAA: On the flipside, can you give a specific example of a hire who did NOT work out and how you learned from it?
RR: Let me preface this by saying it was early in my career! [laughing] I hired someone who had leasing experience. She was a great leaser, and I hired her into an assistant management position. She wanted career advancement, and I thought I could bring her to the next level. I tried to train her, and the back-end of the office administration was just not for her. She really floundered, and I felt responsible because I set her up for failure. I ignored the clues given during the interview process. I thought I could teach her and mold her instead of trusting the process that indicated she was not detail oriented enough. She was a leasing and marketing person who needed to be promoted into a sales and marketing related position. I learned from this experience that it takes a special person to be able to be good at both leasing and marketing and administrating the financial back end of the house.
NAA: You and Leah Brewer teamed up to open an independent affiliate of Full House Marketing Inc. in 2000. Could you please give us an overview of the services you and your staff provide?
RR: We like to call ourselves a 'one-stop shop,' because we do more than one thing when it comes to helping properties perform. The name Full House is sort of a double entendre. Not only do we help people keep their house full with marketing advice and consultation, we help keep their staff full because we are a staffing and recruiting company -- both temporary and permanent maintenance, leasing, and office employees. We really cover both the back end and the front end of the house. We believe in the basic "Four P's" of people, product, price, and promotion. You have to have all four of those cylinders firing away. There are other "P's." You hear people talk about things like place and positioning. But you can't forget the basic Four P's, especially people. They are the heart of this business. You can have the best product, the smartest pricing, and the greatest promotions. But if you don't have the right people on site, everything else is for naught.