NEW: Michael Phillips

You can always teach new recruits, so what you should be looking for in interviews are the character traits.

Sifting the wheat from the chaff

Michael Phillips

When hiring Gen-Y, look first at the character of the candidate – qualifications, experience and previous performance should all be a secondary consideration.

After all, you can provide education, experience and guide them to outstanding performance, but you can’t teach characteristics such as a strong work ethic, passion and reliability. These are genetic and more often than not, a result of a person’s upbringing.

We read time and time again of the importance of people and culture within a business and now, more topical, is the recruiting and retaining of Gen-Y personnel. While a lot of managers and business owners will be thinking ‘Gen-Y bother?’, the focus should be on recruiting quality and you can worry about the retaining afterwards. I’ll be writing more about his next week.

So, how do you judge a person’s characteristics from an interview? There are a few ways; for example, our warehouse is attached to our office and we will often get prospective employees to work casually for a day or two in the warehouse, which definitely sorts the workhorses from the show ponies.

We have had all ages and both sexes work in our warehouse – packing boxes, scanning goods, counting stock. These are all tasks that may well be “below” certain employees, but to us these are essential to the business and are a quick way to determine a person’s work ethic and motivation to be employed. A day slogging it out in the warehouse, followed by a chat with other staff at the end of the day to see how the prospective employee performed, gives us an immediate take on their characteristics.

Another example is to schedule interviews at awkward times. Have you ever had a telephone discussion with a prospective employee and said: ‘Can you make it tomorrow at 9am for an interview?’, then after a few ‘ums’ and ‘aahs’ they reluctantly agree? No doubt you have.

The solution is to say something like, ‘We’d really like to meet you, so can you see us at 7am tomorrow’ or ‘is Friday at 6pm ok?’. Yes, this does put you in the position of having to be there at awkward times but we have already established that finding the best people is critical for a business, so sorry, but it might take some unusual practices to find them.

We have often held interviews on a Saturday at 9am, which is the best way to determine whether a young employee is ready to work or is still worried about where they will be drinking on Friday night.

Involving existing employees in interviews is another great way to ensure the process is a success. Use a Gen-Y staff member to help find a new Gen-Y employee and then get the existing employee to take some ownership for the decision. They should be asking questions of the prospective candidate and developing their own case for (or against) the new hire.

The final point, and probably the most important to the business, is to not focus on remuneration. The focus should be on you determining the value of hiring the prospective candidate.

This is harder in an employees’ market, but you must stay resilient. The interview should always be held as an “opportunity” for a candidate and not a “right”. Once an employee believes the job is their right and they can dictate the remuneration, the cause is lost.

You should be seeking employees that want to show what they are capable of and let the remuneration be provided as a result. Hard work brings great rewards and this should be the mantra for all employees.

If you begin to waiver on this for any employee, even if they appear to be the best opportunity ever, it will become cancerous. Employees talk and ill feelings spread, so maintain integrity and be fair to all employees when considering your options.


  • Focus on work ethic.
  • Be unconventional – schedule awkward interview times.
  • Get them to spend a day (or two) in a role within your business and then speak to them and your existing staff on how they performed.
  • Look for energy – they have to be passionate.
  • Involve existing employees in the interview process.
  • Focus on the opportunity being provided to the prospective employee – no need to be excessive in remuneration offering.



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