How Can We Help?
< All Topics

Recruiting Employees

The first step in the hiring process is to review or prepare a job description that clearly defines the qualifications necessary and the expectations for the position. This must be completed first to ensure a clear understanding of the role to be filled and to allow you to correctly position the job in any advertisements and in your discussions with recruiters and potential candidates.


Sources of Employee Candidates

Small business owners are often at a disadvantage in recruiting candidates for employment. Often unable to offer the competitive benefits and salaries of larger companies, and unwilling/unable to spend substantial dollars on recruitment costs, small business owners must find different sources for identifying candidates.

There are a number of creative recruitment techniques that small businesses have found successful where the costs are not prohibitive. It is important to understand that your recruiting strategy and budget will differ depending on the position being hired. The recruiting process is more likely to achieve its objectives if the sources utilized are customized for the position. Below are some recruiting sources for you to consider.


Internal search

One of the best sources of candidates is your own employees. A comprehensive succession planning process can help you identify talent within your organization and utilize that talent most effectively. Promoting people from within not only gives you the advantage of knowing the individual, their work ethic and capabilities, but also creates a developmental culture which contributes to positive staff morale. If employees believe there is an opportunity to advance within the organization, they are more likely to stay. If you plan to promote/transfer existing employees, it will be necessary to develop a Job Posting Program. By establishing these guidelines in advance, you will ensure that employees are treated fairly, an appropriate and consistent process is followed and all necessary records are maintained.


Employee Referrals

Too often businesses fail to communicate with their staff about the challenges they face in recruiting qualified candidates. Your employees can represent a ready source of recruiters. Make sure they know what you’re looking for and understand your recruitment and selection process. Similar to promotion from within, employee referrals give you additional insight into the candidate. If the individual is referred by a respected employee, it is likely anyone they refer may have similar qualities. The potential downside to using employee referrals is that if the new hire does not work out, it may create problems with the referring employee. Also, employee referrals need to be considered in light of any policies relating to the hiring of relatives and conflict of interest.


Unsolicited Applicants/Walk-Ins

It is a good practice to accept applications from any interested candidates whether or not you have a suitable opening available at the time. Encourage interested individual to come in and fill out an application. Many companies have a steady stream of “off the street” applicants who fill out applications expressing general interest in working for the company. It is important to be able to track these applications properly to be able to consider these candidates when a suitable opening arises. It is not necessary to purchase a sophisticated applicant tracking system. You can set up a simple database on your computer to help keep track of applications received. Include important information such as date received, job interest, special skills, education, etc. This will allow you to readily search and retrieve applicants when you’re trying to fill a specific position. While you’re building this database, also consider how you will communicate with the applicants who contact you. These candidates are good prospects. Do you follow up with them? Do you maintain contact? Do you inform them when positions open up that they are qualified for? Similarly, an applicant who wasn’t right for one position may be perfect for another. But without a good data gathering and tracking mechanism, these applicants can “fall through the cracks”. Make sure you have a reliable way of gathering and sharing information on all potential hires.


Schools, Colleges, Universities

Area schools can be a great source of applicants from high schools to technical colleges to universities. You may already have contacts with these institutions, but are you taking advantage of every opportunity to build strong relationships with students? Consider making career presentations, offer internships or school-to-work programs, advertise openings in school publications or post jobs with career counselors. These efforts take time and resources, and results may be difficult to measure, but over time a strong relationship can help build your company’s image and applicant pool.


Open House

Hold your own open house to attract candidates. These are very effective if you are looking to fill a number of positions. An open house provides you with the opportunity to show off your operation, have the undivided attention of interested applicants and streamline your interviewing process. Be creative in how you represent your business and make sure you’re providing value to those who attend.

Advertisements (Newspapers, Website, On-line services, Message Boards, etc.)

The concept of advertising open positions has changed dramatically over the past few years. Previously, ads were placed in the local newspaper or possibly in other specialized publications depending on the type of position. While newspaper advertising is still utilized, the more popular resource is the Internet. This includes everything from posting the job on your own website, posting on message boards within the industry, Craig’s list, and a multitude of other options.


You may also utilize Facebook or Twitter to promote the company and the opportunities available. Each of these options has their own unique requirements to post a job. An ad on may be positioned very differently from a posting on the company’s Facebook page. It is important that you consider the position being recruited and which of these options would best present the opening.


Public Relations

You may have a relationship with the classified ad rep at your local newspaper, but do you communicate with the editorial staff? Features about your company can provide you with good exposure and help build your image as a great place to work. Consider contacting the media about any special programs or activities you have, your employees’ involvement in community events, any unique employee activities that you sponsor or about tie-ins to broader media issues related to the pet care industry. This exposure can help to augment your other paid efforts to inform the public about your business.


Networking/Word of mouth

When you have an open position or a particularly difficult area of recruitment, talk it up! Sometimes referrals can come from the most unexpected sources. For example, your customers may know of people who would be interested in working for the company and fit well in the organization. Let people know when you are looking to fill a position. Other employers may also be a possible resource. A candidate might not be a fit for them, but could be a perfect match for your opening.


State Agencies: Most states and counties have unemployment services. There are typically opportunities to post jobs with the local unemployment office to help generate applicants. Contact your local unemployment office and see what options may be available to you.


Temporary Help Services

The temporary market is growing rapidly as more and more employees take advantage of the opportunity to find work and try out various jobs. Employers can benefit from “testing” employees before they hire as well. While temporary agencies have restrictions on exactly what you can and cannot do in terms of recruiting temporary staff, these individuals can be a valuable recruitment source. This option also allows you to add to staff in a very controlled manner. For example, you can start by bringing in a temporary employee and only bringing them on full-time when there is sufficient work to justify the expense.


Contingency Search Firms

These firms work with you on a contingency basis. You are only obligated to pay their fee if an individual they refer is hired. This type of employment agency would typically be used for a more specialized position such as your Assistant Manager or Trainer. In most instances, it would not be cost effective to use this resource for entry level positions. Given the current economy, unless you were having difficulty finding a specific skill set, this would not be the best option. In most instances, you should be able to generate candidates utilizing less expensive options.


Retained Search Firms

This option should only be reserved for the highest level positions. With a retained search firm, you have a contract with the firm to pay a percentage of the fee at different stages of the recruitment process. If you elect to utilize a retained search, you must ensure that the firm has experience recruiting within the industry so they already have contacts in place and have an understanding of the expectations for this type of position.


Interviewing Job Applicants

Normally done in a face-to-face meeting, an interview involves asking a job applicant questions to determine whether the applicant is suitable for a position of employment. The interview process is structured and planned to accomplish the task of selecting the best person for the job, and to avoid asking questions about personal characteristics that are protected under equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws.

Traditionally, interviewing has focused on communication skills, personality, professionalism and assessment of related job experience. However, behavioral event interviewing is an approach that looks at past behavior as the best predictor of future performance.

The key assumption in behavioral event interviewing is that candidates who have previously demonstrated a particular behavior to address a situation will repeat that behavior when confronted with a similar scenario. It is up to the hiring authority to determine which specific behaviors are necessary for success on the job and then seek out candidates who have demonstrated they are capable of exhibiting those behaviors.

Preparing for Interviews

To utilize behavior-based interviewing successfully, the following areas should be addressed for each position being recruited.

  1. Identify the knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors and core competencies that are key or critical to successful job performance. This evaluation should be based on an analysis of the job and the incumbents of the position.

Develop questions that focus on the key competencies required for the job and then ask each candidate the same questions.

  1. Questions might be phrased along these lines: “Think of an occasion when you” and then describe a particular situation. Another approach might be, “Can you give me an example of”. A follow-up question might be, “What needed to be done about that situation?” And finally: “What was the result?”
  2. Questions are designed to address the various types of behaviors demonstrated by successful incumbents. Examples sought might address values/ethics, work intensity, relationship skills, problem solving, people management and others associated with success on the job.
  3. Typically open-ended, structured questions are developed and each applicant is asked the same questions.

Prior to the interviews, determine the responses that would be considered examples of strong, average and inappropriate answers to the questions. There is often a score sheet developed with points assigned to each of the categories.

Interviewers must be trained in how to conduct a behavioral event interview and fully understand the requirements of the position.

Once the questions and scoring have been developed, the individuals involved in the recruiting process should review the information and ensure they are comfortable with it.

Interviewers should also review the candidate’s qualifications and the appropriate questions to ask in an interview in advance of the meeting. 

Conducting Successful Interviews

The most valuable skill in conducting an effective interview is the ability to sit back and listen and not share too much information with the candidate too early. One of the mistakes most interviewers make is to provide too much information to the candidate about the type of responses they would like to hear. While it is important to provide a candidate with some background information to the business and the requirements of the position, do not tell them exactly what you are looking for or that is exactly what they will describe to you. Your goal as an interviewer is to frame the session to obtain the most objective information about the candidate as possible. The more you talk, the more the candidate learns about you and the company and the less you learn about their qualifications to perform the job.

If you will be utilizing the behavioral event approach, it is important to take notes during the session and record the candidate’s actual responses to the key questions. Try to avoid

making any initial judgments or evaluation of the candidate and try to follow the same format of asking questions for each candidate.

The behavioral event questions are best asked toward the end of the interview once the applicant’s skills and qualifications for the position have been determined. Then the interviewer’s role is to decide if the candidate can demonstrate and has demonstrated the behaviors that will assure success on the job.

In asking the behavioral event questions, it may be necessary to ask follow-ups to fill in any gaps. A guideline to use is the “STAR model”. For every behavioral event question, you want to have the candidates describe the SITUATION they were in, the TASK they were asked to accomplish, the ACTIONS they took and the RESULTS that were achieved.

Once all of the questions have been covered and the interview is completed, the final step is to score the candidate on each of the questions and to summarize any additional notes that would be valuable in the final selection process.

Any notes should be taken on a separate sheet of paper or on a designated score sheet. Do not write any notes directly on the Employment Application. This document will become part of the individual’s permanent file if they are hired and any comments recorded on it will be included.

Questions to Avoid

There are several areas that are unacceptable to ask questions without putting the organization at risk. The guiding principle behind any question to an applicant is, can the employer demonstrate a job-related necessity for asking the question? It is the intent behind the question, as well as how the information is used, that the EEOC would examine to determine if any discrimination has occurred.

Therefore, an applicant should only be asked questions that are job related. In asking an applicant questions, the interviewer should ask himself/herself if this information is really needed in order to judge the applicant’s qualifications, level of skills and overall competence for the job in question.

Generally, potential discriminatory questions are posed on the basis of the applicant’s gender, race, age, national origin, religion, or other non-job-related basis. Prohibited interview questions, for example, would be asking women applicants different questions than male applicants, or asking different questions of married female applicants than single female applicants.

Below are some general guidelines you can follow:

  1. Race: There are no job-related considerations that would justify asking an applicant a question based on race.
  2. Religion: There are no job-related considerations that would justify asking about religious convictions, unless your organization is a religious institution, which may give preference to individuals of their own religion.
  3. Gender: Generally, there are no appropriate questions based on the applicant’s gender during the interview process. Specifically:

(a) Women are no longer protected under state wage/hour laws re: number of hours worked, lifting restrictions, etc.

(b) It is unlawful to deny a female applicant employment because she is pregnant, or planning to have a child at some future date.

(c) Questions on marital status, number of children, child care arrangements, etc. are not appropriate.

(d) Questions as to availability to work should be job-related: What hours can you work? What shift(s) can you work? Can you work on weekends and/or holidays?

  1. Sexual Preference: There are no permissible questions regarding an applicant’s sexual preferences.
  2. Height and/or weight restrictions: These questions may support gender or national origin discrimination claims unless their relationship to specific job requirements can be demonstrated.
  3. Age: Any recruiting effort that is age-biased such as “recent graduate”, or any question during the interview process that deters employment because of age is unlawful. The Age Discrimination Act of 1967 bars discrimination against persons age 40 or over.
  4. Arrest & Conviction Records: Questions relating to an applicant’s arrest record are improper, while questions of an applicant’s conviction record may be asked, if job related. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and many states prohibit use of arrest records for employment decisions because they are inherently biased against applicants in protected classes. The EEOC has issued a Revised Policy Statement covering the use of conviction records by employers in making employment decisions:

The employer must establish a business necessity for use of an applicant’s conviction record in its employment decision. In establishing business necessity, the employer must consider three factors to justify use of a conviction record:

(a) Nature and gravity of the offense for which convicted; (2) Amount of time that has elapsed since the applicant’s conviction and/or completion of sentence; and (3) The nature of the job in question as it relates to the nature of the offense committed. The EEOC’s Revised Policy Statement eliminated the existing requirement that employers consider the applicant’s prior employment history along with rehabilitation efforts, if any. The Revised Policy Statement requires that the employer consider job-relatedness of the conviction, plus the lapse of time between the conviction and current job selection process.

  1. National Origin: It is not appropriate to ask an applicant where he/she was born, or where his/her parents were born. It is appropriate to ask if the applicant is eligible to work in the United States.
  2. Financial Status: An interviewer should not ask if the applicant owns or rents a home or car, or if wages have been previously garnished, unless financial considerations for the job in question exist. Any employer who relies on consumer credit reports in its employment process must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 and the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act of 1996.
  3. Military Record: An interviewer may not ask what type of discharge the applicant received from military service. It is appropriate to ask whether or not the applicant served in the military, period of service, rank at time of discharge, and type of training and work experience received while in the service.
  4. Disability: An interviewer may not ask whether or not the applicant has a particular disability. It is only appropriate to ask whether or not the applicant can perform the duties of the job in question with or without a reasonable accommodation.


Although federal EEO laws do not specifically prohibit any pre-employment questions, the EEOC does look with “extreme disfavor” on questions about age, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, gender or veteran status. Many state fair employment laws do expressly forbid certain types of questions.


Pre-Employment Testing

Pre-employment testing is a practice of subjecting a job applicant to testing in order to determine their suitability for a particular position. These tests may include, but are not limited to, drug and alcohol tests, medical examinations, skills tests, physical agility tests, honesty/integrity tests or personality tests. In order to stay in compliance with equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws, an employer must be able to show that the particular pre-employment test is both reliable (i.e., having a high degree of consistency) and valid (i.e., that the conclusions drawn from the test are accurate). These tests may present additional issues when utilizing drug testing and incorporating the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act.

Background Checks on Job Applicants

If after the comprehensive interview, you believe there is a viable candidate for the position, the next step is to conduct a background or reference check on the applicant. This phase of the process is done prior to extending an offer of employment.

While you want to know as much as possible about the candidate, there are limits to the type and extent of background checking that is appropriate. Below are a few guidelines to consider when conducting background checks on candidates.


Make sure your inquiries are related to the job. If you decide to do a background check, focus on information that is relevant to the job for which you are considering the individual. For example, if you are hiring a security guard who will carry a weapon, you might reasonably check for past criminal convictions. If you are hiring a Counselor, a criminal background check is probably unnecessary.


Ask for consent. You are on the safest legal ground if you ask the applicant, in writing, to consent to a background check. Explain clearly what you plan to check and how you will gather the information. This gives applicants a chance to take themselves out of the running if there are things they don’t want you to know. It also prevents applicants from later claiming that you unfairly invaded their privacy. If an applicant refuses to consent to a reasonable request for information, you may legally decide not to hire them on that basis.


Be reasonable. You will not need to perform an extensive background check on every applicant. Even if you decide to check, you probably won’t need to get into extensive detail for every position. If you find yourself questioning neighbors, ordering credit checks, and performing exhaustive searches of public records every time you hire a customer service or front desk person, it may be excessive and unnecessary.


In addition to these general considerations, specific rules apply to certain types of information:


School records. Under federal law and the laws of some states, educational records, including transcripts, recommendations, and financial information are confidential. Because of these laws, most schools will not release records without the consent of the student. And, some schools will only release records directly to the student.


Credit reports. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), employers must obtain an employee’s written consent before requesting the employee’s credit report. Many employers routinely include a request for such consent in their employment applications. If you decide not to hire or promote someone based on information in the credit report, you must provide a copy of the report and let the applicant know of his or her right to challenge the report under the FCRA. Some states have more stringent rules limiting the use of credit reports.


Bankruptcies. Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants because they have filed for bankruptcy. This means you cannot decide not to hire someone simply because he or she has declared bankruptcy in the past.


Criminal records. The law varies from state to state on whether, and to what extent, a private employer may consider an applicant’s criminal history in making hiring decisions. Some states prohibit employers from asking about arrests, convictions that occurred well in the past, juvenile crimes, or sealed records. Other states allow employers to consider convictions only if the crimes are relevant to the job. And some states allow employers to consider criminal history only for certain positions: nurses, childcare workers, private detectives, and other jobs requiring licenses. Because of these variations, you should consult with a lawyer or do further research on the laws of your state before doing extensive research into an applicant’s criminal past.


Workers’ compensation records. An employer may consider information contained in the public record from a workers’ compensation appeal in making a job decision only if the applicant’s injury might interfere with his or her ability to perform required duties.


Other medical records. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA), employers may only inquire about an applicant’s ability to perform specific job duties. They may not request an employee’s medical records. An employer may not make a job decision (hiring, promotion, transfer, etc.) based on an employee’s disability, as long as the employee is able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.


Records of military service. Members and former members of the armed forces have a right to privacy in their service records. These records may be released only under limited circumstances, and consent is generally required. However, the military may disclose name, rank, salary, duty assignments, awards, and duty status without the member’s consent.


Driving records. An employer should check the driving record of any employee whose job will require large amounts of driving (delivery persons, limo or bus drivers). These records are available, sometimes for a small fee, from the state’s motor vehicles department.


Employment Offers

Written offers of employment are an important tool for documenting the terms and conditions of employment.

Recommended features of an offer letter include the following:

 The title of the position being offered.

 The amount and basis of compensation (hourly, salary, bonus, etc.) and a reference to the organization’s benefits plan.

 Whether the employment is full-time or part-time.

 The department in which the candidate will be employed and the name of the candidate’s supervisor.

 Whether the employment is deemed exempt or nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

 That the employment is at-will. (unless the employer is offering employment for a specific length of time or the doctrine does not apply in the state).

 That employment is subject to the candidate providing proof of eligibility for employment as required by applicable immigration laws.

 If applicable, that the employee pass a post-offer medical examination or drug test.

Previous Preparing to Staff Your Business
Table of Contents