Fire in the belly Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

In 2001, Mark Williams’ company landed some large contracts and doubled his work force to accommodate the additional work.

But the founder and president of Virtual Hold Technology LLC soon learned that those new employees didn’t understand his company or its culture, threatening his growing company.

“We lost a year at a key point and jeopardized a key client in the process,” says Williams, whose 75-employee business develops virtual queuing solutions for call centers for Fortune 1,000 companies.

As a result, Williams honed his company’s interview process, allowing managers to better identify potential employees and screen out those who wouldn’t fit it.

“Don’t feel a compelling need to fill bodies into positions just to meet a head count requirement,” he says. “If you hire the right people, chances are you don’t need as many people.”

Smart Business spoke with Williams about how to make your hiring process a two-way street to ensure you find the best people for your culture.

Q. How do you establish a strong work force?

We go out and look for that kind of fire in the belly. I’m not looking for somebody who’s really good on paper, someone who’s been with a company for 15 years, doing IT work or programming.

I would rather have the people a year or two out of school — looking for a career and an exciting opportunity — and surround them with good people.

Q. How do you identify people who would be a good fit for your company?

The managers over every department interview every person before they come in. They’ll go through resumes, do the phone interviews and bring them in for a face to face.

They narrow it down to three to five candidates, and then we’ll set up second interviews in which the other senior team members will have an opportunity to meet and interview the person.

At that point, the candidate is pretty much qualified for the position in terms of skill set. Now, it is just a matter of looking at chemistry fit because we view this company as a family. We are all committed to the same goal, and we are all going the same direction.

It takes a unique individual to come in and fit into our environment. We do a lot of interviewing along those lines, and then we, as a senior team, sit down and vote.

I abstain. I empower my team to make the decisions. I’m a part of those discussions, hearing firsthand everybody’s feedback, both positive and negative.

The one thing that I don’t do is micromanage.

Q. How do you ensure potential employees will fit in to your corporate culture?

That’s why we do multiple interviews, and you don’t have to be a manager to necessarily interview somebody. Sometimes, the manager may want somebody else in their department — somebody who could potentially be interacting with that person — to spend some time with them.

It’s a two-way street: We are not just interviewing them; we also view it as the candidate interviewing us. You want to openly share with them not only the good things about your company and the benefits of working there but also what the downsides are — the sacrifices, the commitments and what’s expected. In some cases, we’ve had candidates thank us for our time and for bringing them in, and they wish us the best of luck and move on.

Being open and honest with the people you’re interviewing is just as important as them being open and honest with you. They may be good candidates on paper, and they could definitely do the job, but your environment could be outside of what they’re used to, and they could be miserable. When you bring that kind of person into your environment, they’re not going to make it.

Also, this is still an entrepreneurial environment; it’s not a 40-hour-week job. We have incentives through stock, and after one year, every employee here is an owner.

Q. How do you create a company of owners?

They have to believe they’re making a contribution, seeing the benefits of their contribution and knowing there is a reward for their contribution, both short term and long term. Only then can I get the level of commitment and sacrifice from them that I’m willing to make.

They have to believe it’s their company, that these are their clients. They have to take it personal when things fail.

Nothing would make me happier than to have every person here, at some point in the future, come into my office and say, ‘Mark, I have learned from you and from the company, but I am going to go out and start my own company.’ I don’t want them competing with me, but the key is having a belief and then going after it.

HOW TO REACH: Virtual Hold Technology LLC, (800) 854-1815 or www.virtualhold.com