With businesses getting back on track and reinvesting in themselves, many companies are expanding their capabilities and bolstering their staffs.

But don’t rush into making a new hire — regardless of how extensive his or her credentials and references seem to be — just because you can (and need to). Before you do anything, make sure you perform a proper background check on all new hires.

“Over the past 10 years, background inquires have quadrupled,” says Melissa Hulsey, the president and CEO of Ashton. “It is standard protocol to perform background checks on all job levels.”

Smart Business spoke with Hulsey about background checks, how to perform them and why doing so protects an organization’s employees — and the organization itself.

What specific criteria are included in a candidate’s background check?

There are many types of background checks — reference, criminal background, driving record, education, credit report, credential verification, workers compensation claim records and legal working status checks, to name a few. When evaluating a new candidate it is important to establish what type of background check is required for the job.

A custom screening process can be designed for each job within an organization. It is very important to be consistent. Background checks can be different for each job; however, candidates applying for the same position need to be evaluated equally.

At what point in the process should an employer ask for references?

References should be provided early in the selection process. Any blemishes on reports can then be discussed in the interview process, or it may eliminate the candidate immediately. It is always better to know up front if a potential problem exists than to wait until time and resources have been invested. Most background reports are not expensive to run and it is money well spent to find out the truth early.

How much faith should companies put into references in the background check process?

Let’s face it: the personal and professional references provided by a candidate will almost always be good. Why? They would not list them if they were not confident a glowing report would be given. Therefore, take most of these with a grain of salt. It is more important to verify accurate dates of employment and rehire status, if at all possible. Many times, candidates exaggerate this information. Stick with the facts and try not to make your evaluation on emotion.

Should companies take search firms’ background information at face value?

Clients should always request a copy of background reports to verify that hiring criteria have been met. The candidate will have to authorize the release of this information, so make sure to ask for this verification as well. Search firms want their candidate to be hired, especially if they are in competition with other services. By requesting copies of all reports and reference checks, it keeps everyone honest.

What information detected in the due diligence process will most likely lead to being a deal-breaker for the candidate?

Any type of felony conviction that was not clearly explained up front will most likely be the end of the road for that candidate. Bankruptcy, DUI and lying on the application can all be deal-breakers when discovered. The important part is to have a system in place to make sure these things can be discovered.

How have background checks changed over the years?

Technology has made obtaining personal information much easier and more cost-effective. Gone are the days of calling someone and waiting for them to return your calls in a timely fashion.

There are databases, such as E-verify (www.uscis.gov/everify), the Georgia Department of Corrections free inmate search (www.dcor.state.ga.us) and fingerprinting service Cogent Systems (www.cogentsystems.com), that can provide almost instant access to any requested information. A word of caution, though, databases are only as good as the information put into them. Some are not frequently updated and many rural counties do not report to a central system at all. So, if an individual was convicted of a crime in a rural county and that county does not upload its information, the only way to obtain it would be to personally go to that county’s courthouse. Background information is not foolproof.

Does it hurt morale to request internal candidates to undergo a new background check?

No, just like random drug tests, it’s becoming standard procedure to periodically update personnel files. The key, again, is to be consistent and have a documented policy for what is required to maintain a good employment status. Morale is hurt when change is not effectively communicated and understood. Explain why it is important to do these checks for the safety of the employees and the company.

Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mhulsey@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta

Despite a rebounding economy and renewed hope, the national unemployment rate is still around 9.7 percent. In Georgia, the unemployment rate is 10.5 percent, and April 2010 is the 29th consecutive month that the state’s rate has been higher than the national average.

Needless to say, this has created a very large labor pool. Add in the fact that more and more qualified professionals are being added to that labor pool every day due to budget cuts and layoffs, and you’ve got a lot of good people looking for work.

“More and more, people are willing to take jobs that they maybe wouldn’t have in the past, and they’re definitely willing to take less money or fewer benefits,” says Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton Staffing. “This gives companies great opportunities to get more bang for their buck when hiring.”

Still, these skilled people are hard to find. Many of them turn to staffing firms, which means now is the time to take advantage of the people and services a quality staffing firm can offer.

Smart Business spoke with Hulsey about temporary labor, how it can benefit your organization and the common misperceptions that come with hiring “temps.”

Why is now a good time to utilize temporary labor?

The long-term cost of employment is uncertain at best. Companies are often less willing to commit to a person full time because they can’t plan long term what the total cost of that employee will be. Among other things, there are questions about the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax. Will it stay at 7.65 percent, or will it go up?

Temporary labor doesn’t have those concerns; there’s no commitment and you’ll know exactly what the cost is upfront. You get the staffing you need without the headaches and the hassles.

What benefits come with temporary labor?

No. 1, the company saves money. Employers have to cover taxes, unemployment, health care and workers’ compensation, just to name a few. And all of those costs are projected to go up in the near future. Temporary labor helps alleviate that, since the staffing agency is the one that takes on those costs. Also, if you’ve got a lot of employees working overtime, you can hire temps to fill in, without the added cost of overtime wages.

Temporary labor also saves you time. The staffing firm does all the interviewing, screening, skills testing and advertising. You just call up the firm, tell them what you need and they find the right person for the job.

Another benefit is increased flexibility. You can hire more people at peak times and pare your staff down when business is slower. Nowadays, you can bring in highly skilled temps to replace key positions that may have been eliminated or downsized. For instance, you can find a temporary director of HR to come in a few days a week to take care of any administrative tasks you may have.

Finally, temporary labor reduces a company’s risk. Bringing in help takes the pressure off of your full-time employees, reducing accidents and absenteeism and preventing burnout. With companies paring down and employees taking on increasing workloads, burnout has become an unfortunate trend. It’s true that your staff is your greatest cost, but it’s also your greatest asset. It makes sense to do whatever you can to protect that asset.

What potential pitfalls should companies be aware of when using temporary labor?

First of all, don’t just look online and call the first staffing agency you find. Compare and interview staffing agencies just like you would potential employees. Make sure that the staffing agency matches your culture, understands your needs and goals and will represent your company the way you want it to.

Also, make sure you know all of the costs involved upfront, particularly the ones that come when you want to hire the person after their temporary trial is up; sometimes a conversion fee applies.

Finally, make sure you have a system in place to measure the performance of the temporary employees. Find out whether or not the temp fits in as soon as possible. The sooner you let the staffing agency know about issues, the sooner it can get you another worker.

So, how can you ensure that you’re getting the right talent?

The key is communication. Clearly define your needs upfront. Give the staffing agency as much information as possible: what specific skills you need, how your company culture works, what kind of personality you’re looking for, the goals of the position, how long the temp will be employed, if it will be a temp-to-hire situation, etc. The more the staffing agency knows, the better it will be at finding you the people you need.

What are the common myths of temporary staffing?

There’s a stigma attached to temporary labor that it’s only unskilled, unhireable people. But the fact is there are thousands of highly skilled, highly trained people looking for work. Not only that, more and more people, particularly younger ones, only want to work on a temporary basis, as it offers them a better work-life balance.

Another myth is that it’s more expensive to utilize a staffing firm than just hiring on your own. With a staffing firm you know what the costs are upfront and you can always control those costs. That cannot be said about hiring an employee yourself.

Melissa Hulsey is president and CEO of Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mhulsey@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta

Now more than ever, the workplace is a very diverse place. Different races, cultures and creeds are coming together under one roof, and CEOs and managers are challenged with the task of getting everyone on the same page in a sensitive and respectful manner.

But, for all the tips and advice out there on managing a multicultural work force, you don’t hear as much about how to manage a multigenerational work force, even though it’s generally a more prevalent issue.

Right now, any given workplace could have members from three different generations: baby boomers (born 1943-1960), Generation X (1961-1981) and millennials (1982-2002).

Obviously, each generation is different. If you don’t understand each generation and its differences or if you try to manage everyone with a one-size-fits-all style, you’re going to run into issues.

“Each generation has its typical characteristics and behaviors,” says Nakita Harris, payroll manager for Ashton Staffing. “You have to be sensitive to that. You also have to understand how those personalities can mesh and clash. You can get people from multiple generations on the same page, but it takes time and effort.”

Smart Business spoke with Harris about multigenerational work forces and how to bridge the generation gap.

How do different generations impact the work force?

Each generation has a different outlook on what to expect from work. Gen-Xers generally will work hard while on the clock; they’ll give you their all. However, they want a life beyond work. They are very cautious and try to learn from the past mistakes of others before them. They are also more results-oriented.

Baby boomers bring experience and optimism to the table. They are team-oriented, good communicators and have strong work ethics. Millennials bring a fresh set of eyes. They are looking for ways to better themselves in life, and they are goal-oriented.

What benefits and opportunities come with a multigenerational work force?

One benefit is having fewer age discrimination complaints and/or lawsuits. When you’ve got people from many different generations, all your bases are covered. Plus, more and more baby boomers want to work past retirement age, so it’s a good idea to be accommodating to that request.

You can reduce the cost of new hires (recruiting, orientation, training, etc.) when you maintain your employees. Plus, you can meet the needs of a diverse range of clients.

Not only that, you can continue to recruit a multigenerational work force, which in turn will create more chances to promote from within. If handled correctly, productivity can increase because when you learn one another’s strengths and weaknesses, this gives you the opportunity to open up communication and let one who is stronger in one area work with someone else that is weak in that area.

What challenges come with a multigenerational work force?

Baby boomers and other older generations may feel left out with the new computer-driven age. Therefore, you have to keep an eye on your communication preferences. You have to communicate in different ways (phone, e-mail, text messages, letters, memos, etc.) to ensure the company as a whole is included on what’s going on. Also, you have to constantly think of creative ways to make everyone feel like they are integral parts of the company.

You have to offer flexible benefits, different levels and types of insurance (long-term care, hospitalization, family, etc.), savings, investments, flexible time off, training, health and wellness programs, and screenings. You have to make sure that you do not single out or leave out one particular generation.

How do business leaders effectively manage a multigenerational work force?

You have to cater to each generation; ask their input on decisions. Be flexible — not everyone wants to work the traditional 9 to 5 shifts any longer. Offer mentoring programs; let the older ones mentor the younger ones. At the same time, be somewhat hands-off. No one likes to be micromanaged.

You have to have open communication between the generations because there are preconceived ideas about one another. Show everyone that they’re in it together, and they can build on and feed off of one another’s strengths. It may be a good idea to create an employee board or council and include a representative from each generation to be on that board or council.

Discuss the multigenerational aspect as soon as employees are hired. During orientation, educate the employees on how certain people contribute to the productivity of the company. For example, explain to millennials that they may have more education, but baby boomers have put in the experience and the way they work is very productive, and if they try to change that, it may become counterproductive. One thing that I have seen that is a good idea is the television show ‘Undercover Boss.’ It’s an example of giving management a good idea of what is needed to effectively run a productive company.

Nakita Harris is the payroll manager for Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1176 or nharris@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

The face of your company

You want to make sure your sales force will be able to sell your service or product well and also present a positive image of your business. Particularly in today’s economy, when you’re looking to boost sales and revenue and gain new clients, it’s important that your sales force is in tiptop shape and armed with the right tools.

“Great product concepts are one thing, but great product successes are another,” says Jessica Ford, director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. “The difference usually centers on sales. The magic may be the brand, but the carpet is the sales force. Your brand can’t fly without it.”

Smart Business spoke with Ford about what to look for when hiring sales reps and how to best train sales team members.

What are some key qualities to look for when hiring sales reps?

You need sales reps to be hunters and not farmers. The sales force can make or break a business, especially in this economy. You need a sales force that will go out and get new customers and not just focus on your current customers. Customer service is important, but you should have reps that are solely focused on that aspect and others who can go out and drive the business. Good sales reps also need to be chameleons who can mold themselves to different personalities and backgrounds when meeting with different perspective clients.

How can you run a successful sales rep hiring process?

First, look at the candidate’s resume. If he or she has jumped around more than every few years, you should pass that person by. No company would allow a superstar sales rep to just leave the company without a good reason. Sales reps who jump around may have been terminated or resigned from a previous position because they could not generate enough business to meet goals.

Most sales positions are minimally supervised on a day-to-day basis. Sales reps are given company credit cards, drive company vehicles and are expected to work independently to some degree. A potential sales rep should have a credit check, criminal background check, and behavioral and personality testing. This may seem like a lot, but you need to know that the face of your company is honest and responsible.

Your top performer should also complete the personality test. This gives you and your recruiter a clear understanding of the personality that will best match the position and your company culture. Those who cannot pass this testing should not be considered for an interview.

No matter what a candidate has sold in the past, one question will show you if the candidate is the right salesperson for your company. After the candidates finish telling you what a great closer they are, hand them a pencil and tell them to sell it to you. The majority of interviewees will start pitching and continue to talk as you sit there bored.

A top-performing salesperson will not pitch, but will start out by asking you questions about your business, how often you order pencils, etc. There are two types of sales representatives — those who pitch and those who take the time to understand buying motives and properly qualify potential clients.

How do you train and develop sales team members?

Sales managers or vice presidents play vital roles in identifying, training, supervising and mentoring sales reps. They can also help sales reps close large and difficult customers. Sales reps should be introduced to all new customers to check upon the veracity of the sales activity and solidify the relationship with the new customer. It also provides bonding between the sales management and rep that will help with customer retention.

Investing in your employee training is the best money you will spend today. Make sure your sales rep is completely trained on your product. You never want to send out a rep who cannot answer questions regarding your product. Product training and knowledge of your company should be the first step in a new sales rep’s orientation and training process.

How do you develop incentives as a way to reward top performers and drive sales reps to work toward those incentives?

People work to be paid. New sales reps should be offered a minimal salary with a generous incentive plan for new business. Incentive programs should target performance and not activities. Reward sales reps for new business immediately and turn over the account to either a service rep or the sales manager. Provide small incentives for retention of one to three months. The sales rep will feel free to pursue other business full time.

Employees and sales reps are extremely efficient in gaming compensation systems. Sales reps quickly determine which activities and outcomes are compensated and which are not. If more pleasurable and lower effort activities, such as lunching with an existing client, are equally compensated with a less pleasurable activity such as cold calling, it is not hard to predict which activity will continue and which will diminish.

Jessica Ford is the director of sales and operations with Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or jford@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

Finding the facts

Several amendments have been made this year to employment law that have a significant impact on your business. Employers need to be aware of changes to minimum wage and COBRA insurance, along with other proposed changes regarding sick leave pay. Employees can lose out on additional benefits if you do not inform them of these new rules in a timely manner.

“Many individuals on COBRA were not aware that they could reduce their premium once the new law went into effect,” says Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton. “Lawsuits can also be filed and fines assessed if you do not comply with the new laws.”

Smart Business spoke with Hulsey about recent changes made in employment law and how to make sure your company is prepared.

What were the recent changes made to minimum wage?

The federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 an hour on July 24. This was part of a Fair Labor Standards Act amendment passed in 2007 to incrementally increase the minimum wage over a three-year period. The act establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, record keeping, and youth employment standards for public and private sector employees.

Minimum wage employers need to update their official postings of FLSA requirements due to this change. Some states also have their own minimum wage laws, so check with your state to see if the higher wage prevails.

What should employers know about the recent changes made to COBRA?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included premium reductions and additional election opportunities for health benefits under COBRA. Eligible individuals will now pay only 35 percent of the premium, while the remaining 65 percent will be reimbursed through a tax credit. Previously, individuals with COBRA paid up to 102 percent of the premium: 100 percent of the cost, and a two percent administrative fee.

This adjustment will last for nine months, half of the 18-month COBRA eligibility period. Although businesses are reimbursed, this has created a burden for some, as premiums are generally due before the tax credit is issued.

What other employment laws should businesses be aware of?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has postponed regulations requiring federal contractors to use E-Verify, the DHS’s electronic employment eligibility verifications system, effective Sept. 8. E-verify is an online system operated jointly by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Employers can check the work status of new hires to make sure they are eligible to work for the company.

The Healthy Families Act was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, requiring businesses with 15 or more employees to provide paid sick leave. Similar legislation was introduced in 2007 but was not acted on. Recent flu concerns have given this bill a boost of public support, as people are encouraged to stay home if they are feeling ill. Business groups are opposed to the legislation, arguing that employers cannot afford additional costs in this economic climate.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 29. The bill amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964, stating that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit regarding pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck.

The Employee Free Choice Act, or card check bill, would allow unions to be certified without a secret ballot election if a majority of workers signed authorization cards. Labor organizations are pushing hard to pass this legislation, while the business community publicly opposes it.

How do you ensure your corporate policies are in compliance?

You need to be clear about what the changes are and how they affect your company. Make sure that all policy changes are in writing and have been appropriately reviewed prior to going public. Small businesses may need to plan ahead for any additional expenses required for these changes, such as the COBRA premiums.

Make sure your human resources department has resources available to always stay abreast of the latest changes in employment law. Staffing partners can also keep you updated on any employment law changes that occur.

How can you best communicate changes to your employees?

Give employees as much notice and information as possible of any policy changes that will affect them. Communicate the changes in writing, post them in a public area and designate someone to speak directly with employees who may have concerns regarding the changes. Make sure you also have current contact information for all current and former employees to be able to send proper notifications out. Change is scary, and having information easily accessible will help ease tensions and make for a smooth transition.

Why should companies make this a priority?

Everyone can benefit by creating a culture of information surrounding labor changes. Proudly promote the fact that your company is in compliance with all new federal or state labor laws. Be on the cutting edge of labor changes and let your employees hear it from you before they hear about it on the news.

Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mhulsey@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Evaluating potential hires

You’ve just interviewed the perfect candidate for an open position at your company. He or she is outgoing, charismatic, and personable. You then conduct a criminal background check on the candidate, just to make sure everything checks out before you offer him or her the position. The check, however, leaves you with some surprising news — your perfect candidate has a long criminal history.

While most job applications include questions regarding felony convictions, about 90 percent of people with a criminal history lie about it on their applications. The criminal past is not discovered until a background check is run.

“Background checks allow employers to recognize a record of past criminal activity, which should be a major deciding factor about a person during a job interview,” says Jessica Ford, director of sales and operations with Ashton Staffing. “There’s usually a significant chance for the applicant to commit crimes in the future.”

Smart Business spoke with Ford about the problems you face by not doing background checks, how a staffing agency can help in the criminal background check process and how to use the results from a background check during the hiring the process.

What problems do you face by not doing criminal background checks?

Companies that hire employees without properly screening them can face many problems. Acts of violence against coworkers are on the rise, and no matter how small the act is, it can create havoc among employees. Another problem is lost revenue and productivity if an employee is dishonest. Employers have to be careful of who they allow to access confidential information because of identity theft. Companies who manufacture goods must be especially vigilant about monitoring for theft.

Criminal background checks can also be useful in regard to workers’ compensation claims. About $90 billion is lost every year in medical bills, equipment damage and lost production time for workplace accidents. More than 70 percent of fraudulent worker’s compensation claims are reported by employees with a criminal history.

What are the different types of criminal background checks available, and how do you use these checks?

Each state offers a free criminal background check through the Department of Corrections, but it only checks for offenders who have been incarcerated. Database checks can also be done through third-party vendors. This isn’t always 100 percent accurate, because some of the smaller rural counties don’t regularly update their information in the system. So there might be records from six months ago that haven’t been uploaded into the system.

There is also the seven-year history check, where database and county by county checks are done based on where the applicant has lived over the past seven years. Fingerprinting is done for anyone working in a school, medical facility and other specific fields.

How can a staffing agency help in the criminal background check process?

Companies can save time and money. Not every staffing agency requires criminal background checks as part of their hiring process, but the agencies that do require it run thousands of criminal background checks each year, depending on the size of the firm. The agency representatives are experienced in running a check, handling the paperwork involved, entering the information and interpreting the results, which isn’t always easy because of the different kinds of reporting.

And if you decide not to hire an applicant based on the information from a background check, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires you to notify the applicant. This process can be quite difficult and time-consuming. Your staffing representative would be responsible for any adverse action correspondence, which sometimes can be tricky, and has to be handled carefully because of the liabilities involved.

How do you use the information received during a criminal background check during the hiring process?

There are certain situations where some types of criminal backgrounds would not do well, because it would just be too easy for that person to offend again. For instance, if you are hiring for a bank teller and receive results that the candidate has a history of fraudulent checks and theft, then that would not be a good position for him or her. If you manufacture goods, sometimes there are small items that are easy to steal, so a company would not want to hire someone with a history of theft.

Every company should have a written policy in place regarding what is acceptable regarding criminal backgrounds. The best thing to do is to be consistent. Companies can require anything from a squeaky clean criminal background to only prohibiting acts of violence on their records. Employers should review their job descriptions and determine what fits best for their company. What type of information or goods their employees have access to will dictate how stringent employers need to make their hiring
requirements.

Jessica Ford is the director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or jford@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Best practices for new hires

You’ve survived the interview process and hired a new employee. But the work doesn’t end there. As the new employee enters the company, you need to make sure he or she understands your corporate culture, what is expected of him or her, what is appropriate and what is political suicide.

If you cannot help the new hire become acclimated, you face higher turnover rates and personnel costs. Repeating the hiring process over and over can also distract you from daily business duties. But if you can get that person to stay at least a year, there’s a strong likelihood he or she will remain at the company for a longer period of time.

“You need to have a strong mentoring and orientation program,” says Jessica Ford, director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. “You also need to find out new hires’ expectations of themselves and your organization, both for the short and long term. This will allow you to retain and better engage your employees.”

Smart Business spoke with Ford about how to set forth expectations for new hires, how to educate new hires on office policies, politics and appropriateness, and how a good mentoring program can help the new employee fit into the company.

How can you set forth expectations for new hires?

A common problem for new hires is that their job hasn’t been well-defined. If you can’t define what you want the new employee to do, it’s difficult to give him or her feedback. If you don’t understand the individual’s job description, how can you evaluate whether the employee is a good fit or not?

Many new hires falter on the job and leave quickly because they weren’t clear about your expectations. You may be too busy to create business plans and job descriptions, but these items can make life a lot easier as the company matures.

Every position in an organization should have a job description that is reviewed in detail with the employee during orientation. Make sure the new hire’s direct supervisor also reviews the job description since he or she will be measuring that employee’s performance. The new hire can also take this time to discuss his or her goals and
expectations.

How do you educate new hires on office policies?

Every company, no matter what its size, should conduct a thorough orientation with all new hires at every level. A good orientation program should include a company history, the organization’s short- and long-term goals, basic office policies, and specific job goals and objectives. Every employee should know your company mission statement, slogans, awards achieved and your unique, distinguishing factors. Office policies, such as dress code, Internet tracking and payroll information, are essential to an employee fitting in and understanding the corporate culture.

Test your new hires on what they have learned once you complete the orientation. Some employees may feel uncomfortable during their first few weeks asking their trainer to explain something if they do not understand it. Test results show you areas that you might need to cover again with the new hire. At the end of orientation, the employee should feel valued and that you care about his or her future.

How do you educate new hires about appropriateness and office politics?

Appropriateness is closely tied to corporate culture. You need to understand whether polite chitchat before a meeting is proper etiquette or if it’s just considered a total waste of time.

Office politics is an issue that increases in importance as you move up the corporate ladder. A new hire needs to know whom to trust in the organization, the types of alliances to build and the people to avoid.

What should be included in a good mentoring program?

A strong mentoring program can help new hires learn the ropes about appropriateness and office politics. On-boarding is a process that pairs a new hire with a peer within the company who might come from a different department or discipline within the same unit.

The experienced employee should serve as a guide and mentor between six months to a year, depending on the new hire’s role and the corporate culture. The mentor explains where the minefields are and how to avoid them and encourages the new employee to meet promptly with his or her boss to clarify key objectives that will determine performance rating and incentive pay.

Assigning a mentor can be tricky. You may want to assign the new hire to the employee who has time available, but that can be a mistake. You need to choose your best employee for this role. If your best employee doesn’t have the time, make on-boarding part of his or her key performance objectives. Make sure to check back periodically with the mentor for feedback and make corrections if the program is not going as expected.

Jessica Ford is the director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or jford@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

Identity check

Some employees at your company may be hiding a big secret from you: They’re legally not allowed to work for you or even in this country. Over the past several years, there has been an increase in people using sophisticated fraudulent information to secure employment, whether through false documents, false benefit applications or even identity theft.

“Unfortunately, that sophistication has made it next to impossible for employers to be sure they’re not employing illegal aliens,” says Jessica Ford, director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. “Even companies with the best of intentions often find themselves open to fines and civil penalties if they’re audited.”

Smart Business spoke with Ford about how employers can use the E-Verify and IMAGE certification programs and what to do if you find a problem with a new hire.

What is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an online system operated jointly between the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Participating employers can check the work status of their new hires by comparing information from an employee’s I-9 form against what the SSA and DHS have on their databases. E-Verify is free, and currently, in Georgia, it’s voluntary unless you are a state agency or provide services to a state agency.

After registering, companies sign documents stating that they will post written notice in their hiring facilities; this allows applicants to know you’re currently enrolled in E-Verify. E-Verify can only be used on new hires. If a company wants to verify its current employees, it must electronically submit its payroll to the SSA via the Social Security Number Verification Service.

What is IMAGE certification?

IMAGE is short for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Mutual Agreement between Government Employers. It is a joint initiative between the government and businesses to strengthen hiring practices in the private industry by reducing the size of the illegal work force. IMAGE certification is a free service.

How can companies implement these programs into their business practices?

Companies who are interested in E-Verify can log on to DHS’s Web site (www.dhs.gov/index.shtm) and register, print off a few forms and mail them in. After you’ve registered, DHS will contact you and provide online training. Once you’ve completed the training, your employees must pass an exam before utilizing the Web site.

Enrolling in IMAGE is a bit more extensive. Companies must currently use E-Verify and agree to an audit of their I-9s by ICE. Companies also must agree to submit their current payroll to the SSA and implement a few ICE-suggested programs. Interested companies may log on to ICE’s Web site (www.ice.gov) and register for information. You may then request an in-person meeting with an IMAGE coordinator.

What should an employer do if it finds an employee mismatch?

The beauty of E-Verify is that it not only alerts you to a nonconfirmation of eligibility but it also guides you through the process. If a nonconfirmation comes back, you print a letter to the employee that lets him or her know that there has been a mismatch. The employee either chooses not to contest the results and self-terminates or goes to the local Social Security office and speaks with someone there. If the employee chooses to contest, he or she has eight days to return with proper paperwork. During the eight days, you must continue to employ that person. If he or she does not return, you may terminate the individual.

What makes a fraudulent document stand out?

Check Social Security cards carefully. Many times fraudulent documents have misspelled words, the font is different or is an irregular color. If the back of the card is blank, it is fraudulent.

What are the benefits of using E-Verify and IMAGE certification?

E-Verify almost completely eliminated our Social Security mismatch letters. It has also improved the accuracy of wage and tax reporting and ensures companies are maintaining a legal work force. E-Verify has recently implemented a photo-screening tool, so when you are verifying your employee’s right to work in the U.S., it has a photo of what the person should look like, which eliminates identity fraud, as well.

With IMAGE certification, there are several benefits, one of which is free training to your staff. You also receive a two-year respite from any I-9 audits after you enroll. If for any reason your company faces civil penalties for employing illegal workers, the good faith participation in IMAGE is considered when fines are assessed.

JESSICA FORD is director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or jford@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
Monday, 26 January 2009 19:00

Recruitment brands

Your business is branded to communicate benefits to customers about your products or services.

But do your prospective employees know what it is like to work for your company? Do they know why it is better to work for your business rather than your competitor?

If your job applicants are in the dark about the culture of your company, you need an effective recruiting brand, says Ruth McCurdy, vice president of corporate connections with Talent Tree, a Houston-based staffing company.

“The result of having a good recruitment brand is that prospective employees will seek you out rather than you doing all the seeking,” says McCurdy.

Smart Business spoke with McCurdy about why a recruitment brand is important and steps to take to develop a successful one.

Could you give an example of a successful recruitment brand?

The most successful recruitment campaigns have actual employees doing the promoting for the company. For example, we all know that Google is a great place to work. Why? Because there have been a number of stories in the press about what it is like to work for Google. Google Jobs, a section of its Web site, is dedicated to showing pictures of employees who give testimonials about what it is like to work for the company. Google’s recruitment brand emphasizes that it encourages creativity and fun in the workplace.

Not every company has the same recruitment brand and will attract different kinds of employees. Other companies that do a good job with recruitment include The Container Store and Macy’s. These businesses have an entirely different culture than Google, but they do have a recruitment brand that is designed to attract precisely the type of employee that will fit in with the culture.

What is important is that a company clearly communicates to employees and prospects what it stands for; the company needs to create a compelling picture of what it is like to work for the organization that attracts and retains employees.

Is attracting and retaining employees the main goal of creating a strong recruitment brand?

Yes. It has the added benefit of saving the company time and money. Businesses that have strong recruitment brands don’t have to recruit very much since prospective employers seek the company out.

The byproduct of creating a recruitment brand is tenure, loyalty, increased productivity and happy employees.

What are the steps to creating a good recruitment brand?

  • Build an appealing brand. Make sure you know exactly the people you are targeting and what they want in an employer. You don’t want to create a brand that does not appeal to your target audience.

  • Talk to employers to help draw a picture of your company’s culture. Engage employees from all segments of your company, not only executives, in the process of recruitment.

  • Select a few people to tell their story. Make sure you hand pick a wide range of employees who are successful and happy working for your company. Do not use actors or models for your Web content or print ads. Have them tell their story about why they like working for your firm; make sure you use this information in all your recruiting materials. It is your employees’ stories that will make it real. People believe other people, particularly if the stories are sincere.

What are the disadvantages of not having a recruitment brand?

When a business does not have a recruitment brand, it will not attract the type of employees that will be happy working at the company. Recruiting can also be more expensive and time-consuming since, without branding the work environment, a business might get applicants are not a right fit for the company.

Many companies don’t understand why this is so important. Company owners and executives may believe that they can effectively compete for employees by offering a job position with a bulleted list of responsibilities and a competitive salary. This will not get you the best selection and the right fit of applicants.

Remember, in addition to the details of the job, employees want to know what it is like to work for a company, if they will be happy there, and if others are happy working there.

RUTH MCCURDY is vice president, corporate connections for Talent Tree, a staffing company based in Houston. Contact McCurdy at (713) 361-7555 or Ruth.mccurdy@talenttree.com.

Published in Houston
Tuesday, 25 September 2007 20:00

Finding the best and brightest

In today’s ultracompetitive job market, it’s hard to find a good fit. It’s difficult for applicants to find a good job, and it’s equally difficult for companies to find good help. But, if both sides are looking for the similar qualities, shouldn’t it be easier to find common ground?

According to Jessica Morris, accounting/finance recruiting manager with Burnett Staffing in Houston, finding the right candidates can be easy if a company knows what they’re looking for and knows how to attract it.

“To find the right person, you can’t just post a job in the paper or online anymore,” says Morris. “Companies need to actively recruit candidates, but also, they need to know exactly what they want in a candidate before bringing anyone in for an interview.”

Smart Business spoke to Morris about today’s tough hiring market and what companies can do to stand out to potential candidates.

How can a company find good applicants?

In most cases, the best candidate is not actually looking for a position. To locate these hard-to-find, passive candidates, your staff will have to work harder and smarter. But finding, recruiting and screening candidates can be a very time-consuming process, and an expensive one to boot. Utilizing outside recruiting specialists, networking with colleagues and encouraging employee referrals are ways companies can effectively find good applicants, without wasting valuable time and money.

What can a company do to stand out to an applicant?

Know exactly what you want out of an applicant and be sure that you clearly express it in the job description. Many companies spend a great deal of time in the recruiting and hiring process only to find that their top candidate has accepted another job offer. In today’s tight market, communication and timeliness are keys. You have to make a candidate feel special — you can’t leave them hanging. When you begin recruiting, effectively communicate with applicants where they are in the process. Immediately notify candidates if you have no interest in them, because if your recruiter has to keep fielding follow up calls from a candidate you're not interested in, it's a waste of time and resources. If you are interested in the candidate, continue to keep him or her updated at each stage of the hiring process. Even if the decision won’t be made for another three weeks, communicate this to the applicant. They may wait for your offer. Otherwise, they’ll assume you have no interest and accept a competing offer.

What, besides salary, can attract a potential applicant?

When the demand for candidates is high and the supply of top talent is low, sign-on bonuses should be utilized to set your company apart. This will discourage candidates from taking the counteroffer their current company is likely to make. For professional candidates, benefits can make or break an offer. In addition to salary and benefits, companies who discuss career development during the hiring process are given a competitive advantage. I encourage companies to continue to highlight the employee’s career path. The majority of the candidates I interview who are currently working choose to leave their position because there is no growth potential. Do your employees know what your plans are for their career development? If not, you could lose some of your top talent. Other attractive incentives could include matching 401(k) plans, vacation time, access to company vehicles and tuition reimbursements.

What are companies looking for? What positions are in high demand?

Of the divisions I manage, accounting and finance candidates are in the highest demand. Many companies are seeking degreed accountants who have experience at one of the ‘Big 4’ CPA firms or those with a specialty like manufacturing, cost accounting or audit experience. Companies are also looking for candidates who are professional, accepting of changes and challenges, driven, detail-oriented, and, most importantly, willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

What hiring challenges are companies facing and how do they overcome them?

Many companies have their HR staff recruit for internal positions utilizing job descriptions that do not accurately portray the requirements of the position. It is important to list all the education, skills and experience necessary for the job, and then highlight the preferred skills. Do not limit your candidate pool in a tight labor market. If you are not able to relax any requirements and you are still having trouble filling a job, I recommend adjusting one of the other main components of a candidate’s hiring decision or highlighting how your company or this position already enhances one of these areas. Salary, benefits, location and environment are key components of a candidate’s hiring decision. In addition to increasing the salary range, a company can also offer telecommuting or a flexible schedule to improve its ability to attract top talent.

JESSICA MORRIS is an accounting/finance recruiting manager with Burnett Staffing in Houston. Reach her at (713) 977-4777 or jessicam@burnettstaffing.com.

Published in Houston