Finding a match Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

When Charles Gehring was named president and CEO of LifeCare Alliance, the nonprofit was spending $100,000 a year to advertise for open positions. Now instead of searching for employees, candidates are seeking out the organization, which offers senior home care services.

“You have to take who you want and not accept who comes in the door,” Gehring says.

The first step to hiring the right employees is to keep a list of people in the community you would like to work with. Second is careful interviewing, says Gehring, whose organization posted 2008 revenue of $19 million.

Smart Business spoke with Gehring about how to identify the right employees to create a stronger organization.

Q. How do you attract the right people to interview for open positions?

If you create a company that people know in the community, is respected in the community, then people are attracted to you, and the better candidates talk to you even when they’re still employees elsewhere.

Oftentimes, if you’re just accepting who comes in the door off of an ad or a sign you might have outside, then that’s all you’re going to get.

Instead, look for people. I ask my directors and my vice presidents here to know enough about the community that if somebody left them at a management level, they would be able to instantly come up with two or three names of people that work at other organizations who they feel would be great at our organization.

A lot of people use the reactive approach. Human resources departments use the reactive approach where it’s, ‘OK, we’ll put the ad in the paper or post it on a Web site or put a sign up, and those that come in we’ll interview.’

Sometimes the best candidates are not going to do that, especially at the management level. They have a current position they like, and they’re not actively seeking employment.

You (won’t ever) insult anybody by calling them up and saying, ‘Hey, we would like to talk to you about a job we have open.’

Q. What are the keys to interviewing the people you have identified as potential employees?

Many people don’t ask enough questions. You have to ask some innovative questions. I know over the years, I’ve come out of interviews with potential employees with a lot more answers to things than some of my directors have.

You really have to scour the resume for items. I look to ask about the activities they have on their resume, like hobbies. If they’ve got any groups or organizations they’re in, I think that shows me what they’re willing to do above and beyond their job.

I ask about where you worked last and what you did. I like to ask things about what projects you’ve been involved in. For example, in their resume they might say, ‘Hey, I was project manager for 20 projects, saving the company $5 million.’ I might ask them, ‘Tell me about one of those projects, why it was important to you and what it maybe changed in your self-esteem.’

Those answers really provide insight into the person’s being. They’re probably going to be in an interview the most positive you’re going to see them. If you can drill down a little bit and get into more of their psyche as to how they approach their work and how they approach their life — to me, attitude, enthusiasm and passion for life is everything — then you can pick the person that has the best match of those areas.

When you interview for a job, probably all of the candidates you have are qualified for the job. But the difference is going to be how they approach the job with their attitude and their passion. Think passion for life in general, which translates to passion to their work.

Q. How do you determine during the interview that the candidate possesses the qualities you’re seeking?

Let’s say you’re interviewing four people for a job. You can usually rank order them pretty easily in those areas. They come across that way or in the answers to some of those questions.

Tell me about a project that specifically you worked on that meant a lot to you. I use terms like that, something that was important to you in a past position. Their answers, I think, just clearly reflect where they’re coming from and their enthusiasm and their passion for their work.

I don’t need them to be fun-loving in the interview. They’re going to be professional at the interview. I’ve had people sit there and they say, ‘I really can’t think of one.’ Apparently there wasn’t anything that meant enough to them that they could recall.

The better candidates will tell you things like, ‘You know, I really felt it gave me a knowledge level I didn’t have before. I got to meet different people in the organization that will help me advance my career.’

There’s a standard set of questions, and it’s nice when somebody comes thinking about what those questions would be. I often pair it back to words on their resume. I don’t invent stuff.

How to reach: LifeCare Alliance, (614) 278-3130 or www.lifecarealliance.org