North Haven Gardens thinks outside the box to fill positions with the best candidates for the job.
When Leslie Finical Halleck took over as manager at North Haven Gardens eight years ago, she had a host of problems facing her the moment she walked through the door.
“When I walked through the door, honesty, just looking around, it was dated,” she says. “The facilities were dated, the business was dated and the customer-base was dated. To say bluntly, at some point, you’ve got to bring in new customers or your sales are going to drop off. You have to keep the existing customers that you have satisfied, and you have to bring in new customers.”
To do that, she had to change everything from the advertising to the look of the property to the people on her staff.
“I knew a lot of the changes I was going to make were going to alienate some of the pre-existing customers that had been shopping years and years at the business,” she says. “But change had to happen in order for us to move forward.”
While there was a lot to tackle, she started on the people side.
“I really had to raise the bar and raise the standards,” she said. “That meant turning over a lot of the existing staff, to be honest, to bring people in and train them to work at a level of customer service that we needed to get to in order to get that new customer in and get the return customer.”
As a result of that experience and her hiring frustrations over the years, Finical Halleck has learned that hiring the best people starts with throwing the rules out the window and writing new ones.
Here are three new rules for hiring that she uses to get the best team possible.
1. Write unconventional job ads
When Finical Halleck went to hire a hard goods manager this year, she decided she had had enough with the old rules of hiring and threw them out the door.
“I was kind of banging my head against the wall on this and I had an epiphany moment, and I took a different approach on how I write my job ads,” says Finical Halleck. “Rather than advertising for the position anymore, I’m advertising for a personality type. I’m actually writing a description of a person rather than a description of a job. I’m really blunt, and I’m really forward.”
In the job ad, she’s actually saying things like “You have these characteristics, you enjoy these activities, you have this kind of a personality.”
She also requests how much they want to make upfront.
“With the ad I wrote for the hard goods position, I basically said, ‘You better tell me what you want to make upfront because if you don’t ask, you’re not going to get it. Don’t waste my time. I’m not going to do three interviews with you before we talk about money,’” she says. She also knows what she doesn’t want to see.
“Don’t send me a resume that says in the objective statement, ‘I want to work for a company where I can utilize my skills and be an asset,’” she says in her ads. “If that’s what it says, it’d be good for you to rewrite it before you send it to me.”
She also doesn’t want to see a cover letter.
“Don’t send me a cover letter, send me a paragraph about yourself,” she puts in the ad.
She also encouraged people who may not have the degree but might have good experience to pitch her because she herself doesn’t have an MBA, but she was hired because of her personality and experience.
“If you don’t have a degree, but you think you’re this person I’m describing, apply anyway and pitch me your story — give me a sales pitch about why you think you can do this,” she says.
This approach to job-ad writing may seem a bit unconventional to be so blunt, but the approach paid off for her.
“Everybody who applied said, ‘I was incredibly intrigued by your job ad — it really narrowed down,’” she says. “I didn’t get as many applications, but I got the best pool of applicants I’ve ever gotten. I actually got to choose. … You’ve got to get creative about your strategy and how you’re describing what it is you need. If we get down to the point of advertising for the kind of person we’re looking for rather than the job duties, we may get a better crop of applicants. I’m sure there were a lot of people who read that and said, ‘No way,’ but that’s OK — I don’t want those people.”
2. Talk about money upfront
Finical Halleck said she wants people to tell her how much they want to make when they apply, and that’s another rule she loves to break but people have a hard time breaking.
“People who are unemployed and go through the state unemployment system and job training programs and counseling, everybody is taught to be so guarded about what information they provide about themselves and what salary they want to hear, and they’re all told, don’t talk money,” she says.
She doesn’t have a lot of time, so she can’t afford not to talk money. If she has a position that pays between $40,000 and $50,000, and someone applies and won’t talk money, and she spends three interviews with them, offers them the position, and they turn it down because they need $80,000, it wastes everyone’s time.
“Why did we go through this exercise; what was the point?” she says. “ ... You have a number in your head that you need. I have a range in my head that I can afford. … If my range is $50,000 to $60,000, and you come to me and say, ‘I’ve been working for $60,000, and that’s really what I want,’ I might say, ‘OK, I can stretch that far if you’re the right candidate.’ At least we now know we can work on something together.”
It may disqualify them for this particular position, but if they have the right experience, and she has a manager position open up in a few months, and she knows their number, she can call that person back and talk about the new position because she knows the money is more in line with what they need.
“Be honest about what you want, be honest about what you can afford to pay, and then it doesn’t waste anybody’s time,” she says.
3. Bend on qualifications
When Finical Halleck advertised for the hard goods manager position, she told people to pitch her even if they didn’t have the degree, and she actually had a couple highly qualified candidates who said they wouldn’t have applied had she not put that in her ad.
“Sometimes those very specific credentials matter and sometimes you need to be willing to go outside the box,” she says.
There’s no hard and fast rule to follow for knowing when to bend and when not, but instead you have to weigh each situation individually. For example, in the case of the hard goods manager, the person she hired had never been a hard goods manager. Instead, that person had 20 years of project management experience and had spent the last five years working in the horticulture industry in garden sales.
“They understood the products customers were coming in and asking for, but they also had a very good sense of organization and data management due to their project management experience,” she says. “They don’t have a degree in horticulture, and they haven’t been a hard goods buyer before, but all of their other background experience made them the right personality fit for that position.”
That flexibility in hiring can lead to some of the best hires that you may not have ever considered before.
She says, “Sometimes if you look outside the industry, you can find people who will fit your needs, even if they don’t necessarily have enough horticulture experience that you think you may need.”
Kristy J. O’Hara is editor of Greenhouse Management magazine, a GIE Media publication.