Give Employees Tryouts Before You Hire Them

Hiring new employees can be a drain mentally and financially, every time you have to recruit and train a new hire. Hiring the right people is more crucial than ever before, especially in an era of Yelp and social media. A bad employee and poor customer experience can cripple your brand.

One way to make sure that you hire the right person for the right job is to hold tryouts as part of your interview process. This was a key tip shared by Felecia Hatcher, during a panel called “Businesses On Wheels,” held at the 2014 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference in Columbus, Ohio.

Hatcher is co-founder and “chief popsicle” of Feverish Ice Cream and Gourmet Pops, a mobile business based in Miami. In this business, it is important to create an experience–a “foodie experience,” says Hatcher, the author of How To Start A Business On A Ramen Noodle Budget. “I own an ice cream business. You cannot mean-mug people if you work for me.”

Putting a new twist on the traditional neighborhood ice cream truck, Feverish Pops’ eco-friends trucks and pushcarts can be found at special events, catering to adult customers with 12 unique flavors such as Pineapple Basil and Strawberry Balsamic. There’s also a line of spiked pops with flavors like Mango Bourbon and Watermelon Ginger Vodka.

Hatcher no longer accepts applications or resumes and instead now relies on tryouts for positions. “I can teach someone how to make pops, handle paperwork, and work a cash register. But I can’t teach someone to be passionate about our brand and just an overall amazing work ethic–those things people have to come in the door with,” she explains.

When hiring, she looks for pizzazz and passion by asking potential employees to sell a popsicle to her on the spot. “It shows that you can roll with the punches, think creatively on your feet, and have fun personality,” says Hatcher. “Some people get uncomfortable; others really let their personality shine through. That’s something we learned from Mrs. Fields (of Mrs. Fields Cookies), who makes applicants sing the Happy Birthday song.”

Giving potential hires a task such as singing on the spot may not help ferret out your next IT officer. But you can offer tryouts or trial periods as a viable and valid way to hire people for entry-level or to reduce high-turnover positions.

Include role play in the interview process. Like Hatcher, you can have the applicant try to sell your product or service to you. This also is a way to tell how well that person knows your company.

Set up for your screening for a day. And assign a task or two to work on. A day provides enough time to make sure the person has the skills, work ethic, and personality to work in your company.

Contract that person for set period. Work with a potential new hire as an independent contractor by assigning a special project. By giving a specific problem and deliverable to work on you can better gauge that person.

Establish a 90-day probationary period. Meaning, you can hire the person without giving vacation time or benefits. Assign a myriad of tasks and conduct a review after 30 days to see if that person is a good company fit.

You also can provide a financial incentive like Zappos, which offers money to customer service employees, enticing them to quit with $3,000 in hand after completing a four-week training program and one week of work.

A startup may not have that kind of cash to offer, but giving people an “out” is another way to weed out unenthusiastic employees.

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