A good support staff can save you from disaster. They’re cool under pressure, can make decisions quickly, and can even anticipate problems before they become unmanageable.
Hiring support staff takes time, patience, and sometimes a lot of faith. It’s not always easy to predict with 100 percent reliability who’s going to be successful when it comes to keeping the office humming. With some planning, however, you can assemble an administrative support team that’s solid and dependable. Here are 10 things to avoid when hiring support staff:
- Don’t wing it. “Support staff” can seem so vague that you tend to let the function define itself. But no office can afford to be that flexible. It’s critical for you to know exactly what you’re looking for. A position must correspond to a set of skills and functions that will directly support your office operations. Make sure, for instance, that the ad for the position accurately reflects the qualifications you’re seeking.
- Don’t skip the screening process. This stage of the hiring process is critical. Reviewing an applicant’s résumé, cover letter, and letters of reference (if you’ve asked for them) should always be part of your hiring strategy. Indeed, this is the first step toward narrowing your search.
- Don’t exclude key personnel from your strategy. It’s tempting to want to control the hiring process — too many opinions can prolong what is already a fairly lengthy ordeal. But a support staff by definition is one that comes in contact with many people in the office. Excluding them from the process could lead to mistakes in hiring. Ask for input. What kind of support do people need? How much time does it take to complete certain tasks? What is the working environment in this group? And don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues if they’d like to meet your top candidates.
- Don’t get personal. Avoid asking personal questions during any interview, on the phone or face-to-face. Having a set of pre-established questions will help you stay away from personal issues. Focus on your “script” so that you can protect yourself and your company from any accusations a candidate might make regarding your employment practices.
- Don’t hire more than you need. This may seem fairly obvious, but if you’re in a crunch and the office is under stress, you may end up hiring more people than are needed. Remember, it’s much easier to add more staff later on than it is to let people go. And coming up with projects for people with little to do can become a job in and of itself.
- Don’t let enthusiasm for a job replace specific qualifications. An applicant who’s enthusiastic is better than one who exhibits little interest in the available position. But a person’s zeal for a job shouldn’t take the place of the solid skills you’re looking for. If you need someone who’s already proficient in a certain software application and you really don’t have time to train, don’t hire someone who you merely think will pick up the skills needed to get the job done.
- Don’t ignore your instincts. Anyone can look good on paper. It’s when you start checking around for references that certain red flags begin to appear. But one of the best indicators is your gut. If you sense that an applicant isn’t right, regardless of his or her résumé, try to listen to your instincts. If you don’t, you and the people you’re supporting in the company could pay a hefty price.
- Test when necessary. If applicants have the computer skills you need, consider asking them to perform certain functions that will demonstrate their proficiency. If you have a network administrator or someone who specifically manages your computer system, have that person meet your top candidates. This is another good way to weed out unqualified applicants.
- Don’t forget to give people a reason to want to stay. Hiring a good support team loses meaning if you can’t find a way to keep them. Neglecting to assemble an attractive benefits package could turn good people away before or after they’re hired. Before you begin the hiring process, figure out what kind of benefits you’re going to offer. A 401(k) plan? Medical coverage? Vacation? And be prepared to field questions about benefits you haven’t thought about.
- Don’t make an offer until you’re ready. The work may be piling up and your colleagues down the hall may be pressuring you to “get help now!” But your job is to bring in the best people you can … when you’re ready. If you rush through the process, you risk making costly and time-consuming mistakes.
Hiring administrative support staff takes patience, foresight, and careful planning. Be sure to also check out How to Hire Administrative Support Staff to learn about some important first steps.