This Week In Running A Gym - July 13, 2014

This week the big deal on my plate is that our Front Desk Ninja Casey announced that she will be moving back to the People's Republic of Canada at the end of August. Her husband gave notice at his job after suffering too long under a boss he didn't like. Props to him for getting out of a bad situation, but unfortunately their visa status is tied to his employment status. After a long difficult debate, Casey has decided to return with him rather than stay on as our Front Desk Ninja. But I like to think we were a close second. The only silver lining is that this will mean two fewer immigrants here stealing American jobs. Right guys? Am I right? I'm right, right? …Right?

Anyway, this starts the hiring process. The fifth time I've done this. It's gotten easier to do, but it's just as hard. It's easier because I have a system in place and it's just a matter or putting the ad up on Craigslist, it's hard because I've been a job applicant many times and I know how tough the process can be. So I find myself thinking about how much it sucks to get rejected every time I'm about to reject someone. Because of this, I take the process very seriously. Even though I sometimes joke about it in conversation, I never take someone off the list without a reason that I feel I could explain to their face. I also try to keep them informed of the process and stand by my deadlines. There is nothing worse than having an interview and then waiting for an indeterminate time and not knowing the next step.

I've learned a few things that I never knew until I was on this side of the table. First is that I shouldn't hire a friend, or even someone I already know and like. That pre-existing relationship becomes a barrier after hiring because those old social rules usually don't include me telling them what to do, with expectations about quality and timeliness and getting fired as a possible consequence. I have to wrestle with breaking the old ways we used to relate, and have to be willing to sacrifice the friendship if they don't perform up to standards. So no friends. And if you already know me, you'll need to be a strong candidate to get passed my hesitation.

Ultimately I'm hiring for character. The technical requirements of the job are not so complicated that we can't teach someone reasonably tech savvy how to do it. What matters a lot more is how this person will fit with our staff and members. Somebody who is humorless or timid just won't do. A close second is that I'm looking for conscientiousness, you know, like personal standards. For example, I use an informal tone in these weekly write-ups, but you'll notice I still have impeccable grammar (ahem). I reread these articles multiple times for flow, coherence, spelling, and grammar as I write. The FDN will be the primary point of contact for most people, they will be the face and voice of the business. Sloppy writing reflects poorly on everything else.

The early stage of the process is of trying to winnow the mountain of applicants down to something more manageable. Every time I've opened this position up to the public, I've received over 200 applicants. That's great since it'll increase the likelihood that we'll have some great people to choose from. The hard part is how to sift through them all and isolate the better candidates. This was super hard the first couple times when I went the traditional route and asked for resumes. I hate resumes. They all look alike and say nothing about the personality of the person behind it. My solution is to make the first part of the process an activity, like completing a survey which lets me get an idea of their personality. It has enough room for someone to eliminate themselves. Here is where I cut people for bad writing or for forgetting to include their last name. If you're not willing to proof what you put on an application, you're not going to do it when responding to an inquiry. I might let something slip if they're solid elsewhere, but people get cut for a lot of trivial reasons in the first stage. They're told in the beginning that if they don't hear back by a certain day, they were cut.

The next step is to sift for technical ability and get some more information about their story. At this point I contact them via email and ask them to create an online document and include things in it like a picture, some autobiographical information, a link, etc. I'm specific in the directions because I want to see how well someone can follow them, any deviation where the directions are clear usually results in elimination. A standard rejection email goes to anyone who doesn't make it.

The first two stages are of eliminating the bad candidates. Now we have a stack of the mediocre and the good. After this I'll bring Leon in and we'll go through the remaining candidates and start highlighting people for positive qualities. Maybe they have some especially relevant experience, a great sense of humor, or some other characteristic that makes one of us think, “I want to know more about this person.” This gets us to about 20 candidates. This is the hardest part for me because I'm often left looking at someone who on their own would be a fine person for the job, but they don't make the cut because someone else looks a little better. Who knows? Maybe that person would be amazing but some intriguing little detail never made it through and so we don't pick them to go through to the next round. But we have to draw the line somewhere and go with the ones who sizzle over the lukewarm. Rejection emails go out.

Then we set up a phone interview. Split the list in half and ask each a standard set of questions. Things like, can you suggest any changes to our website? We're looking for insight or at least thoughtfulness. We're also looking to see if they actually thought ahead and looked at the website of the company they have an interview with. We write our notes into a shared document. When those are done, we each get to name our top three to invite to a face to face. We don't send the rejection emails at this point, if we aren't happy with the people we interview, we'll go back to this list and select more people to meet.

By this point, honestly, we have a good idea of whether the person can do the job. The face to face is more of a get to know you, more about their story, what they're looking for in a job, etc. After those are done Leon and I sit and talk it out, we each choose a favorite or two and then sleep on it. Then we talk it out again and make a decision.

And there it is, the process for finding a FDN. I know I might be giving away some of the secrets in this article, but that's only going to benefit someone who goes to the website and reads this post. Which is exactly the kind of quality I want to promote. So if one of you readers is applying, congrats, here's a map to the process: write well, follow directions, be interesting. And don't hesitate to shoot me an email about the process. So few people ever ask about it that someone who did would really stand out.

By Morgan on Sunday, July, 13, 2014