Help Wanted – Finding the Right People for Your Shop

Finding the Right Employees For Your Shop - Marshall Atkinson

One burning question that I keep reading continuously in industry forums is “I need to hire some staff, where do I find these people?”  Shops often start off small, one person operations.  The business owner has the driving passion for the company, and completes every task.  As the shop’s success increases, the business day lengthens, working every weekend is mandatory and there seemingly is no end in sight.  Or maybe you have an established shop with a few employees, but need to hire a production manager so you can get out of the shop and continue to do the heavy lifting growing your business?

It all comes down to trying to find the right person that can not only fit your immediate needs, but can grow and succeed into a long time employee.  What’s the secret recipe for hiring success?  Start with “Hire for Attitude; Train for Skill”.  It’s nice to find the exact person that has the prerequisite experience that your open position needs, but more importantly you need to look for someone that has enthusiasm, passion, and a great sense of hustle.  If you are looking to redefine your shop culture make sure your new hires will fit the mold you are seeking.  Check this out.

Before you post that want-ad, get out some paper and jot down a few lines on what your potential candidate will be doing for you all day.  Use these notes to write a job description.  (Hint: if you would like to use a great job description template, check out the ones available for members of SGIA – I use these constantly.)  The job description is basically an outline that will frame the skills, experiences and pay range of the person you are trying to recruit.  What are the most common tasks that this person will be doing all day?  What won’t they be doing?  Then, think a year or two down the road.  With the proper experience, support and training in your shop, what type of position could this person eventually handle?  Are there any skills that they might need that would be nice to see in a potential candidate?

Use all of this and then write a brief, but descriptive, listing for the open position.  Make sure you include a pay range that lists the absolute minimum and absolute maximum you are going to pay to start at your company.  A pay range is a great tool to use as it not only gets this question out of the way, but is a good negotiating tool during the hiring phase as the pay rate is based on the person’s experience level doing the job.  No experience doing the work?  Here’s the minimum you will make.  Been doing it a year or two, but haven’t mastered it yet?  You are in the middle of the range.  Experienced expert?  Let me get you some coffee and let’s talk!!

So where should you look for potential workers?  Depending on where your shop is located in the country, there could be an absolute gold mine of potential workers or a vast barren desert.  It’s never the same, but here are some tried and true tips that work:

Ask your employees.  They are essentially your shop’s brand ambassadors every day as people are always asking you “what do you do for a living?”  Your employees answer this question constantly; and hopefully their answer is with an enthusiastic smile and a descriptive reply.  When you need to fill a position, let everyone know to reach out to their friends and family that your shop is hiring.  Post the ad on the company bulletin board in the break room.  You could offer a cash reward if their connection is hired and makes it to a six month anniversary.  $100 is what we usually pay.  Referrals are great, as the potential candidates will come to you with a basic knowledge base of your operation.

Talk to your supply chain.  They are in and out of shops all the time, and sometimes they know people that want to make a change.  I’m not advocating poaching employees from other shops, as that can become a problem.  Sometimes though, you can hear about a shop closing down, layoffs, or other tidbits that can allow you to harvest great employees that want to contribute and find a job.

Post the ad on your website.  Does your website have a “Now Hiring” section?  If not, why?  Pretend you are an experienced press operator, embroidery machine operator or customer service representative.  You are moving to a new city, or aren’t happy with your current employer.  The first thing you are going to do is snoop around and try to find a job doing what you know best.  A quick internet search for shops in your city will bring up yours certainly, and that person might click on your website and discover that they are needed.

Temp agencies.  Over the years I’ve had a love / hate relationship with temp agencies.  I wish work coming into the shop was a constant instead of the feast or famine mode that I usually have to deal with on a daily basis, but using temporary worker labor has been a great way to add staff when it’s needed.  Usually these are good, capable workers that you can add to the shop floor when you need some help.  Starting out, they can do all of the mundane tasks that you need accomplished and free up your more skilled employees to take care of more important or critical chores.  Over time, temps can be trained to run equipment, receive inventory, update jobs in the system, whatever you need.  However, there is little guarantee that the person you trained all week will be the same one you get the following Monday.  One plus to using temps is that you can hire them from the temp agency you are partnering with if you find someone that you like or has a skill set that you would like to add on a permanent basis.  The cost for a temp worker is usually between 1.3 and 1.5 times what your lowest worker wage pays.  The real benefit though is that you don’t have to fire or lay people off when the work gets slow.

Government agencies.  It may sound odd to look for staff by contacting a government agency, but sometimes this is a great idea.  Your city or state could be sponsoring a job training program that fits people that want to learn a new skill with companies that want to train them.  The benefit here is that their salary will be paid for three to six months while they learn the job.  This is a great way to find employees that have a great attitude, that want to contribute, but they just don’t have any experience in our industry.  If you have the time to train them, this might be a good opportunity for you to give someone a chance.  Remember, even your best employee (or even you) at one time didn’t know anything about the job either.

Post the position on your social media.  If you have the “Now Hiring” section on your website, you could link the post to your website.  Put this out on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.  Post in any groups or internet industry forums.   Advertising your services and marketing you are hiring sometimes may have the same distribution stream.

Craigslist.  If you haven’t tried posting a job on Craigslist before, I think you may want to consider this.  The first reason is that it’s free…so you can’t beat the price.  Secondly, it works really well.  However, be prepared for a crazy bunch of people responding that you won’t ever consider.  When I post a job on Craigslist, I generally have the e-mail responses drop into a folder in my mail app.  I glance through them, and if any potential candidate has what I’m looking for I’ll print the resume out.  Usually about 10% – 20% of the people responding may have the skill set I’m looking for in the position.  For these, I’ll call them and have a brief phone conversation and see if they may warrant an in-person interview.  Posting on ad on Craigslist is akin to fishing with a seine net.  When you drag the net back up to the beach you’ll find that you have a lot of creatures trapped by the net, but only a few that you’ll actually keep.  Throw the rest back.

Paid AdsCareerBuilder, Indeed, Monster, Newspaper Want Ads, etc.  Over the years, I’ve had good success with these sites…but also have wasted a lot of money with little to show for it too.  It all depends on timing usually.  You pay to have your job posted, but at the same time the candidate has to be looking.  Responses from these ads generally produce a higher caliber candidate than a free Craigslist ad, so for the right position it may be worth it.  These work great if you are looking for more senior staff or managers.

Headhunters.  This is the most expensive way to find talent for your shop, but if you dial in the right person it could solve a lot of your headaches quickly.  Recruiters have their feelers out constantly, and usually know who is looking for a job, has to move to a new city, or some other reason the candidate wants to make a change.  They don’t charge the candidate, but if you hire their selection you pay them a % of their first year’s salary.  These folks are absolutely professional, and if usually if they recommend someone the person has the goods you are after.  Most will offer some sort of guarantee if the person doesn’t work out within six months or a year.  If you are looking for extremely skilled operators, senior managers, top production supervisors, artists, or salespeople, then a recruiter might be the person to contact.

At the end of the day, your company is comprised of the people that you have working for you.  Who you hire, how you train them, the decisions they make, the interactions they have with your customers, and their general attitude towards their work, will always be a reflection in a positive or negative manner towards your shop.  Trust your gut, but verify the people.


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  • Great artickle, Marshall! I wish more companies (big and small!) would recognize the value of hiring for attitude and training for any skills that may be lacking. When you focus on hiring someone with the complete set of skills you (think) you want, you can also get an attitude and unwillingness to change how to do things.

    So you end up, UNtraining and REtraining. Sometimes it is a small thing, sometimes it is a big thing.

    Thanks for another great article — keep up the great work!

    • Thanks Chris!! I appreciate your readership and taking the time to comment!! You are right, sometimes it’s difficult to untrain the veteran to learn your way. Although, at the same time you can learn from them. One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn along my journey to understand that there is more than one way to do something, and it’s ok to let others find their way too. Coaching is better than micromanaging.

      • Good point, Marshall! You are always so wise! 😀

        I’ve never had to hire anyone, but I have had to train a few….even when I tell them “WHY” they have to do it ‘our’ way, instead of their way, they have a real hard time wanting to change.

        The wisest piece of advice I ever received: Don’t offer any suggestions for at least the first 6 months, but 12 is better, you are there…even when asked. If forced say, “I don’t know if this has been tried…..” before offering your suggestion.

        That 6 to 12 months gives you an opportunity to see how things are done “behind the scenes” as it were and to learn what has been tried and failed and why it failed. It also shows your willingness to learn their way of doing things. Once they know and trust you AND you have learned all the ins and outs of your job and the company, then you can make suggestions.

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