Choosing an Employee

Who to pick - the rookie, or the experienced hand? May 4, 2005

It is time to hire my first employee. After many interviews, it comes down to two types of candidates.

Candidate #1 - Young person with some carpentry background, good attitude. Pay $9 to $10 per hour. Would need babysitting at first.

Candidate #2 - mid to late thirties. Experienced. Could probably give him a drawing, and would need little or no babysitting. $15 to $18 per hour.

That is my dilemma. Any experience that you have had with either candidate would be greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Business Forum)
From contributor D:
I say the young one. Here's why.
#1 No bad habits
#2 Most likely better attitude
#3 You'll baby sit either one
#4 No bad habits

#5 The young gun knows he knows nothing. The older guy thinks he knows everything. I have yet to hire an experienced guy that I didn't have to retrain. Otherwise they pervert your methods.

From contributor P:
Your first employee sets the tone for all subsequent ones. And you set the tone for the first employee. Which one to choose depends upon whether you need someone to assist you or you expect to walk away from the shop and come back to completed work. In either case, you have to be a good boss in order to make it worthwhile. This means providing adequate tools to do the job, sufficient information so that what needs to be done is clear, and quality materials so that the job can be built efficiently. Most shops fall down on providing clear instructions. Personally, I think that sketches don't cut it, and that every job should have a complete set of drawings. Also, it is helpful to like your employees, so if one of them has annoying habits that you can't stand, don't hire him.

From contributor B:
My experience puts me in complete agreement with contributor D. The older guys have cost me money in the short and long run. The younger guys cost me money early on, but were willing to learn my methods of doing things. One of my two guys came to me right out of high school and the other shortly after trade school. They've both been with me for years now.

From contributor J:
I don't necessarily agree with the view on this. You judged the new guy as having a good attitude. Could this be because he's nice or because he's good at putting up fronts? For 8 dollars more an hour, you get someone that can free you up to get more work. It wouldn't be his fault if his work habits don't fit with yours and after all, who's to say who has the bad habits - the employer or the employee? The interview is the only way to discover work habits or personality differences.

From contributor S:
Whoever you hire, be sure you tell them it is a trial period. I agree that you are starting down an important track here, and setting precedent. You need to back out if it doesn't work out very good for you (and your employee). Do your part as to communication, etc., so you give them a fair shot. I spend almost as much time (awake) with my employees as my family. I like my employees and we all respect each other. This contributes greatly to a positive work place and also helps make for good products and good business.

From contributor G:
There really isn't enough information to answer your question. In lieu of the info, I say hire them both. Most likely one or both aren't going to work out. Just keep hiring and firing until you get a good one, and do it fast - don't screw around with marginal people.

If you hire the new guy, you have to pay him 3x for every mistake he makes: once to do it, once to undo it, and a 3rd time to do it right. After he does get it, will he be looking for greener pastures?

If you hire the more experienced guy, why hasn't he found a home with all of this experience? Do either one of them take drugs? Go for the upbeat people - they will out-produce the downcast types every time.

Not to put a negative spin on this, but the main idea is to move people in and out fast until you find gold. Then treat them like the gold that they are. The more policy and procedures you have in place, the easier it will be to bring in new people and train them.

From contributor N:
There are a lot of factors to consider. Is the younger one the type that interviews well but goes out and parties all night and comes in hung over? If so, you will spend a lot of money on redoes and lost time. Is he the type that likes to take a lot of time off to go on extended weekend hunting and fishing trips, or worse yet, calls in sick to do them? If not, then he may be the one, because you only have to train him, while the older one may need to be untrained and then retrained. Is the younger one mature enough to perform simple unsupervised activities while you have to step out for any reason?

As far as the older one… What is the employment history? One of the best things to do is look at the recent employment history and call the previous employers to verify employment. The employer will be limited in what information they can give out legally, but in a short time, you should get a good sense of what they thought of them. One key question you can ask and they can answer is "Would you hire them again?"

As to the older one… Can he adjust to your standards without questioning you? Is he familiar with your machinery and construction methods? If he has a family and needs income, he may be more reliable. Then again, if he has a long history of short employment stints, don't waste your time on him.

I like the idea of hiring both of them, if you can swing it.

From contributor A:
About 6 months ago we went through just the same thing. The first employee we ended up going with was a young man who pretty will mirrors your young candidate, and so far am very happy with our choice. Yes, we did and do still have to do a bit of hand holding. However, he is truly interested in learning and this job really means something to him.

Being here in NC, due to all of the layoffs from the furniture industry, we had quite a few inquiries. While it may sound a bit harsh, many were, while very qualified, simply seeking a job instead of a career. Perhaps I'm a bit old fashioned, but I was really interested in finding someone that we could groom into being an integral part of our operation and growing our own seemed to fit us better.

From contributor V:
The young guy will come to work looking to learn something. The older guy will come to work looking to teach you something. The older guy will have worked with bigger shops than you are now, so he will see you as a lesser boss than he has worked for in the past. He might have some experience in speeding production up and that can be a good thing. However, as he is the one who will have to do the speeding up, he might not pass along the experience to you, to help you, when working at a slower pace for same money benefits him. If you feel you can learn from the older guy and that will benefit you, then go with that. We are all just human, after all.

From contributor C:

Look at the NFL. Some coaches prefer to work with seasoned athletes, while others prefer rookies. Pros and cons with both. No right or wrong here, except that you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses and what fits your style of management.

From contributor E:
Hire them both and keep looking, as most small business have a 1 in 10 success rate in hiring new employees. Once you start hiring, it becomes an ongoing process. Plan on going backwards for a period while the new person comes up to speed.

From contributor L:
I'd rather have one $18/hr man than 2 at $9, assuming each was paid what they were worth. I've got 15 guys and will hire either young or older, not so much based on what they tell me they know, but on attitude. It's interesting what they will tell me during the last part of an interview while we are casually talking while walking through the shop… All the things that were wrong with their last boss, that they know all there is to know about woodworking and can operate all the equipment they see, no problem. Red flag!

From contributor U:
Call references. Past employers can give you good insight into an employee's real performance. Lots of folks think they can get a job by running a good line of BS. You always gets hurt ($) when expectations don't match actual outcome.

From contributor K:
Being a Human Resources Generalist at a manufacturing company for over 10 years and having hired over 600 employees during this time (production to engineers to managers), I think I can provide some insight. Many of you have already provided good advice.

Hire for attitude... teach the rest. If an employee has a poor attitude, they won't want to learn or unlearn what they already know. You'll have to train any new employee in the way you want the work to be performed, no matter how much experience they have or don't have. Develop your interview questions around the behaviors that you want to see in your employee(s). For those candidates that have more experience, ask questions to determine if they would be willing to change the way they perform certain job tasks. Tune into the non-verbal. Listen to your gut when making the final decision... it's usually (95% of the time) right. It's easier to hire than to fire due to the litigious mindset of our society.

From contributor H:
I agree that attitude is everything. I've worked with people that recently graduated from VoTech and knew "everything." Spent a lot of time redoing their damage. I've worked with experienced people that brought new ideas into the shop, some did get incorporated. When it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, it all depends on who signs the paycheck. If you're that person, then what you say goes. Go for the attitude. Experience is a nice bonus.

From contributor O:
Coming from corporate America, we could not disclose any information about any past employees. All we could give was date of hire and date of leaving. Anything else was against the law. I'm in Florida so it might be different in your state, but I'd tell anyone to be careful about disclosing anything about past employees or disclosing anything to anyone else about someone that worked for you.

In my new and happy but poor life, I hire based on attitude and potential ability.

I had a guy call me a while ago that was looking for apprentice work. I almost said no, but offered him a chance to come in. Long story short, he was early 40's, ex-Navy, teaching math at local community college. First project was a full mortise and tennon coffee table, mission style in mahogany. Did a fine job, asked when he didn't know and learned when I showed him. In the next year or so, I hope to get him to the point he takes over the daily running of the shop.

Attitude and potential aptitude. And lots of luck.

From contributor U:
We have all prospective employees fill out an application. With that is a form that authorizes past employers to give information about that employee. True, some companies are more reticent than others, but they all can give you start date, termination date, and number of missed days. I've found that most folks who fudge experience also fudge on the length of time they were at a past employer.

I've got to agree that attitude is everything. Honesty is a big part of attitude, in my book.

From contributor X:

It surprises me that no one has said you might not need a shop person at all, but rather someone who can free you up to be in the shop more yourself. This is a very typical scenario in a one person shop. By the time you deal with phone calls, paying bills, ordering material, etc., it's late in the day before you get started. These sorts of tasks can actually lend a real hand where you may find that a rookie in the shop beside you only puts you further behind. Identifying your bottlenecks and outsourcing those is also a viable alternative.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to everyone for their time. I have made an offer to the more experienced person. I too believe a good attitude is one of the most important attributes. They both had great attitudes, so the choice was tough. I have been having a tough time making the type of decision that allows my business to grow. I am very conservative by nature, but the volume of new business has sort of forced my hand. I will continue to grow slowly. At least that is the plan!