Screening Job Applicants

Woodshop owners discuss the methods they use to assess prospective employees. April 19, 2015

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I am looking for a little bit of help developing an applicant screening process. I have six people in the shop including myself, and three people in the office. I have been hiring now for about six years without a procedure and need to develop one as I don't plan on doing the hiring forever. I have pasted what I have so far. Any input is greatly appreciated.

The following is a standard operating procedure designed to screen and select job applicants. All of these steps must be followed in order to hire a new employee.

1. Applicant must fill out a company provided application. The application must be filled out completely and signed. If an applicant has a resume to compliment the app the applicant may leave any duplicate info off of the application. If applicant shows up late to interview they should not be considered a viable option to hire.

2. If the applicant has a valid driver’s license check with the insurance company and see if they are insurable to drive company vehicles. Keep in mind that many applicants will not be truthful when asked about driving record. Applicants with a driver’s license should be given preference over those without.

3. Check at least one personal reference and one previous employer reference as to quality of employee.

4. Applicant must consent to, and pass a drug screening.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From Contributor O:
Applicant must also have their own pen to complete the application. I can't tell you how many applicants walk in the door, ask for an application and then ask for a pen to fill it out. While they are filling it out, I tell them I have never hired anyone that did not walk in the door intending to fill out an application that did not bring their own pen. It has never stopped them from filling it out. Also, include several math problems in your application, as well as a story problem or two. This helps quite a bit.

From contributor P:

I always give applicants a short test. Scoring 100% is a good sign, anything else is a red flag. I have had some limited success with people who missed one question, but some of those people didn't work out. Missing two or more: I don't hire them.

From the original questioner:
Contributor P hope you don't mind if I adapt it to fit what I'm looking for. Do you give them a time limit for it? Is this the holy grail for you as far as hiring? Do you ever hire anyone who doesn't do well because you have a "good feeling" about them?

From contributor B:
We hand the applicants two pieces of wood and ask them to measure them. We go to the 32nd on a few. The answers are telling. We also ask questions like, “What was the best part of your last job” and “What was the worst part”. The answers to questions like that are sometimes show stoppers.

From contributor P:
I developed the test years ago, haven't changed it much. It's been my experience that cabinetmakers aren't much good at interviews - very rarely are they the sparkly talker type. So the test, and references, are pretty huge for me. The most amazing thing is the difference between those who get 100% correct and those who miss one question - it's noticeable.

From contributor C:
While you are testing things you should test your assumptions. Why don't you take a block of wood out into the shop and have everybody measure it. They could do this with their own tape rule and you could also have them repeat the test with a common tape rule. It might be interesting to see how many dimensions your crew comes up with.

From contributor M:
Contributor P – I’m curious as to whether you question any past experience: last job worked, how many years in the business, what position was held, etc.. Also, do you check on their license to see if they have any accidents, tickets, etc., typically only if they will be driving a company vehicle at any time? Can I also question your opinion on cellphone use in your shop? You seem to have a good handle on employee relations and I'd like to hear more from you on the subject.

From contributor I:
Contributor P, interesting that there is such a noticeable difference between the 100% guys and the 99%. What do you attribute that to?

From contributor P:
Contributor M: I require a written resume to be submitted prior to interview. The quality of that document says a lot about the applicant's diligence and care in preparing an object to be examined by others. As for cell phone use, we have no formal policy, and the shop culture has developed so that people do use them, but nobody abuses that privilege. I have not felt the need for a formal policy yet.

Contributor I: The work we do and the equipment we use requires my people to read plans, and set up complex machines, and document the processes as we go (for payroll and quality control.) Errors in any of that are fatal to us. An applicant who doesn't know what's on that test may be a good employee in a different environment, but no in mine. As for the difference between 99% and 100%: the test isn't all that hard, really. My guys who scored 100% would probably have scored 200% if there was a way to do it. The 99% guys couldn't manage perfection even when conditions are favorable. It's been my experience that, once a 99% guy lands on the shop floor, their tendency to always do something a little tiny bit wrong is a problem. Now the next time I run a help-wanted ad on WOODWEB, set up interviews and give the test, how many of the applicants will have searched this forum for my name, and found this? It will be interesting to find out. A person who did this, memorized the test, and got a 100% in that manner would, in my mind, be exactly the kind of person I would want to hire.

From Contributor O:
I try to identify the ones that will strive for perfection/improvement/accomplishment as part of their daily make up vs those that will accept good enough, or just little bit wrong. If they are used to accepting less than, then that is a very hard attitude to change.

From contributor E:
Contributor P I understand that it's hard to find people who understand what a 32nd or a 64th of an inch is, never mind measure it, or who can even read a simple drawing or what to do about any discrepancy in any given situation. The distinction between 99% and 100% obviously works well, but it could probably be refined. It might be a good idea to toughen up the test. Perhaps some (or lots of) multiple-choice questions about when to seek advice or how to handle this, that or the other problem (all shops have examples of problems that cost them money) that have only one right answer and three very wrong answers. That would likely spread the applicants out a little bit differently over the high end of the spectrum, perhaps resulting in even better hiring decisions. A 100% hire on the old test could turn out to be 98.5% probable reject on an expanded test. A 99% reject could turn out to be a probable 99.5% hire.