The Hard Truths Of Hiring

There is no perfect job.

Everyone. Did you hear that?

Repeat after me: “THERE IS NO PERFECT JOB”

And now believe it.

Jobs that are dream-filled, promising a lifetime of happiness are the stuff of fantasy, bubblegum ice cream and pink balloons. They simply do not exist.

Sure there are jobs that approximate perfection, but there are always those dreaded mornings where the prospect of a full day’s work is utterly daunting. Your pillow whispers sweet nothings into your ear, both legs are dead weight and the weather outside seems unfathomable. We all know those feelings but let us agree not to tell the boss! Fortunately those bad days are more often than not followed by better days.

I think most employees know this and those who do not have a few eye-opening experiences ahead of them. Over the last few decades, the changing labor market has forced private service employees to recalibrate their expectations. They are coming around to the position that to be marketable for the best jobs (note the absence of the word “perfect” in that sentence), they must climb a ladder from the ground up so that their skills are honed and their mettle is tested in a variety of different households – each with their particular challenges. Private service employees must be willing to make compromises. “Compromise” – it is not a bad word.

This article, however, is not about private service employees. Rather, it is about their employers who have yet to absorb certain hard truths about their expectations and the hiring processes they practice.

One Hard Truth…

Here is one hard truth for employers… If there are no perfect jobs, there are also no perfect employees. Perfections are the flip side of a coin minted in Oz and delivered by Brinks along a Yellow Brick Road.

Perfection does not exist!

I have spent almost 20 years in recruitment – either directly or in a managerial role. I can attest to the fact that there are poor recruiters out there who either do not or cannot listen to an employer’s needs. These are the agents who insist on throwing candidates at a job order until one “sticks”. Looking for a driver? No worries. Mary can’t drive but she is willing to learn. Ugh! These recruiters are not imperfect employees. These are employees in need of a career change.

In my 20 years I have also met many excellent recruiters whose jobs are made impossible by clients who refuse to listen to the expertise of time spent in the trenches. It is common during first telephone calls with a new client to take down details of a position that is frankly unmarketable. With each requirement jotted down, the agent’s stomach sinks deeper, getting queasier and queasier.

In my early days, I would hold my tongue and do the best I could to meet unreasonably high expectations. Invariably, my passivity led to placements that would not hold and in my heart I knew why. My silence had cast me in the role of enabler to a client’s unrealistic expectations. Further, I set up for failure one employee after another. I did these things, not because I am a bad or lazy person. I simply lacked confidence and I was used to pleasing clients always! I would listen carefully and make the cardinal sin of not representing the client’s interests by informing them, using finely-tuned communication skills, that they are asking for the unreasonable, or worse, the unmarketable. And further, that they are only hurting themselves by holding out for someone who does not exist. In other words, I worked hard as a recruiter but I failed as a consultant.

In not establishing clarity of perspective in the beginning, job orders became moving targets where the client shifted priorities and staff entranceways became dreaded revolving doors. Believe it or not, word does get out among domestic staff professionals about “good homes” versus “bad homes”. Needless to say, the latter designation is never a good thing as it sticks to a home like glue even after the “bad employer” has moved. The situation almost necessitates placing a sign on the front lawn that reads “Under New Ownership”. In the end, my passive compliance did the employer, employee and myself a disservice. I had to change.

I still listen carefully to the client, taking meticulous notes along the way. I quickly appraise what they are looking for and begin a process of making constructive suggestions with the objective of transforming a position into something that is marketable and desirable. My methodology follows various routes. Some of these include:

  1. Present variations on the theme of what the client is requesting. The client wants a couple? Why not ask if they would consider hiring two individuals instead?
  2. Parse the client’s words carefully. Sometimes a client speaks from a position of a bad experience with an employee. If an employee has stolen from them they may be justly over-cautious. It is important as a placement agent to be made aware and then incorporate that knowledge into the search process.
  3. Gauge what the client means by generalities like “I’m a clean freak” or “I expect a very high level of service” or “I run a formal household” or the grandaddy of them all “I need flexibility.” These phrases have different meanings to different employers and it is important to have clarity prior to starting a search process.
  4. Ask clients to think about wish lists. Along the way, ask repeatedly if the item is a wish they can live without or a deal breaker. The process is an excellent way to introduce a healthy dose of realism into a conversation that continues throughout the search process. Clients will be compelled to consider what really is essential to them and, in the end, they get a better understanding of the job itself and their expectations. Further, they are able to communicate requirements and expectations to prospective employees. The result is mutual clarity with satisfied clients and happy employees and placements that stick. Phew!

Finding good staff is difficult. The statement is a cliché with good reason. It is particularly difficult for those families who have had someone working for them for 15 or 25 years. Finding replacements that replicate a long-term trusted employee is virtually impossible.

On the other hand these kind of staff searches are opportunities for fresh beginnings. Homes and families evolve over time and so do their needs and internal dynamics. It is unhealthy to let a position within a household calcify around a single trusted employee. Let domestic positions evolve. Let the profile of character traits for the replacement employee shift to accommodate the evolving domestic role in a more mature household.

Wait. There’s More…

So employers, you have come this far and it has not been easy. But, and it is a big “but”, I am going to ask something more of you…

Once an employee is hired, there is an adjustment period that goes beyond how to perform the job. Personalities need to mesh. Mistakes will be made. Coaching and guidance will be required. A reputable domestic agency will assist families during this critical period but can only do so if they are kept informed. So make use of your newest network member and keep in touch.

Finally, whatever you do as an employer, do not relapse into expectations of perfection. Stick to your promises made to new employees. If Sundays off were guaranteed during the hiring process, an employer will shatter their credibility if they backtrack on a promise. Once trust is broken, it is rarely repaired.

I spoke of hard truths at the beginning of this article, but I actually believe that this is a good news story with the proverbial happy ending. By finding an agent who follows the above methodology or a variation thereof and is prepared to work with you, you eliminate much of the frustration that can seem inherent to the hiring process.

Long ago, a colleague told me “people are packages.” Employees have strengths and weaknesses, attractive and not so attractive attributes and simply good or bad workdays. If we accept this about employees and employees do the same for their employers, we have exited the Land of Oz. We are no longer planning events or carrying cleaning caddies down a Yellow Brick Road of misbegotten expectations. We are entering into a mature and realistic relationship that began with ethical and transparent domestic staff search methodology.

Eyes wide open, private service employees and their employers enter into an alliance of sorts where potential for success is maximized and the groundwork is paved for a long-term relationship in a harmonious and well-managed household.

Written by Scott Munden, who is the president of Toronto household staffing agency, Portico Staffing. You can learn more about Scott’s agency by visiting:

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