An Independent Voice: Finding good help

Independents need to make time for interviewing and training as they hire workers for the upcoming holiday season.

By Jane Olszeski Tortola

Hiring a multitude of seasonal workers is no doubt near the top of the to-do lists of supermarket managers across the country this fall. Given the expected onslaught of applicants and new hires, now is the time to review and fine-tune the interview and training processes. With so many tasks on their plate, it is especially important for independent grocers not to give short shrift to the jobs of hiring and training.

Vince Crew, founder and CEO of the Naples, Fla.-based REACH Development Services, provides sage advice to retailers on how to get the right people in the right place in all areas of the store, especially during the critical period of Thanksgiving through the end of the year.

“It’s important to note that while we wish for all associates to be successful, traditionally nearly half of all new hires fail on the job within the first 18 months,” says Crew. “And they’re not always to blame.”

By sharpening their interviewing skills, independent grocers can increase the chances that their new employees and their stores will shine.

“During the interview process, we as managers must be able to determine a potential hire’s skill sets, both interpersonal and technical, and decide if they are a good match for our organization,” he says. “Due to the fast pace of retailing, we often find ourselves rushing through interviews and hiring folks just to put warm bodies in place. Devoting ample time to the actual interview process most often allows us to reveal what resumes or applications are sometimes designed to hide.”

In regards to avoiding bad hires that result in lost revenue, low morale and turnover expenses, Crew stresses that managers understand the top five reasons new employees are ultimately terminated, leave under pressure, receive disciplinary action or negative performance reviews.  They are as follows:

  • Coachability: The inability to accept and implement feedback from store directors, colleagues, customers and others;
  • Emotional Intelligence: The inability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and accurately assess others’ emotions can lead to failure on the job;
  • Motivation:  A lack of sufficient drive to achieve one’s full potential and excel on the job;
  • Temperament:  Attitude and personality are not conducive to a particular job and work environment; and
  • Technical Competence:  The associate does not possess the technical or functional skills required to perform a specific job.

Not surprising, Crew reports many managers with whom he works report that in hindsight, the interview process with employees who ultimately were not successful elicited subtle clues that they would be headed for trouble.  “But during the interviews, these managers were too focused on other issues, too pressed for time, or lacked confidence in their interviewing abilities to heed the obvious warning signs,” he says.

Overall, Crew believes that asking better questions, coupled with posing a few hypothetical situation scenarios in regards to dealing with customers can reveal a lot during job interviews.

“We’re looking for a glimpse into the applicant’s demeanor,  critical thinking process,  his or her views on customer service, views on policies and procedures, the ability to work calmly and professionally, and more,” he says. “Listen twice as much as you talk and during the interview ask the candidate a variety of open-ended questions that allow him or her to explain with actual examples rather than a simple ‘yes/no’ answer.”

Here are couple of suggestions:

  • What attracted you to our company?
  • What lesson did your parents teach you that you still think about today?
  • Share with me what you respect most about your best friend.
  • Tell me what you liked most and least about your last job.

Answers to questions like these, according to Crew, provide insight into the candidates upbringing and some of the values they find relevant in their daily work, and ultimately in your store.

“There is nothing more important to ensuring your store’s reputation and success, and nothing more significant to your own professional reputation, than having a track record of getting the right people in the right positions to do the right things,” he says.

Jane Olszeski Tortola, a regular columnist for Grocery Headquarters, devoted more than three decades of her career to working at a family-owned supermarket company founded by her late father. She is a graduate of The Ohio State University and is active in a number of food industry organizations. She can be reached at

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