How to Hire to Grow Your Company – Holly Smevog

Hiring the right person for an important position can be one of the most critical aspects of a growing business’s success. How to draft a job application? How to vet candidates? How to hold interviews? How to avoid biases?

If you’re looking to improve your hiring process and build a team that builds your success, you’ll want to hear what globally certified career counselor Holly Smevog has to say!.

Rich You’re listening to another episode of the Fast Forward Maine podcast. Our guest today works with employers to define the ideal candidate for specific roles, provide data to facilitate the hiring choice, and encourage immediate engagement and longterm retention through onboarding and growth plans. She graduated from the University of Vermont with a BA in psychology/consumer studies and later completed an MA in instructional technology at San Francisco State University. She honed her unique ability to leverage data when guiding the decision-making processes while pursuing an MS in counseling and a global certificate in career counseling.

Rich She’s president of the Maine Career Development Association and is passionate about serving the community by providing professional development to those who provide career development services in Maine and New England. While not at work, she enjoys parenting her three daughters, hitting the ice for games of hockey and looking for new wind surfing destinations with her husband. We are very excited to have on the show, Holly Smevog.

Rich Holly, welcome.

Holly Thank you. I’m so delighted to be here today.

Yury We are excited. Thank you very much. Holly, could you tell me a little bit, how did you get into working with employers and employees on creating the perfect fit?

Holly Well, I think that, you know, it goes back to even my father being a Navy captain and when he ended his career, he got into motivational training. And I was really inspired by that as I sought the beginning of my career. And I was kind of always the go to person for friends, family, peers, and colleagues. When the job search came around or when, “what am I going to do next in my career,” was the question being asked. And so as I sort of had different corporate and educational work experiences and I gained a greater understanding of organizational dynamics, I thought, “You know, what I’m really passionate about is people and work, and finding the best places for people to work and finding the best people for employers.”

Rich Nice. Nice. So what would you say is wrong with the hiring process that most businesses use these days?

Holly You know, I’d sort of, I guess, reframe that, that largely the hiring process works. It’s just that when it doesn’t, it’s really costly. So if I can help by avoiding mistakes and avoiding those costs associated with finding out you’ve hired the wrong employee and putting a lot of time and money into that process, I’d like to help.

Yury Well, speaking about the processes, do you feel that finding the right candidate is a “who” question or a “what” question?

Holly I think it’s a mix of both. I think when you look at a job that you’d like to fill, there’s really two parts of it. It’s the tasks that are industry skills that are what the person will be doing every day. And so that’s a little bit easier to discern if they have the skills that are necessary to just do the job. But then there’s the “who,” which is kind of what I call the core competencies. Does their character match with what the job will demand? So the environment, the team. Is it an independent role where for weeks at a time they have to be comfortable working on the road or being really self-driven? So I think it’s a mix of the skills that they have and then the fit with the organization, the culture and the needs of the team.

Yury So if we’re talking about culture, how do we know in the interview or in the application process that the candidate is the good fit for the culture? Are there any specific red flags that we need to pay attention to or how can we assess that it’s going to work?

Holly I mean I think it’s some groundwork that goes into that. So when you put a job description together and prepare your interviewing team, you’ve really looked into the core competencies aspect of it. And the way I help people do that is really by interviewing all of the stakeholders. So people who’ve held that role before, the managers, the people who work for that person. What are really the key aspects of a person’s essence that make a good fit in this role and that they really look forward to the next person having. And so once you have that, then you have a benchmark to evaluate your candidates.

Rich Let’s talk about that a little bit more. Because you know, as a business owner I’m always concerned about making sure that I’m bringing in the right person. It feels like the first step that is drafting, this on-point job description, and as you say, you work with companies to really pull in from all the stakeholders what’s required. So when we’re putting together the job description, how much of that is like the specific tasks. They need to know Excel or they need to have a background, they need to have a CDL license for driving. And then how much in the job description should we be putting in, “This is an office that values life-work balance,” and stuff like that. Or “This is an office that really expects you to go above and beyond for our customers.” Is that part of that process or are we really focusing on, “I need to make sure the tasks will be done” when we’re writing up that job description?

Holly Well there’s a couple dimensions to that. Of course in Maine, we have a workforce shortage. So we don’t really want to make it so limiting, the job description, that we’re steering people away. On the other hand, I think it’s really helpful for candidates to be able to look at a job description and think to themselves, “Is this a place I really would fit?” You know, sometimes they will go and apply for a position and really not understand why they didn’t get it. So I think that if the more information you put in the job description, the more efficient the whole process is for the candidates and for the employer.

Rich When you’re writing up this job description, do you have anything on your list that you think these days we shouldn’t include or that we absolutely should include? And one of the things that I’m always wondering about is, and this may be getting into the weeds, do you put the salary expectations into a job description? Is that the kind of thing that will eliminate certain people right off the bat? Or is that the kind of thing that you should be talking about on a first date, so to speak?

Holly Mm-hmm (affirmative). I mean I think if it’s not going to be negotiable, then I think it’s smart to put it in the description. And I think that you need to be careful that you’re not treading on any sign of unethical areas. And you don’t want to be hiring people who actually look like you, so to speak, that you’re not hiring people to be identical replicas of the other people in the office. You’re trying to really get a good fit for the team.

Yury Are there any particular things that we should not include in the job description? We had this conversation about the salary and stuff, but have you seen some examples or things that, you read a job description and you’re like, “Oh no, this shouldn’t be there or this doesn’t make sense?”

Holly You know, I would leave that more to the HR specialists. I know you’ve had some people from KMA on the podcast and that’s really in their wheelhouse.

Yury Okay.

Rich Kudos, by the way, for listening to episodes before you came on.

Rich Once we start getting these applications in, what’s the next step? How do you recommend that we vet these people and how do we determine who we should be following up with? Any advice on that?

Holly Right. So as your prior guests and… The interview time is short and often people are running in and out and called to other meetings, and it’s kind of a pressure cooker scenario. And so where I really recommend additional resources is bringing in a non-biased third party to do assessment on sort of your final candidates. So let the team figure out who looks the best, who they think are going to be the one, two or three top choices and then get some data. I really believe that the best decisions are made when they’re backed by empirical data if possible.

Holly So what I would do is interview the candidates in terms of getting sort of a personal history and then combining that with a suite of assessments, specific to the needs of this role. And then the interviews really give context to what comes up in the assessments and then that information is provided to the hiring party.

Yury When you talk about the third party being a part of the interview, does this person need to have kind of like the relevant skills for which we interviewing? What would be the role of this third party during the interview process?

Holly So really it’s, if you look at the assessments first, there’s going to be data that’s coming up about this candidate. So where are the interview comes in is giving context to some of the things that come up in the data. It helps to understand sort of their personality based on what things they went through in their lifetime. So it’s a little bit more of a rounded picture and that’s not all the information that necessarily goes back to the employer. But the essence of the assessment summary will give the employer more data with which to make an informed decision.

Yury So speaking about data and the assessment tools, do you have any particular tools in mind that main employers should consider if they don’t have anything in place?

Holly Well it’s a little bit tricky because a lot of the assessments, you need to be licensed to administer and interpret them. So I use a a suite of assessments and depending on the role I will pick and choose. I use the Harrison Assessments; it’s an assessment that kind of predicts suitability for certain roles, and you choose the level of the job that you would like to match the candidate against. So middle manager, top level executive, and the results will show on many dimensions the possible suitability of this candidate.

Rich You work with a lot of companies, obviously you come in and you’re facilitating this experience. What is the right time to bring in somebody like you to the hiring process? Is it before we even write the job descriptions or is it when we start getting some of the candidates in?

Holly Well I think it’s right when you’re writing the job descriptions to really make sure that you know what you’re looking for. Some people do. I work with recruiters who call me in once they’ve got their candidates, but the candidates will match your needs the best if the core competencies and industry skills really match it.

Yury So if we’re talking about the different relationships in this application process, we have an employer, we have you, and we may also have a recruiter. So how close this collaboration should be in order to make sure that we have the right candidate right out the gate?

Holly So I often work with recruiters to come up with the job description and the core competency, but they will refer me to the employer or refer the employer to me with whom I will work for the candidate assessment. So the recruiter does not have a role actually in assessing the candidates.

Rich That seems fair. So let’s talk about the interviews. I don’t know if you have a process that you go through for the interviews because everybody’s always on their best behavior and you never really see the true person. How do we move past that best behavior to find out who’s going to be a good match? Any tips or advice on that?

Holly Well, I know that there are some trends towards behavioral interviews, asking real case scenarios. If you are a fan of Patrick Lencioni, The Five Habits of a Healthy Performing Team, their model is to, he takes people out for a walk, goes grocery shopping with candidates…

Rich This really is a first date.

Holly Right, exactly. … invites the candidate and their spouse out for dinner. So it really is difficult to determine some of these deeper behavioral outcomes in an interview. And being creative and combining it with assessments and, if you can, in-person activities is recommended.

Yury I know it’s weird talking about the ways to help employers improve their chances for scoring the right candidate, but what if we have a person who is currently in the process of finding the right employer? What are the things that potential interviewees should be paying close attention to in order to get the job that they desire?

Holly Right, that’s a good question. I really can’t emphasize enough the role of doing research on your future employer. So using LinkedIn if you need to to network to find people who’ve worked there, or who work there currently. Obviously looking on their website. Reading news that’s been published about the company. Really getting a flavor of what it’s like to work there and so that you’ve demonstrated in the interview that you get it and you are going to answer their needs because you’ve got the right fit.

Yury Awesome. Thank you. It’s very helpful.

Rich Now we mentioned before, you work with a lot of businesses in the hiring process. As an unbiased third party, just walk me through how does that work and what are the benefits to that approach for a company?

Holly Well, I’ll give you an example. If a company has a position open, say it’s a CEO of a small nonprofit in town, and they have this position to fill and they have an internal candidate but they have to post the job. So they’ve got the interview. They put the job description out. They get candidates from local and outside of Maine. They whittle it down to two choices, the internal candidate and the out-of-state candidate. And they’re really not sure. On the one hand, does this person who we’ve known forever have that habit it takes to get to that next level. And if we choose that person, how do we pitch that to the rest of the company? So in a process like that, I would really want to get involved at the beginning to study, in this case, say the CEO who’s leaving. What is it that’s made this person really thrive and contribute maximum potential to the organization so far? So what is it about this role that’s really important. And so you know when you’ve got those two candidates, what you’re measuring them against.

Holly So hopefully I will be involved at that point developing the job description. And then with the two candidates, they would come to my office and I would… I call it interviewing, but it’s more like going through their personal history. “So tell me about yourself, but really from birth to today, what makes you who you are?” Because we’ve all been shaped by the things that have happened in our lives, and those things are going to have an impact in how we respond to challenges ahead of us. So I would interview them and that’s usually a couple hours, and at the same time have them do the suite of assessments. So after they’re done, I will score the assessments and compile a report that is based on facts from the assessments and I will have context myself about some of the answers.

Holly So once I get the results from both candidates, I will prepare a report for the hiring manager and they will then go off and use that to make their decision, and sometimes it’s really helpful to say we’ve got outside non-biased and empirical data that gives us confidence in choosing this internal candidate or this external candidate.

Rich It sounds like one of the things that you’re providing is… well in the example that you gave, it’s like we may be too close to the situation to know if we should hire that internal person and move them up or hire an external person because we may just really like having coffee with the internal person and that’s probably not a reason to make them the CEO.

Rich And then another situation where it might be where I’m interviewing a bunch of different people, my job isn’t to hire people. That’s your job or at least to facilitate it. We’re having that unbiased third party opinion. You’re going to make sure that I don’t just hire somebody who “looks like me” and that is really the right fit for that job and for the tenor or the passion of the company.

Holly That’s right.

Yury All right. That is interesting. So once we’ve chosen a candidate, do you have any advice on how to craft and make an offer, and should we build in some space for negotiation?

Holly Mm-hmm (affirmative). Where I really come in after the candidate has been chosen is helping employers to really see the value of this whole exercise. Of coming up with the core competencies and assessing the candidate. So that would mean putting together a growth plan for the employee that starts on day one, that shows them we’ve had this kind of romance of dating during this interview process and we recognize that and we learned a lot about you, and we’re hiring you because of the things we learned.

Holly And so when they step in on day one, they’re engaged. That relationship is enthusiastic, energetic, and strong. And you’re saying to them, “You’re hired to do this job. This is what we expect from you. And also this is the growth plan.” Growth plans and the potential for professional advancement is really important to retaining employees.

Yury So basically we may not offer as much in terms of, right out the gate, the value, like this is your salary, but you’re going to get X, Y and Z type of training. This is the environment where you’re going to strive and accomplish great things for us. So should it be kind of like included in that contract? Is that what you’re saying?

Holly I think that provides additional value, particularly in Maine where potentially salaries aren’t competitive to some of the bigger urban areas. That’s a real draw. People move here for quality of life. They want to be engaged in work, they want a growth plan and they want to be working with people who really get them.

Rich Well you kind of stole my next question because I was going to ask about how do we get the employees engaged from day one. You’ve given us some good answers. Is there anything else maybe on a more tactical standpoint of like, somebody comes in, I’ve invested a lot of time and effort in finding the right person. I know that there’s going to be a ramp up time. I know that this person is not going to be at 100% from day one but what can I do to get this person as motivated as possible and to get them up to speed as much as possible? Do you work with businesses around that area at all?

Holly Yes and I think that clarifying the expectations of the employee for the first, say, three months and really having a regular schedule of checking in with them.

Yury All right, that’s awesome. Thank you. What do we do in situations or have you experienced situations when an employee passes the interview process, looks good during the interview, meets all the criteria and then just does not work. Have you experienced something like this?

Holly Well, I’ve been brought in by employers to kind of address a situation like that. And more often than not, they didn’t go through the exercise of the core competencies during the hiring process and there’s a couple paths. Again, we don’t want to lose an employee that we’ve invested in, so where I can help or people like me is to then assess or evaluate what’s going on with the candidate and either put a plan in place for correction, or maybe redeployment throughout the company.

Rich You know, it’s always easy to start with somebody on day one or even before then to really get them excited about the company, about the mission, about what we’re doing, but sometimes it’s difficult when we have employees already in place and to reinvigorate them. Can we take any of the things we’ve talked about today and implement some of those things, whether it’s assessments or just an attitude and approach, the growth mechanisms that you mentioned, for our current employee base. Maybe if somebody just feels like they’ve kind of lost the passion for what we’re doing?

Holly Well, I definitely think that these evaluations and the process of review and putting through a growth plan should be systemic. So, sometimes startups begin with a big chaotic burst and they don’t have processes in place. It’s really common. So I think any time is a good time to just say, “Hey, we’re going to roll out a system wide plan. You’re going to meet with your manager, have work time with your peers, set some goals and we’re going to work towards them.” I think that showing that commitment can happen anytime.

Yury That’s fantastic. Holly, we usually ask this question at the very-

Holly We always ask this question. It’s our favorite question.

Yury It is a favorite question. Exactly. And this favorite question is, if you could change one thing about the main business ecosystem, what would it be?

Holly Well, for me, I believe that education, it comes first. So I would say to integrate career education and workplace experiences into K-12 education throughout the state.

Rich That’s great. We actually have a high school student right now from Scarborough High School who’s doing intern work with us. It’s a brand new program over there and she’s coming in about six to nine hours a week and just working with our team and because she was interested in doing some marketing.

Holly I think that’s fantastic. Not only do they gain an awareness of work possibilities, but also they make connections with the community and we need young people to stay in Maine.

Rich Absolutely. And also they learn that the office is not always true to life.

Holly True.

Yury A reality check.

Rich Yeah, this was great. And I know you work with a lot of companies in terms of helping them with their hiring process. If somebody’s out there listening right now and they’re interested in learning more about what you could do for them, where can we send them?

Holly Again, my name is Holly Smevog and my number is (207)-200-0286.

Rich And do you have a website?

Holly Yes, I do. It’s

Rich Awesome. Thank you so much, Holly. It was great having you here today.

Holly Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Yury And thank you for coming.

Holly Thank you.

Rich Great stuff from Holly. Definitely learned a lot in terms of my own hiring process. If you want a full transcript of today’s episode and all the links that Holly shared with us, head on over to Yury, now’s the time of the show where we do fast takes. What was your fast take?

Yury My fast take is to improve your chances of hiring the best candidate to contribute to your key initiatives. Don’t hesitate to rely on the unbiased third party to make it part of your hiring process. Rich, what’s your fast take?

Rich Yours was a good one. I definitely think that having that unbiased opinion makes a big difference. For me, it was the importance of assessments including measurable data and not just gut checks in the hiring process, because that’s unfortunately my go to is, “what do I feel?” And I’m not saying that that’s not important, but I don’t think that I’ve relied heavily enough on some of the actual metrics that can be measured when it comes to finding that right person.

Yury That is a good one.

Yury Thanks for tuning in to another episode of The Fast Forward Maine Podcast, brought to you by Machias Savings Bank and Flyte New Media.

Rich The podcast for growing Maine businesses.