Thriving on chaos

Now that we have spent a few weeks talking about how to survive HR and topics such as how to create job posts that will attract potential employees, where to post them, and how to onboard, lets move into how to best utilize those top-notch employees with good management and strong operations.

I am currently the Director of Operations of a screen printing and embroidery facility that is experiencing huge growth rates.  Over the last three years we have seen 25-50% growth, which is really exciting but it’s also extremely exhausting. We are a small business (15 employees) that has only been in business for about five years.  When I started there were only two employees, the owner and another screen printer.  I started as a part time graphic designer and slowly started adding responsibilities to my position in order to grow the business. I had owned businesses of my own in the past and had a passion for consulting so I slowly started taking over the business.  The owner of the company loves screen printing but has very limited business knowledge or desire to run the business side of things.  For a type-A personality who loves business such as myself the partnership that we have built is ideal.  He gets to do what he loves and I get to do what I love.  The key issue is that we are still small and therefore we have to wear many hats each day.  We don’t have an HR department, we don’t have a book keeper, and we rarely have enough employees to run each day. It is very overwhelming but it is also very rewarding.

I spend every moment of my day answering questions, filling in staffing holes, and trying to keep up with all the tasks that my job entails.  My office is a revolving door of employees and clients with questions that I apparently am the only person who can answer. Every time I think I have enough staffing to take something off my plate someone quits or I have to let someone go.  I make to do lists that I add three tasks to for every one I cross off.  Most of these lists sit on my desk for so long that by the time I get back to them I have no clue what I was even talking about. My brain is in problem-solving overload all day, every day, and at bedtime I have a hard time shutting it down.  I end up working an extra 12 hours just to take 8 off and when I do the whole place seems to temporarily crumble.  By now you are wondering why you should listen to someone who appears to be barely holding it together.  I may be one question away from snapping but at the end of the day I know that I did my best.  I look forward to the next day where I can try even harder to make something better or teach someone something new.  I run myself ragged but I do it because I love it. I love every stressful, frustrating moment of it.

I tell all of my new hires that you really have to thrive on chaos to survive production and although a lot of them think I am kidding, they realize pretty quickly that it’s true.  It’s hectic, it’s stressful, it’s chaotic but at the end of each day we go home feeling tired in a good way because we made insanely optimistic goals and we reached every one of them.

I could go find an easier, less stressful job, but would I feel as fulfilled? I doubt it.  Problem solving is my passion and helping businesses and people grow is what I live for.  I may fail numerous times each day but I learn from every slip. I have a lot of work to do to get a handle on the company and get more organized and I am hoping that together we can do just that. Join me as I improve the processes in my own daily work and hopefully help yours as well.


Surviving HR: Employee Orientation Part 2

Now that we have the paperwork out of the way it’s time to talk company culture and how to make a good first impression on new hires. No one enjoys first days, they are awkward, nerve wrecking, and scary. A new employee’s first day is a very important time as it sets their first impression of the company and it’s employees. If they don’t feel welcomed by other employees or the overall vibe is not a positive one they most likely will not show up for day two.  So how do you leave a good impression and assure they made a good choice accepting the job?

When your new employee arrives give them a tour of the facility and show them where to put their things, where the break room is, and where they will be working.  Make sure their work area is set up for them and clean!  I mistakenly had another employee “clean” a new employees desk only to find it was a mess when she started. It was embarrassing cleaning it in front of her on her first day. Walk them around and introduce them to all of the employees.  Don’t just tell them names but give a little insight on who the existing employees are and what they do at your company.  “This is Joe, he has been with us for two years.  He runs this machine like a champ, I don’t know what we would do without him”.  Comments like this show your new employee that you value your employees, and it also makes your existing employee feel good knowing that you appreciate them.

After they have completed their basic required paperwork (W-4, I-9, etc), have them read your employee manual. When they are done, review it with them. I like to read through it and summarize each section, going into more detail for the key topics such as time off, pay information, and our cell phone policy.  Make sure you check in with them multiple times so they have the opportunity to ask questions as they come up.  You want to make sure they are clear on your policies early on to avoid future issues.  I then have them sign it and give them their copy for their records. It is very important to review the employee manual in person versus sending them home with it. They will never read it on their own and risk breaking rules they didn’t know exist.

Once you have your new employee settled in and working on their training, make sure you check on them regularly.  New employees are not likely to get up and find someone when they have a question, they will just sit quietly and wait for some one to come to them. Even if you are not the person training them its important that you stay involved with their progress, even if just to make sure they know your door is always open for them. Throughout their first week make sure you and your other employees are welcoming and make the new employee feel like part of the team.  Invite them to sit with you at lunch and ask them questions about their interests.  It is very easy to alienate new employees if they don’t feel like part of the team early on.

How do you make new employees feel welcome?

Surviving HR: Employee Orientation Part 1

(Disclaimer: I am by no means a Human Resources expert or certified to give you legal advice. My purpose is to offer some advice on what I have learned (the hard way) to help point you in the right direction to make the right HR decisions).

You have hired your new employee and it’s their first day.  Hopefully they show up….it’s surprising to me how many people in the last year I have had just not show up for their first day! While it is tempting to throw them in and fill in the gaps later, you are busy and short staffed and just need a body right away, but this is a sure fire recipe for disaster.  No one enjoys the first day at a new job, its like the first day of High School all over again.  You don’t know what you are supposed to be doing, where you are supposed to go, who to ask questions to, and where to sit for lunch.  A solid orientation for new hires not only leads to a warm welcoming for them but also sets the tone of your companies mission and vision.  By showing them early what the culture is like and ensuring it’s a fit for both of you, you may save a lot of money training someone who is just not right for your company.

New Hire Paperwork:
It’s tempting to send a new hire home with their paperwork and get it from them a few days later, however there are issues with doing so, and even laws against it.  It is best to just sit down with your new hire for 15 minutes on their first day and get it out of the way.

There are a few required forms for all new hires, as well as some that I recommend.  My company subcontracts our our payroll services, which I highly recommend if it is in your company’s budget, (try Not only do they file the employee’s information to the necessary government agencies, they also handle your quarterly payroll tax fillings, write your paychecks, and a few other things that no one without a background in HR and/or accounting should be doing.

Required forms include a W-4 and I-9 for every person you hire.  While the W-4 is not technically required for some reason, you really should not skip this form.  The I-9 is required and has some very strict guidelines and deadlines.  Did you know you actually have only three business days to collect and verify eligibility to work in the US?  I didn’t! Did you know you have to keep all of your I-9’s for current employees in one folder, not separately in their personnel file? I didn’t know that either! And in case you are wondering (I actually just looked this up as I was wondering) how long you have to keep employees paperwork, it’s three years after hiring them or one year after they are terminated, whichever is later.  While I have not had any issues I do wish I knew more about HR when I started. If you plan to take on HR for your company, I highly recommend taking a course. There are tons online as well as day-long seminars in most bigger cities (try

Here is a list of the other forms that I recommend having in your new hire paperwork:
-In-case-of-emergency – While there are things you are not legally allowed to ask employees, having a basic information sheet telling you who to contact in case of an emergency is smart.  I do have a line on mine where an employee can add any information they would like us to know.  It is optional and as far as I can tell legal to out on the form.
-Employee handbook – There are tons of online services that offer templates to make employee manuals (try as well as companies who offer HR services that include creating custom manuals (try  There are also many options in most cities if you are looking for in person guidance.
-Direct deposit forms – My company outsources our payroll services and they offer direct deposit as well as actual checks to be sent.  They charge us around $5 per check, so we prefer direct deposit! However, you can’t make it a requirement legally.

So now that the fun part is over (sarcasm), let’s continue this topic in the next blog and talk about how to project your company’s culture on a new hires first day.

Surviving HR: Conducting Interviews Part 2

Now that we have talked about conducting your initial interview with your select applicants in my previous post, it is time to talk about what NOT to ask in an interview. There is a very fine line on what you can and cannot ask a job applicant.  There are also ways to ask the questions you are not supposed to ask.  While there are thousands of website posts that will tell you how to walk that line, I like to just steer clear of these all together.  After all, the last thing you want to do is get yourself in a legal battle of he said she said. Below I list the some of the things you cannot ask as well as a few things that I was surprised that you can ask.  I am by no means an HR expert or qualified to give legal advise, however I think you will find these lists a good jumping off point for your own research.

Nationality – You cannot ask about someones nationality, however you do need to confirm they are legally allowed to work in the US.  I find it easiest to just wait until they fill out their I9 to verify this.  You are also able to ask what languages they speak and/or write fluently.

Religion – It seems that religion and politics are topics best left out of any conversation these days, especially in the workplace.  You cannot ask ANYTHING about a persons religious or political views so just avoid it all together.

Age and gender – These are things you will inevitably find out when you complete their new hire paperwork, however you cannot ask an employee how old they are or what gender they are (or are associated with). You can however ask if they are over the age of 18, which may be an important question depending on the position you are hiring for or your states laws.

Marital and Family Status –  While you will most likely come to learn about an employees marital and family status during while completing their new hire paperwork and/or getting to know them at work on a more personal level, you cannot ask about their status.  You can however ask if they are available to work overtime and who should be contacted in case of an emergency.  In my experience people like talking about their family and they often come up in the interview, usually when I mention mine in conversation.

Health and Physical Ability – You can ask if a person is able to lift a certain amount, stand for a period of time, and/or endure a certain type of condition at work. I generally explain the job requirements and just feel out the applicants reaction.  If I say “it hits about 90 degrees in the warehouse in the summer, you are on your feet all day, and lift 25-30lb boxes often” and they look at me with a look of terror, I know they are not going to work out.  On my in case of emergency form for new hires, I ask if there is anything they want us to know. This leaves it open and legal and I find that most employees with health conditions want me to know so I know how to handle any potential issues.  I once had an employee who was prone to random seizures, which we knew about.  I found her on the floor in the hall once in the middle of one and I was able to take the correct action because she felt comfortable sharing that information with me.  You can’t force it but in most cases people want to disclose information that will help them.

What other questions or topics do you steer clear of in an interview?

Surviving HR: Conducting Interviews Part 1

Now that you have your handful of decent resumes its time to reach out to applicants and schedule interviews.  I generally email applicants to set up interviews rather than calling them.  This may seem unprofessional, and for some job positions it most likely is, but for the type of positions I hire for I find that an email asking for an interview is the best first step.  Unless I am in love with an applicant’s resume my initial interview will be over the phone.  This saves everyone a lot of time and effort wasted on the wrong candidate.  I find that people are more at ease over the phone than in person.  This gives me a sense of who the person is when they are not dressed up in their interview clothes and overly nervous.

I generally follow the same parameters for all interviews and naturally let the conversation flow how it may.  I will spend more time talking to those applicants I like because I want to get to know them and I am usually looking for further cues to if they are a fit or not.  I will also go more in depth with the job, the company, and who my other staff is when I have a good feeling about an applicant.

Here is a general list of the types of things I ask applicants during the initial interview, my reasons why, and what I am looking (and not looking) for in terms of their answers.

Tell me a little bit about yourself?
The obvious ice breaker to get the conversation started.
What I AM looking for – Insight to their hobbies, what makes them tick, what kind of life they live, all in a positive and up beat tone.
What I am NOT looking for – Too much personal information that really just should not be shared in an interview, a generally negative attitude or demeanor, or comments like “I don’t know”, “I don’t do much”.  A person with drive should be able to talk about themselves in a positive way when asked.

Tell me about your most recent position?
I leave this question very short because I want to see how much information they give without my prying.
What I AM looking for – A positive description of what they did, what they liked and disliked, what they learned, what they were responsible for. I will do follow up questions based on what they say, but I want to see if they elaborate on their own.
What I am NOT looking for – Negative talk about the position, managers, coworkers, or the company as a whole.  People leave jobs for a reason, but how a candidate presents that reason is very telling on the type of person and employee they are.

What attracted you to this position?
This question can be an applicants time to shine or it can cause them to stick their foot in their mouth.
What I AM looking for – Something positive about the position and the company, generally based on their pre-interview research. When an applicant points out a specific thing in your job post or on your company’s website that sparked interest you know they are excited.
What I am NOT looking for – Some of my favorite answers: “It looks like a cool place to work”, “I’m just looking for a job”, or “I don’t know”.

Tell me about a time when you…?
Some things you could ask are about times when they struggled in a position and how they handled it, or to tell you about a time where they failed at something. The point is to ask something negative and receive an honest answer in a positive way.
What I AM looking for –  An honest, positive answer, followed by what they learned from the situation.  We have all failed or handled things in a way we are not proud of, its how you handle the situation and what you take away from it that matters.
What I am NOT looking for – Blank stares… I find that those people who have no examples don’t see the value in admitting and learning from their mistakes.  In my experience these people are know-it-alls and will argue anyone in a position of authority over them.

What other jobs are you interviewing for?
This is a test question to see if the applicant is serious about this position or just hoping to get a job.
What I AM looking for – Basically any answer that tells me they really want the position. I also like to know what my competition is so I know how fast I need to make a decision if I have an applicant I really like.
What I am NOT looking for – Any answer that tells me they really don’t care about my position and are just blindly applying to any position they can land an interview for.  You would be surprised at how many people slip and say that they already have another position or admit that my position is their second choice.

What are some of your go to interview questions? What are your red flags for potentially bad employees?

Surviving HR: Screening Job Applicants Part 2

In part 1 of this topic I talked about screening job applicants for production type positions.  In the continuation of this topic we are going to talk about screening for administrative type positions and the differences in my methods.

Step one: Confirming eligibility
Did the applicant follow the directions on how to apply?

As when I screen applicants for production positions I always make sure applicants for my administrative positions followed the directions for applying.  I am a little more lax when production applicants don’t include a cover letter or answer my litmus question, however for administrative positions its very important that the directions are followed as it shows me that they pay attention to details.

Are they qualified?
I usually require at least some upper education and relevant work experience for my administrative positions.  Its not to say that if someone does not have this experience that I don’t consider them, I just file them in my maybe pile as my second best candidates.

Step two: Reading resumes
Depending on the type of position you are hiring for you will be looking for different things in the resumes you are reading.

1. Long term work history – Positions in administration require a lot more training than production positions and therefore I want to know that a candidate can commit to a position.  When a candidate lists jobs they had for only a few months on a resume it tells me that they may be job hoppers.  The optimist in me wants to think that they just have not found what they are looking for, but the realist sees short term work history as a red flag.

2. Type of work history – While I tend to look for relevant work experience for my administrative positions I also look for candidates who have other types of professional experience in other industries. One thing I see a lot are candidates with a long history in one industry that is completely unrelated such as dental hygiene, cosmetology, or in the medical field. Most likely they are looking to make a career change but unless they mention that in a cover letter I generally don’t put the applicant on my “must interview” pile.  To me it looks like they are again just looking for any job who will take them and may not be in it for the long haul. I recently interviewed a candidate who had just completed a degree in Journalism and had been substitute teaching during his last semester.  I interviewed him because during his initial phone interview he said he had not found a job in Journalism that appealed to him so he was looking into other industries. During the second interview it was very apparent that there were no substitute jobs during the summer and he would most likely just be buying time until the fall.

3. Internet research – As with my production applicants, I also look up administrative applicants on Facebook to look for similar red flags. With these mid to upper level positions I do look a little closer at how the applicant presents themselves on social media and how they write posts. Since a huge part of my administrative positions revolve around data entry and proofing, a well presented social media presence can be telling.

4. Presentation of resumes – Again, since a huge part of my administrative positions revolve around data entry and proofing, I expect a valid applicants resume to be free of typos and grammatical errors.  Being in the industrial arts I also look for resumes that have artistic flare and something that catches my eye.

Now that we have our chosen resumes, its time to schedule some phone interviews!

What stands out to you on a resume?



Surviving HR: Screening Job Applicants Part 1

My company is growing at a rate of 25-50% annually, which means I do A LOT of hiring. I hire for a range of positions from administrative data entry to production assistants. As we talked about in my last post, Surviving HR: Where to post your job listings, I use different job post sites based on the position I am hiring for. I have better luck using Indeed for office administrative positions and using Craigslist for production positions.  Since I screen resumes differently for each department I think it makes the most sense to make a blog for each.  Lets first talk about screening applications for my production department…

Step one: Confirming position eligibility
Did the applicant follow the directions on how to apply?

At the bottom of all of my job listing posts I will put instructions on how to apply.  Depending on the platform I will either ask that a resume is submitted through the posting site (such as Indeed) or that a resume is emailed to our internal jobs email address. Just to make sure the applicant read the entire listing and to weed out the applicants who are mass applying to jobs, I like to throw in what I call a “litmus question” such as “what is your favorite color”. You would be amazed at the amount of applicants who will apply to jobs without reading the entire post or simply don’t follow the directions for applying.  Those applicants who email  “how do I apply?” or my all time favorite “I want this job”, are instantly removed from the running. This may seem a bit harsh but we are mid sized company who wants employees who are genuinely interested in our company and share our values and culture. Obviously we can’t tell what sort of values a person has by their resume but by eliminating those who are just blindly applying to jobs gets us a little closer to the right fit.

Are they qualified?
If you listed a certain skill set, education level, or experience needed for consideration, verify that the applicant qualifies.  In many cases applicants are just throwing our resumes to see what sticks and does not meet your qualifications.

Step two: Reading resumes
Depending on the type of position you are hiring for you will be looking for different things in the resumes you are reading. These are the things I scan for when deciding who is in the running for a first interview.

1. Long term work history – In Reno, NV (where my company resides) we have had a huge influx of warehouse and production companies open in the last five years which has led to a lot of competition for production crew members.  A trend I have noticed with many production position applicants is that they hop from one warehouse to another.  I see the same work history on about 25% of the applicants resumes, all only staying at one warehouse for one to three months each. For me this is a red flag.

2. Type of work history – Many of the production positions I hire for are entry level as we train up those employees who show the motivation and dedication to our company.  I look for work history in similar types of businesses (other print shops or skilled trades) and other fast-paced industries (restaurants or logistics).

3. Internet research – Years ago HR managers would call applicants previous employers to check references, even though there were very few things you could legally ask them. Now we have the wonderful world of the internet and social media to check references.  I usually do a quick search of the applicant on Facebook to check out their character based on what they post.  Finding that an applicant states they graduated from “The University of Marijuana” (yes this was actually on an applicants Facebook), makes me think they may not be a good fit for my company.  Other things that lead me to throw out an applicants resume are posts containing profane language or inappropriate content, and talking negatively about previous employers.

What types of positions do you hire for?  What are the three things you look for as you are screening for those you wish to interview?