Home Invasion

Step Two: The Network

Many homebased entrepreneurs first look to family and friends when recruiting employees. Debbi Boyd, owner of Olympia, Washington-based BRIM Inc., a cleaning services company, notes that "[inviting employees] into your home is like making them members of your family, so it's easier when they're family to begin with." Another option is to consider asking family, friends and even clients for referrals.

If these avenues don't pan out, try advertising. If you prefer not to list your home address, rent a mailbox for ad responses. (Similarly, if you prefer not to conduct interviews in your home, arrange to meet applicants at a public location, such as a coffeehouse.) As you receive responses, weed out those applicants who are underqualified or overqualified. While the latter may seem tempting at first, those candidates are more likely to move on once a better opportunity arises.

Review resumes for specific examples of work experience, such as tasks, responsibilities, accomplishments and positions held. Watch out for vague terms like "highly motivated communicator" or "detail-oriented supervisor." Look for unexplained gaps in employment history or a series of jobs held for short periods of time--trademarks of a "job hopper." Note spelling and grammatical errors; you don't want someone who can't proofread his or her own resume to handle your correspondence.

"Insist on references, and check them all," Hannah advises. Call previous employers, personal references and colleges to make sure the applicant has actually held the positions and earned the degrees claimed. If you're hiring young employees with little or no experience, Hannah recommends talking to teachers or relatives.

Jot down interview questions in advance, and rehearse them with a family member or friend. Develop open-ended, information-gathering questions, rather than questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." For example, rather than asking "Do you enjoy office work?" ask "What do you like best about office work?" or "What do you consider your strongest administrative skill?" Instead of asking "Can you handle customer complaints?" ask them to describe how they might handle such a situation.

Be sure you know what types of questions you can't ask, including questions about age, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and marital or family status. If you're concerned about how an applicant's personal situation might affect his or her work ability, keep your questions focused on the job. Instead of asking whether an applicant is willing to be away from his or her family for periods of time, for example, ask whether or not the applicant is willing to travel.

Keith Walton, CEO of Propaganda, a San Francisco firm that markets antique "props" for merchandising displays, notes that an interview should do more than determine an applicant's skills. "Think about who you would want in your home and the type of energy that person will bring into your home," he says. "Will that energy be chaotic or peaceful? Look for someone who `matches' you, someone you'd want to spend time with." Walton and his partner, David Tyreman, prefer to hire employees with a sense of fun: "You don't want someone in your home who can't crack a joke or a smile," Walton says.

Hannah, who recommends putting new hires on a month-long probation, agrees: "If you're working closely together, you have to get along. You have to know what type of person you're hiring." Trustworthiness, she says, is an important criterion. And this applies to more than your personal relationship. You have to feel you can trust this person with your business.

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