Ask the Right First Question When You Hire Part-Time Employees

Don't get sabotaged by a candidate who doesn't actually want the part-time job you're offering.

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By Doug and Polly White

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"Part-time bookkeeper/office manager," read our client's ad, which we posted it on CraigsList and LinkedIn, as well as several other sites. The response was encouraging: More than 100 individuals applied.

Related: Paying Employees During the Startup Stage

After screening resumes for the skills, behaviors and experience we had settled on with our client, we interviewed six potential employees by phone and scheduled the most promising three for personal interviews. We crafted our questions and a case situation to test for the right behaviors and knowledge. We checked references, background and education. And we offered the job to our favorite candidate. But then came her request for a day to consider the offer -- we knew this was a bad sign.

Things only got worse when the applicant turned down the job offer, stating she needed a full-time job with benefits. We were astounded. How had she not understood that this was a part-time job? We had described the hours needed, the hourly wage, the absence of benefits, the working conditions. Now we'd have to reverse course, forcing our client to wait longer for help to arrive. The process had failed.

In fact, the failure had begun with our first question. "Are you looking for a part-time job?" we asked. (Each applicant answered "yes.") But this was the wrong question. The right one was, "Why do you want a part-time job?"

Related: 4 Ways You Can Get Ready for a Part-Time Workforce

Despite the improving economy, the job market is still flooded with highly qualified unemployed and under-employed people. However, most of these folks want full-time positions. Who can blame them? A full-time job normally means more hours and therefore more money than part-time employment offers. Full-time positions are also more likely to offer health benefits, paid time off and other perquisites most applicants desire.

Still, some of these job seekers will take a part-time position as a stopgap while they continue look for a full-time position. If they have exhausted unemployment and other benefits, part-time work may be their best or only option. And, while we understand this motivation to apply for and accept part-time jobs, these desires won't mesh with the employer's.

Meanwhile, there are legitimate reasons for preferring part-time work. We have found successful hires in retirees who want to work only a few extra hours to supplement retirement income, or pursue special interests, such as travel and hobbies. In these cases, the flexibility that often accompanies part-time work can actually be a bonus.

Then there are those workers who have other obligations (children, aging parents or other needs), who view working 40 or more hours each week as unattractive or impossible. Some just want to "keep their hand in the game" but don't need the money. Still others desire the companionship and camaraderie that work colleagues can offer.

Whatever the reason, the most important point is that the applicant be able to provide a legitimate and long-term reason for preferring part-time work.

So, if you're the employer looking for part-time labor, make sure that your first question is, "Why do you want a part-time position?" We learned the hard way that if you don't get the right answer to this question, none of the others will matter.

Related: How to Get Help without Hiring Full-Time Workers

Doug and Polly White

Entrepreneurs, Small Business Experts, Consultants, Speakers

Doug and Polly White are small business experts, speakers and consultants who work with entrepreneurs through Whitestone Partners. They are also co-authors of the book Let Go to GROW, which focuses on growing your business.

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