Professional Jeweler Archive: Hiring Trainable Employees

August 2000


Hiring Trainable Employees

The critical question is not "Should I hire her?" It's "Can I train her?"

Job applicants. They come to you eager and with all the right answers. But do you ask the right questions? In the rapidly evolving world of retail jewelry, experience is important, but the ability to learn and adapt is even more important. The knowledge base needed for success today most likely won’t deliver success in the future. Simply put, anyone you hire must be trainable – quickly trainable – and able to thrive in an ongoing learning environment.

How do you determine an individual’s trainability during a job interview? Asking and analyzing the answers to a few simple questions will offer you strategic insights. Consider incorporating the following questions into your interview – and really listen to the answers.

What did you find most frustrating in your last job?

There’s always some job-related frustration; that’s why we call it “work.” A poor answer to this question would be a simple description of a frustrating situation. A good answer – an action-based answer that directly relates to trainability – outlines the frustration and how the applicant took steps to understand and correct the problem. An action-based answer shows an ability to assess problems, learn from them and develop solutions.

What is your greatest weakness?

Answering “none” raises a red flag. We all have weakness; a healthy self-awareness identifies an individual who is open to growth and improvement. Look for people who can articulate their weaknesses rather than offer vague generalities.

What are your greatest strengths?

Many applicants conveniently say they have the exact strengths you say the job requires. Be suspicious of anyone who too closely tailors his or her list of strengths to meet your needs. If you hire such an individual, you may discover he or she is less than willing to engage in learning opportunities for fear of revealing shortcomings. Or the person may engage in enough “closet learning” to keep a job, but will never to rise to the performance levels he or she could have otherwise.

Have you ever been fired?

“No” is a good answer if it’s truthful (always check references carefully). If the answer is “Yes,” ask the applicant to detail the circumstances. Putting the blame on someone else shows an inability to recognize personal shortcomings. This translates into an inability to recognize the need for ongoing education and continued self-improvement.

Cite a mistake you made in dealing with a problem customer and ask the applicant if the same thing has happened to him or her.

If an applicant can’t think of an example, he or she is either dishonest or marginally self-aware, neither of which is acceptable. Learning is directly linked to the ability to recognize a personal need for it. If this need isn’t present, learning won’t be a priority. A lack of self-awareness can translate also into problems adapting to and accommodating the needs of customers and staff.

What motivates you most?

Acceptable answers include money, security, prestige and a good challenge. If you get one of these responses, ask the applicant to explain in detail to ensure his or her outlook is broad and balanced. “Doing a good job” is a better answer because it indicates a focus on performance. “Learning how to do a better job” is an even more insightful response. It reveals the applicant understands continuing education is a critical part of any job and a key to growth and success.

It’s wise not to base a hiring decision solely on an applicant’s current knowledge or past experience. The future success of your employees – and your store – is determined largely by your employees’ willingness and ability to meet tomorrow’s challenges through on-going education and training.

–by David Peters

David Peters is director of education for Jewelers of America.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications