WASHINGTON-Knowing your work force, both individually and as a group, is the key to successful hiring and employee management in the auto service field, according to two employment experts who spoke April 21 at the Automotive Service Association's annual meeting, held in Washington. You cannot hope to separate motivated, well-adjusted applicants from ``turkeys'' without taking steps to learn as much about them as possible during the interview process, according to Mel Kleiman, president of Houston-based Humetrics Inc.
``All the turkeys have learned to dress up and look like eagles,'' Mr. Kleiman said. ``On the other hand, not all eagles look like eagles.''
Partly because of this, he said, more than 87 percent of all hirees who fail do so-``not because of capability, but because of personality and attitude.''
Furthermore, a bad employee may be difficult to get rid of, because he can hide behind laws meant to protect workers from unfair firing-such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
``The government has taken every turkey in the workplace and put them on the Endangered Species List,'' Mr. Kleiman said.
Employers who want to hire the best people available must learn to gain as much information about applicants as possible, without tripping over any legal taboos, according to Mr. Kleiman.
``You have two choices-you can hire easy to manage tough, or you can hire tough to manage easy,'' he said.
``What's the most common interviewing mistake? Telling the applicants what you want before they open their mouths-doing the talking, not the listening.''
Mr. Kleiman recommended that employers turn the interview process into a test of the applicant's capability, personality and attitude.
If the job requires some skill at arithmetic, he said, give the applicant a sixth-grade math test.
When you give the job seeker an application form, tell him to fill it out completely. If he fails to do so, Mr. Kleiman said that alone tells you several things-that the applicant doesn't follow instructions, can't be counted on to do required paperwork and may have something on his record to hide.
A true-false personality test can also tell a great deal about an applicant.
``If he says `false' to `I use my seat belt at least 75 percent of the time,' he's probably careless about safety in general,'' he said. ``If he says `true' to `Some of my friends use illegal drugs,' chances are so does he.''
At the same time, employers must be careful not to cross the legal lines.
``You can ask an applicant, `When was the last time you had an accident in your workplace?'*'' he said. But ``you can't ask people if they have ever been injured in the workplace, or if they've ever applied for workers' compensation.''
Applicants for auto service jobs today are likely to be ``Generation X'ers''-people between the ages of 17 and 29.
These young people in general have different attitudes about life and work than the ``Baby Boomer'' generation, and need to be handled accordingly, said Bob Losyk, president of Innovative Training Solutions Inc. in Davie, Fla.
Members of Generation X were largely left alone while growing up because both parents worked, Mr. Losyk said.
They tend to be self-centered, immature and insecure. They crave nice things, yet place fun over work as a priority; have a negative view of the world, yet are notably creative, energetic and enthusiastic; and lack communication skills, yet desperately seek someone to listen to them.
``They need to be taught responsibility,'' Mr. Losyk said.
``They're not necessarily irresponsible-some of them have had to carry responsibilities beyond their years-but they need to be taught the consequences of their actions.
``If they come in late for a meeting, take away their chair and force them to stand through it,'' he said. ``Remember-give them an inch, and they'll take a mile. But if you get too tough, they're out of there. You have to strike a balance.''
Above all, Generation X'ers need to be listened to, made to feel wanted and given a sense of self-worth.
``ALI''-ask, listen, implement-is the acronym Mr. Losyk said should be foremost in every service shop owner's mind when he deals with young workers.
``Too many young people say, `My boss never asks me my opinion because I'm young,''' he said. ``Sam Walton was a competitor to most of the people in this room, but he was onto something when he said his best ideas came from clerks and stock people. We need to tap into this more.''
When one member of the audience complained about the ``MTV lifestyle'' of his younger employees, Mr. Losyk noted their values can be quite different from those of their employers.
``But if they're honest and ethical, there can be a meeting of the minds,'' he said.