Hiring Well


Ellen Leaf Moore, who with her husband has owned and operated Fezziwig's Marketplace in historic Lebanon, Ill., since 2007, believes the best way to hire the best employees is to see the future.

That’s best accomplished, of course, by examining the past.

Moore’s career has included six-and-a-half years as a general manager at both Williams-Sonoma in Atlanta and its Pottery Barn division in St. Louis, where she gained experience in recruiting, hiring and training with eight managers and 150 to 200 employees working under her. Fezziwig’s has 10 employees, and a few more than that during the holiday season. The store offers a variety of gourmet delights including premium loose leaf tea, gourmet food selections, wine, entertaining, and home décor.

“You never know until they’re on board and working with you” how they will work out, says Moore, “but there are all kinds of questions and things to look for that can help you decide, ‘These people are actually the better shot of working out for me.’” Too many executives ask the wrong questions when interviewing prospective employees, she feels. “Most people ask lots of questions about work history and things like that, but they don’t really get to know the person. They’re not doing what’s called behavioral interviewing.”

Put simply, behavioral interviewing seeks to discern how employees will behave in certain situations based on their actions and perceptions in the past. This type of interview, Moore stresses, has proven five times more effective than traditional interviewing practices.

“What it does it actually determines what their outcomes will be in the future. Basically, past performance will determine future actions,” said Moore.

Case in point, according to Moore: “I was asking one of my associates, ‘What’s the most difficult customer-service position you’ve been in?’ They said, ‘Oh, I deal with customer service all the time.’ I said, ‘Great, give me an example: who was (the customer)? What happened? What did you do? What was the outcome?’” Those answers, she reflects will tell her whether or not this is a part who can think on her feet, whether she reacted in the way Moore wants her people to react, and what if anything they learned from the interaction. “It’s a great way to interview.”

Many people – “not all, but many,” Moore notes “will make a snap hiring decision because they’re think, ‘Oh gosh, this person is great and they’re so enthusiastic.’ But they haven’t asked a lot of the right questions to find out about future performance. It’s easy to get a job, it’s not easy to do the job. Can they do the job that you want them to do?

Moore asks employees two sets of questions: the first to tell whether or not she likes the person in front of her, the second to see how they may react if hired, and what their idea of customer service is.

“I may ask them something like, ‘What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever done for someone?’” she recounts. “If they think for a moment and say, ‘Well, the other day I washed my grandmother’s car’ I think, ‘Well okay, that was really, really nice of you, but what I’m looking for is somebody who is going to go above and beyond.’ ”

Another favorite question is ‘Where have you shopped recently where you received excellent customer service?’ “I get a lot of ‘Oh, I was over at The Gap and the person got me extra sizes and they wrapped it up for me and they thanked me.’ Well to me, that’s their job. That’s not going above and beyond. So if that’s what they think, they’re going to have a tough time working for me because they can’t identify what is really good customer service.”