Finding Great Part-Timers

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Part-time workers can be lifesavers when things get crazy. Maybe you're planning a big in-store event and you need help with the customer surge. Or maybe a key employee has announced he can only work half days next week so you need someone to fill in. And how about your plans to open evenings and weekends? If the regular staff can't make it, you'll need people who can.

In situations like these, contingent employees can mean the difference between success and failure. Finding great workers, though, is often easier said than done. Traditional help-wanted newspaper ads compete against other employers for a dwindling supply of prospects.

"The market for part-time and temporary workers is getting tighter and tighter," warns Mel Kleiman, a Houston-based management consultant who helps employers with their hiring practices. "Today there really is a war for talent."

But here's some good news: You can find great part-timers by casting a wide net. Consider these categories of workers:

Retirees "Retired people who want to work for a little extra money and to keep in touch with the world are a good source of part-time workers," says Ian Jacobsen, a Morgan Hill, Calif.-based management consultant. "One benefit is that their flexible schedules allow them to adjust to the hours you need. And they have learned how to work so you can forgo some of the training students require."

Sources: Ask your local senior centers and AARP offices for leads. "We have also had success finding older workers by posting signs for 'mall walkers,'" says Kleiman. "Those are older individuals who get their daily exercise by walking in their local malls. They are often open to suggestions for part-time jobs."

Students "Many employers find part-time workers by linking up with high schools and colleges," reports Fred Martels, president of People Solution Strategies, Chesterfield, Mo. But avoid the temptation to hire just anyone who applies: Many young people have yet to develop a work ethic or the ability to interact well with others. Communicating your values in terms of customer service and hiring only those who understand it is vital. "It is important to be selective and for people to know that you are choosy," adds Martels. "Let them feel it's special to go to work at your business."

Be aware students often need .exible schedules so they can juggle classes and a job. "College professors are generally unsympathetic when a student asks to take a midterm or final exam at a different time than the rest of the class because of work," warns Jacobsen.

Sources: Most colleges and universities have student employment offices where jobs may be listed. Student publications and job boards are also potential media for ads.

Mothers with young children "Mothers very often like to work part time for a little diversion from the bottle-and-diaper routine," says Jacobsen.

Like retirees, mothers usually have a history of work. However, you will need to offer some flexibility so they can discharge their family responsibilities.

Sources: Jacobsen suggests seeking out local organizations of mothers.

One example in California is Las Madres (lasmadres.org). "Also, if you have full-time employees who have not returned from maternity leave, they might be interested in working part time."

FINDING MORE WORKERS

Creative searching will uncover still more great part-time workers. Consider these sources:

Previous employees Maintain a list of individuals who have either worked part time or on a temporary basis before. And include those who have worked full time and left your premises on good terms: Many will welcome part-time work.

"The best part-time people are the ones who worked for you in the past," says Kleiman. "You do not have to retrain them." One more thing: Treat your part-time and temporary workers well because you may need their services again.

Current workers Your current employees know your workplace culture and your emphasis on customer service. So ask for references for parttimers. "Be clear what you are looking for," suggests Martels. "Emphasize that you want only the best parttimers with a work ethic in sync with your own." • Workers at other businesses Are you impressed by a salesperson at another business or an enthusiastic waiter at a restaurant. Kleiman suggests recruiting them: "Give these individuals cards that say 'I appreciate the great service. If you are looking for an extra shift I need someone part time.' This technique has worked really well for me."

The Internet The Web has become a critical link between employers and work candidates. "One of my favorite sources for part-timers is Craigslist," says Kleiman. This Web site (craigslist.com) posts employment (and other) classifieds for 450 cities worldwide. It certainly helps you cast a wide net: The service claims it receives more than 750,000 new job listings each month. And the listings are free, or provided at very low cost in the case of a few cities.

HIRE THE BEST

Finding a resource for prospects is one thing; inspiring them to want to work for you is another. One way to attract the best candidates is to list the benefits of working at your business, then emphasize these benefits in your advertising.

Maybe you offer daytime work hours. Your pitch might be, "Be home when your kids are home." Do you provide health benefits. Then your pitch might be, "Obtain protection for yourself and your family." How about attractive working conditions? Then try, "Come join our friendly family."

Of course, you don't want to attract just any prospect. You know from experience some new employees will please customers and help fatten your bottom line. Others will turn customers away and tarnish your reputation.

You can reduce the risk of hiring a dud with smart interview practices. Assessing each candidate's enthusiasm for work is perhaps job No. 1. "Ask the applicants what attracts them to the sort of work you need done, and also what they find  less attractive," suggests Jacobsen. "You want to create a situation where they are sufficiently interested in and committed to what you have to offer that they will do whatever they can to honor their commitments to you."

And how about reliability. "A good part-time worker can be counted on to show up for work as scheduled," says Jacobsen. "When screening prospects, ask about the various time commitments in their lives, and ask how they will fit your work into their schedules." Has the prospect worked part time before. Jacobsen suggests mining the individual's track record for clues to future performance. "Ask what personal situations have mandated adjustments to their work schedules and how they went about making those adjustments."

People skills are equally essential. Does the prospect make eye contact? Take real interest in other people? Open up with a hearty "hello" when approached. All of these characteristics are essential to business success. "You can identify a lot of favorable behaviors in an interview," notes Martels. "Watch the body language of your candidates."

AVOID PROBLEMS

Make sure you and your new hire are on the same wavelength when it comes to employment expectations. "Many people will accept part-time positions in the hope that they become full-time," notes Jacobsen. "Unless it is possible for a job to expand in that way, these are people to avoid. No sooner are they trained and ready to become productive when they get an offer of full-time work elsewhere, and they leave."

Prepare now for the time when you need part-time workers. Rushing the hiring process too often results in regrets. As this article suggests, there are plenty of fish in the sea for those who cast the right lures. Your real challenge is filtering the candidates down to those will help rather than hinder. "There may never be a shortage of available employees," notes Kleiman. "But there will always be a shortage of great ones."

Understanding the Part-Time Market

Not all part-time employees are alike. Indeed, they tend to fall into two broad categories, according to Mel Kleiman, a Houston-based management consultant who specializes in helping employers hire the right people. The first category is composed of individuals who are looking for some work to keep busy or for extra money. They are often retirees. The second category includes the workers with fulltime jobs who need a second one to help pay bills or save up for education or other expenses.

"Understanding these two markets is important to hiring right and managing well," says Kleiman. Are you hiring from the first group. Understand that meaningful work and recognition of a job well done are more important than a fat paycheck or flexibility in scheduling. Having older workers mentor younger ones is a great way to keep them aboard.

The motivators for the second group are far different. Very often the size of the paycheck and flexibility in terms of work scheduling to accommodate the primary job take precedence over meaningful work.

—P.M.P

Keep Part-Timers From Jumping Ship

Have some great part timers. Don't let them get away.

Remember the best workers are in demand, and they are likely to leave if there's something about your organization they don't like.

"I have seen organizations where part-timers are made to feel like second-class citizens," warns Ian Jacobsen, a Morgan Hill, Calif.-based management consultant. "Not surprisingly, turnover is high — as much as 300 percent a year." Just imagine the cost in terms of retraining alone, to say nothing of irritated customers.

Conversely, adds Jacobsen, great work environments create loyal workers. "Where part-timers are made to feel like co-equals, turnover can be under 10 percent a year. I have met part-timers who have worked for over 20 years for the same employer, even after their financial needs may have gone, just because their work made them feel important and they enjoyed being part of the team."

Here are some ways to retain the top talent:

OFFER BENEFITS. "Health insurance benefits are important for many part-time workers," says Jacobsen. "I suggest that people working at least half time be eligible for inclusion in the health plans available to full-timers. I also suggest that they be eligible for a company contribution proportionate to their percentage of fulltime employment."

ACKNOWLEDGE PERFORMANCE. It really helps for supervisors to acknowledge the value of part-timers. Say something like, "Thanks for coming in today, Sam! We really need your help on this."

AVOID FAVORITISM. "Be fair with all of your full-time and parttime workers," says Fred Martels, president of People Solution Strategies, Chesterfield, Mo. "Get to know them as human beings. Learn about their families, and ask after them." Ask their opinions about your business policies and about how to improve customer service. This will show that you place a high value on their expertise and their acuity. "Our surveys show that the No. 1 reason why people quit is that they feel disrespected."

—P.M.P.

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