Retail jewelers tend to base hiring decisions on a candidate’s experience or personality. With this approach, you end up with salespeople who may be very pleasant or seasoned but relatively unproductive. The key to building a team of high-achieving associates lies in understanding what makes a career retailer tick and screening for those who are truly cut out for the job. Hiring based on skills and characteristics promises far better long-term results than hiring based on experience or on personality.

Building a strong team that can evolve and grow with your business is a strategic process. When you recruit simply to fill an immediate need, you’ll end up with a succession of moderate – or even mediocre – performers who may never rise to the achievement level your business demands.

Assessing your needs. The first and most important step is to determine what you need in a new addition to your staff. This requires a careful assessment of the people you have, a thorough understanding of what needs to be done in your store, and a comparative analysis of the two to identify a new hire’s responsibilities.

If you are hiring to fill a vacant position, don’t assume that what you had in the past is what you need now. Evaluate the strengths of each staff member every time you prepare to hire, matching their abilities to tasks and store functions. This will enable you to identify gaps, clarify your current needs, and develop a job description to meet those needs.

The ad. The best candidates are rarely the ones actively seeking work. So you must place your job listing – whether it’s in the form of a sign, a radio or print ad, a posting on a job bank, or any other medium you deem effective – where it will be noticed by qualified individuals who are searching for a career, not just a job. The ad copy must grab their attention, pique their curiosity, and reflect the energy and excitement in your store. Print ads must be visually appealing.

The application. Design your application form to elicit relevant information. Provide space for applicants to list their previous jobs – in order – so that you can easily see gaps and inconsistencies. Ask them about their hobbies; you can use such information in your interview to assess commitment and enthusiasm. Give candidates an opportunity to articulate their vision in an essay question or two. Be sure to provide room for them to list at least five references, and tell them not to limit their references to previous supervisors. You can learn as much valuable information from a former subordinate or peer as you can from a former boss.

Make sure that your application form does not include questions or allusions that could be interpreted as discriminatory; for example, do not refer to age or marital status.

Do not accept a résumé in lieu of a completed application. A candidate’s signature on an application is an affirmation that the information provided on the form is true. A signed application also serves as acknowledgment of your right to terminate employment should any of the information prove to be false.

Do not permit candidates to fill out the application at home. If they complete the form in your store, you can observe their focus, pace, and ability to manage pressure.

The interview. Examine the application and phrase your questions carefully. Questions should be specific and should determine whether the candidate has the skills and personality of a successful career retailer. You should look for flexibility, the ability to see the big picture, and a talent for creative problem-solving.

Ask applicants how they got where they are today. The successful candidate’s response should demonstrate enthusiasm, pride, responsibility, and flexibility. A question related to an applicant’s hobbies and interests should elicit an enthusiastic response. Through such questions, you can also determine a candidate’s ability to tell a story, the passion for something in which he or she takes pride and pleasure, and connections between the hobby and other areas of his or her life.

Prior jewelry experience may not be a predictor of success, while experience in other industries may be immediately adaptable. Personality and behavioral characteristics are the most important determinants.

The reference check. Past employers tend to be reluctant to say much about a candidate’s job performance out of fear of liability. However, you can get key information from references simply by asking the right questions in the right ways. If you begin by requesting suggestions for ways to build a good working relationship with the candidate – asking the references for help rather than for information – you can elicit frank and detailed responses. You can gain valuable information from former superiors, subordinates, colleagues, customers, and teachers.

The second interview. If a candidate emerges from the initial interview and reference check appearing to have the “right stuff” for your organization, use a second interview to determine whether he or she really will fit in. It’s best to have another person from the store conduct, or at least be present at, this second interview.

Ask questions like: “If you could build your own store today, what would it be like? What would you sell? Where would you look for people? Whom would you hire? What would your motto be?” The successful candidate’s response will demonstrate creativity, the ability to visualize ownership, attention to detail, a focus on quality, and the importance placed on personnel. The motto will express the applicant’s values.

Take care to avoid burning bridges with candidates you choose not to hire. Rejection letters should provide a true idea of whether you might consider them for a future opening – and leave the door open for them to become loyal customers.

Reducing employee turnover. A recent study from the University of Hartford found that most specialty retail employees leave a job because of issues related to job satisfaction, not salary. Even though retail work is notorious for demanding long hours, research tells us that employee dissatisfaction stems not from the hours involved but from how those hours are spent.

Fulfilling and productive activities enhance job satisfaction. An employer should articulate expectations clearly, delegate appropriately, provide resources for training and development, review progress regularly, and reward employees adequately. Frequent feedback is essential.

Turnover is a huge problem in our industry. The annual turnover rate at some stores is as high as 70%. Associated costs are staggering. Direct costs, such as hiring, training, and payroll, are easy to calculate. But the additional indirect costs, like those resulting from lack of productivity prior to separation, are often impossible to measure. There are also costs to the industry as a whole.

Studies show that when specialty retail employees change jobs, they often remain in the same type of business. They join a competitor’s staff, taking with them valuable resources such as in-depth knowledge and skills and the clientele they have established.

Widespread turnover and the constant interchange of employees within an industry create undesirable homogeneity. As employees shift from one fine jewelry store to another within a market area, the stores begin to lose their individuality. Minimizing employee turnover, therefore, will strengthen your business’s identity, and the reduced costs will improve your bottom line. The first step toward keeping your good people is to understand what makes them content with their jobs.

Effective training. Because people process information in different ways, using any single form of communication exclusively is likely to be inadequate. You need to have people with a variety of communication styles on your staff to deal with different types of customers. And you need to be versatile in your own management style in order to deal effectively with that valuable diversity among your sales staff.

The way people process information dictates how they learn. If you deliver information to your staff in a variety of ways – written and spoken, logical and creative – you will enable each individual to absorb knowledge and master skills in the most productive way.

  • Involve all associates in training activities and discussions. Conduct exercises to develop skills in such areas as displaying merchandise, writing sales slips, entering point-of-sale data, and stating sales goals. Invite participation in weekly store meetings and impromptu sales floor discussions.

  • Team up new associates with more experienced members of your staff for the first few weeks. They’ll appreciate the opportunity to observe each other.

  • Ask new staffers to report their observations and submit suggestions as they learn about different areas in the store. This will help them be creative and feel involved. Then let them try some of their ideas.

  • Ask new associates to review records or reports or to research topics important to your business. For example, ask them to compare competitors’ repair prices or have them inventory your supplies and prepare an order for the upcoming months based on past sales history. Their analysis not only may facilitate their learning but also may lead to some logical changes for your store.

  • Observe new associates with customers and provide them with feedback immediately. Reinforce skills and provide information that is lacking. Review store procedures.

  • Monitor your new associates’ progress with a checklist and planned meetings. An organized checklist that clearly states what you expect employees to master ensures that you do not overlook important considerations and enables you to review progress according to a training plan. Your checklist should include selling skills and operational areas like security, service, and display in addition to product knowledge.

Developing leadership. Many managers become frustrated when employees don’t think and act the way they do. But your associates can make valuable contributions from their own perspectives – especially if they feel confident in doing so.

Employees want appreciation in proportion to their achievements. High achievers often demand a great deal of attention. Some call that “high maintenance,” but it often comes with the territory when someone really produces for you. When a manager fails to express appreciation commensurate with the employee’s expectations and performance, dissatisfaction sets in.

How do you motivate your high-performance staff? Start by recognizing that you cannot motivate anyone to do anything! Everyone is motivated, but people do things for their own reasons, not yours. Recognize their individual differences and strengths and reward actions and contributions that produce results. Say “thank you,” but be specific. Acknowledge the actions or results that they perceive as high in value as well as those that are important to you. Some people need to be recognized for their creativity and ideas, others for their high productivity, still others for accuracy.

You’ve looked in the right places, you’ve hired the right person, and you’ve begun the right training. Now make it stick for the long term. You will secure the commitment of true career retailers if you enable them to develop their positions as they develop themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean creating new positions. If you maintain flexibility in all job functions, you will allow each employee the opportunity to grow – and you won’t have to concern yourself with replacing them.