by John Sciacca
Employees. I’ve got 'em, you’ve got 'em. And while you may sometimes feel like you can’t live with 'em, a successful company definitely can’t live without 'em. (At least until the day that Cyberdyne Systems finally delivers on the cyborg promise. Of course, then you may have some wrongful termination suits of a different flavor…) But finding, hiring, and keeping good employees has always been a trick for this industry. Right now there is no shortage of people out there looking for work. But you don’t want to hire just any person into your fold. A bad hire can do more damage than just lost time and wages in training; it can harm your company’s rep. So, how do you cull the good ones from the bad ones?
I’ve been in this industry for nearly 14 years now, and in that time, I have seen my fair share of people come and go from our company. Some forcibly ejected where you think, “Holy crap! What was I thinking when I hired that guy?!” Others where it’s more a, “It’s just not working out. It’s not you, it’s me. But, O.K., it’s really you,” break-up. And others that move on of their own accord when the job just wasn’t right. We’ve hired people that had no industry experience, people with a construction background, people with backgrounds in “live” sound, CEDIA guys from other companies, and ex-Best Buy, Circuit City, and Bose employees.
Prior to a hire, we try we sit down and have a fairly lengthy interview, trying to ascertain who they are, what they know, and whether they will mesh with our company. I even have a 20-question “test” that I have them complete to establish their knowledge of this industry. And it doesn’t matter how people are dressed, how they handle the interview or even if they ace — though no one has — the test. Over the years, I’ve managed to identify the one criterion which seems to have the highest margin of success for finding an employee that is going to be around — and successful — for the long haul. And it can be boiled down to a single question:
“Do you have a home theater system of your own?”
I know, it’s ridiculously simple, but it has been amazingly prescient. And if tossed out amongst a barrage of other questions, “So, do you have a home theater system?” it has always elicited an honest answer. (And, seriously, if you lie to me and just say, “Yes, I have a home theater,” I have so many follow up questions drilling down into the black gold of the truth — tell me about your gear, how is it connected, how do you have this configured, what do you like about that piece, etc. — that I would shortly ferret you out. And when your lies don’t match up with what you told me, well, I ain’t gonna hire me no liars.) Amongst my current staff, the employee that has been with our company the least amount of time is five years. And every one of them answered “Yes” to the theater system litmus test.
Why is this determiner so successful? Because it demonstrates passion. When someone loves what they do, they are going to be more successful at it. They’re going to come in on the days when they don’t feel like it, they’re going to take more pride in what they do, and they’re going to have a natural level of enthusiasm that just can’t be faked. Let’s be honest; being an installer, designer, sales person, or whatever isn’t the most glamorous career choice. Trust me, I would far rather be an aloof writer living in a rustic European villa sipping red wine all day. Or a Lamborghini test driver. But if someone is doing it because they just love this industry — love it so much that they are actively involved and enjoying the end result of it even at home off the clock on their own time — then that person is far more likely to be successful. They are more likely to stay up with changes in technology, more likely to look for ways to better their install practices, and more likely to keep pushing themselves to deliver a better finished product.
Now, I’m sure that this holds true in the pro sound and commercial AV worlds as well. If you have an employee that is in a band, or that runs a PA, or likes to DJ at parties, being involved — being passionate — about what you do rather than just having a “this is my job” attitude, is going to separate the winners from the losers.
Now, it’s certainly true that you can have terrific employees who couldn’t care a whit about movies or surround sound or home theater. No doubt, there are tons of them out there. But I imagine that if you look at your staff, and yourself as well, the best amongst them will have home theater systems of their own. Add that question to your next round of interviewing and see if you don’t find your next employee of the year.