CNGA Members Offer Tips for Successful Hiring Practices

By Ben Northcutt, CNGA Staff

This time of year can be fraught with frustration when it comes to finding the quality and quantity of workers you need to run your business smoothly in the busy months ahead. When asked what practices are essential for your company in making successful hiring decisions, below is a compilation of what CNGA members had to say.

Thank you to the following companies for providing input: Alameda Wholesale Nursery, Arbor Valley Nursery, Bookcliff Gardens, Britton Nursery, City of Lakewood, Fort Collins Nursery, Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery, Gulley Greenhouse and James Nursery,

The Hiring Process and Where to Find Applicants

In hiring for some of the more active production and shipping positions, we like to take them on a brisk walking tour of part of our greenhouse. If they can keep up and are engaged with questions, etc., that is a good sign! If they seem sluggish and fall behind, we typically look for different candidates. – Gulley Greenhouse

We publish a hiring advertisement on Craigslist and invite applicants to apply in person at the nursery during regular business hours. We raised our starting hourly wage to $17.00 this year.  All positions at the nursery are permanent full-time positions with overtime during the busy season. The individual department managers interview the applicant and provide a job description and brief tour of the facility. – Alameda Wholesale Nursery

Cast a wide net! We find interested applicants for seasonal positions from a variety of sources:  Inquiries from our website contact form, in person (walk-in) applicants, applicants through online postings (Indeed, LinkedIn, CNGA’s job board), as well as “in-house” recruits (friends and relatives of current employees). In-house recruiting is often one of our best sources of finding new employees. Typically, they get very personal onboarding from their recruiter, and the current recruiting employee almost always brings individuals who have the skills to succeed in working for our company. – Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery

For inside sales associates, office personnel and delivery drivers, we use the CNGA job board and the Betterteam job posting site. We haven’t had any success with Betterteam for hiring yard laborers, but fairly good success with the other positions. We typically hire 5-8 laborers per season and get most applications from word-of-mouth contacts with current employees. Since we are on a busy street, we also get good response from a simple HELP WANTED banner hung on the fence. – James Nursery

During the last 2-3 years, we have realized we need a very diversified approach to hiring. Instead of just relying on LinkedIn, we have been trying to post certain jobs across as many platforms as possible. Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Indeed, radio ads, and flyers are just some of the avenues that we have used with success. We find that some weeks a certain platform is getting better responses for whatever reason, and another one might click in the week after, so diversifying has helped with that. We also realized we need to switch up our strategy depending on the job type and location. For example, we have pretty good success with drivers on Craigslist and Glassdoor, but absolutely no hits when we go with LinkedIn or flyers. For location, our typical channels for advertising were just not working for the Greeley and Cheyenne markets. After some discussions with folks up there, it turns out that radio ads get the best traction. We started this radio campaign pretty recently, and it’s already been a success. – Arbor Valley Nursery

How Important Is Experience?

We don’t always get applicants with experience. In those cases, we try to look for something similar. Customer service experience helps. Working with other people on a crew of some sort is helpful. Experience in our field definitely helps, but everyone we hire will be asked to learn our systems and learn things that they have never done before. We can’t always hire candidates that meet all of our requirements and often-times, they have no applicable experience. If we find able-bodied candidates with a good disposition that appear to be responsible and motivated, chances are we will give them a shot. – Bookcliff Gardens

One of our key hiring practices is that we hire based on who we feel will be the best person to elevate the work being performed by the existing team and finding a candidate who has a strong work ethic versus experience or knowledge. Most of the time, you can train someone to learn the essential functions of a position, but you can’t change who they are on the inside. Candidates who do research on the organization prior to an interview are indicative of someone who has a high level of interest in our organization. – City of Lakewood

Don’t write someone off just because they lack experience. This tip is especially true for entry-level positions, where applicants looking to break into the field might not have a lot of formal experience. While you can always train a skill set into new hires, it is much harder (if not impossible) to train someone for the right attitude or mindset. Oftentimes these “soft” skills like attitude, ability to work as a team, and communication have a much quicker and larger impact on a team than formal knowledge. – Fort Collins Nursery

Tips For Interviewing

When it’s time to hire, be quick and responsive to applicants. When the labor market is competitive, it helps to be very timely in meeting and interviewing interested potential employees. When applicants come in person during hiring season, we try to have a hiring manager meet them before they leave if possible, and even give them an impromptu mini interview and tour of our nursery.  Also, we try to schedule interviews as quickly as we can—next day if possible.  If the applicant looks to be a good fit, an offer of employment should follow quickly as well. – Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery

If you want to attract and hire the best candidates for your opening, you need to effectively sell your business. Especially in a tight labor market, applicants can afford to be more choosy on where they work, which can mean that more businesses are fighting over a smaller applicant pool than ever before. The hiring process should be a two-way street; just like applicants should be trying to convince you that they are the best person for your job, you need to convince applicants that you are the best place for them to spend their time and energy. While pay and benefits are certainly a big factor in making decisions for applicants, highlight those intangible factors as well like culture, community involvement and more. – Fort Collins Nursery

Trying to learn who somebody is, and if they would be an asset to our company, is difficult in a short interview. When asking applicants questions to determine if they would be a good fit for the position, we like to ask a variety of open-ended questions to gain insight to their work style and, more importantly, their soft skills. When it comes to working in a team environment, a person’s ability to work harmoniously with others is of the highest importance. We’ve learned that listening more than talking during interviews allows us get the best feel for an applicant’s potential fit in our company. – Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery

The Importance of a Personality That Fits

We look for candidates with a good attitude and a friendly disposition. We need people who are able to get along with other people—preferably get along with everyone. We prefer candidates with problem-solving abilities and a tendency to be helpful. – Bookcliff Gardens

For almost all of our new hires, we extend an invitation to a probational (trial) period of several days of work to “try things out” and see if it might be a good fit.  With this as an initial framework of hiring it makes things easier to quickly let someone go if they just don’t cut it without it feeling like a “premature firing.”  Our managers can usually tell after working with a person for only a short time whether they will be a good fit at the nursery job and if they are NOT then we can thank them for coming in to try it out then send them home with a check for the hours worked during their trial hire. – Britton Nursery

We ask candidates to “interact with our Company Mission.” We’ve found that candidates who are either clueless of (or slightly dismissive of) our Company Mission and Values typically do not work out as long-term team members. Conversely, when we find that our Mission and Values deeply resonate with candidates, they often end up being a good fit. – Britton Nursery

Treat Your Employees Right

We strive to focus on employee retention by treating people like people rather than machines.  We provide profit sharing in the form of fun holiday bonuses at the end of the year; fresh hot coffee/tea/cocoa every day; Popsicles and ice cream bars on the really hot, tough days; doughnuts and snacks are also often available in the office to employees (and customers, too). We are generally a very fun and hard-working bunch. We treat one another with respect, and we are polite and respectful of our employees and customers alike. – Alameda Wholesale Nursery