Unconventional hiring strategies can work
An unemployed and homeless day laborer who could read but not write, Gary Conroy ended up being the top salesperson at a Fredericksburg, Va., used car dealership because the business owner was willing to take a leap of faith and hire him.
“I put on a suit, got my briefcase and resumes and went over to Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg,” recalled Conroy. “I made a sign that said, ‘Gary needs a job’ and it had my phone number.’”
During his first few days of looking for work, he was stopped by the local police because he didn’t have a peddler’s permit to hold up his sign on public property. Determined to keep searching for work, Conroy moved to the edge of the parking lot at Koons Automotive because it is located at a busy intersection.
“After about three hours of me standing out there, the general manager and a sales rep came out and said, “the owner wants to meet you,” said Conroy.
Today, Conroy is on his way to earning six figures and is often the top salesperson at the dealership, according to Johnny Koons, owner of Koons Automotive.
Koons, whose extended family has been selling cars in the Southeast since the 1960s, said his religious beliefs prompted him to give Conroy a chance.
“He happened to be standing right in front of our dealership,” said Koons. “He’s dressed nicely, so we’re like, ‘we need a salesperson.’ We went out and brought him in and I said, ‘hey, tell me a little bit about yourself…He had gotten laid off from being a forklift operator and was homeless. He had nothing; he had no money, no home, no nothing, and he wanted to work. He wanted to find a job and support himself. He had a fiancée, but he refused to get married until he had a job and a stable place for them to live. He was motivated to be successful.”
Koons said he told Conroy he would have to work really hard for several months to just prove himself. Conroy worked on commission only, showing up first thing in the morning and leaving late in the evening. He diligently practiced his writing and learned how to fill out all the paperwork required to finance and close a used car sale.
While most business owners rely on job boards and online postings to find good employees, it makes sense to try a more unconventional approach once in a while, according to Steve Rodriguez, a recruiter for Cox Communications in Northern Virginia. For example, Rodriguez said he recently hired a great recruiter because she was sitting next to another Cox employee on an airplane and they chatted for three hours.
“Even a casual conversation can lead to a good hire,” he said.
Encouraging your employees to recruit new employees by offering referral bonuses is also a good tactic.
“You should also attend chamber of commerce events, networking events and trade fairs,” said Rodriguez. He also keeps an eye out for salespeople when he’s out shopping. “I have given out my card to retail staff I meet in a mall,” he said. “I look for a good personality and see if they handle the transaction in an enthusiastic manner.”
Dr. Margaret Gaglione, founder of Tidewater Bariatrics, a medical weight-loss practice based in Chesapeake, Va., said she also recruits great employees from other companies. For example, she hired her operations manager away from a local bank. “I liked the way he interacted with me and knew he would be a great employee,” she said.
Meanwhile, back at the Koons store, Koons said he has no regrets about hiring Conroy literally off the street.
“Salespeople are born, not developed,” said Koons. “You need to be able to communicate with people, to be able to find a common ground with somebody and have true empathy for a person’s situation.”