Recruit, Inspire & Retain

March 2004

Ideas for "Marketing" and Providing "Customer Service" to Current and Potential Employees

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Former Employers Won't Give References – So Why Bother to Try?

Conventional wisdom says that former employers won't give references. The trick lies in whom you ask, and how you ask them.

"I'm really sorry," the supervisor said. "I can't tell you anything more than his job title and dates of employment. Company policy."

Dave Dibble, Director of HR for Presidion Corp., said he understood, and verified that Ben had been a staff accountant from May 1999 to June 2003. Then Dibble said, "This is an important job, and it would really help me out if you could just give me an inkling of Ben's work performance. If you were going to rate what kind of employee he was on a scale of 1 to 10, would you give him an 8, 9 or 10?"

The supervisor thought for a second and said, "No question. He was a 9." Without prompting, he gave a couple of reasons for the high rating. And within a few minutes, he and Dibble were gabbing like old pals.

When people are comfortable, they talk.

Recalling the conversation, Dibble says that he rarely encounters resistance when he asks references to rate job candidates on a 1-to-10 scale. "References are comfortable because I've defined the playing field and, after all, it's just a number."

Most hiring managers have taken a spin on the reference-checking merry-go-round. In the morning, they might sidestep a call from someone wanting a reference on a former employee by saying that company lawyers prevent them from commenting on job performance. Then, in the afternoon, the same manager will be the one trying to break through the "stone wall of silence" to check the references of a prospective employee.

Expect Success 
Many managers, knowing their own policy against giving references, simply won't make such calls when they are hiring. Or, at best, they expect roadblocks, which often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. "If you start off saying to a reference, ‘Listen, I know you're not supposed to tell me this,' then he's not going to tell you," Dibble says.

He and other experts say they get into the proper mind-set by remembering all the good that comes from background checking.

  • Just letting prospective employees know that you check references discourages applicants with criminal backgrounds or falsified credentials.
  • If a former employer will only verify dates of employment, even that can reveal gaps in work history that might indicate other problems.
  • Bypass the human resources department and going straight to the applicant's former supervisor.
  • Before calling a former employer, determine what information is directly relevant to the position being filled and stick to appropriate questions. Chuck Pappalardo, Trilogy Venture Search, says, "If you ask good questions and demonstrate that you are being smart about uncovering information for the benefit of the applicant and the hiring company, you are more likely to get assistance."
  • Put the reference at ease with an appeal for objective information such as a 1-to-10 scale or a description of the duties of the applicant's former job.
  • Listen to what they say—and don't say—with pauses & hesitations.
  • Most states have laws protecting employers from civil liability when providing employment verification if the information is truthful and without malice. If the reference is still on the fence, Kevin Klimas, Carifacts, will fax them a copy of the law.
  • Ask the job applicant to sign a waiver giving his former company permission to talk about him.
  • When all else fails, mention that not providing information that may have a negative impact on the new employer can expose them to a lawsuit. Say, for example, a supervisor remains silent about a former employee having several violent outbursts. Withholding that information could make the former supervisor and his company liable for similar episodes at the employee's future workplace.

Finding other sources 
Some screeners prefer not to rely solely on references supplied by the candidate, especially for high-level positions. They use commercial databases to comb public records for undisclosed information, such as past employers. Litigation records might indicate that the applicant had a history of legal issues with past employers and coworkers. An online search engine like Google or Yahoo might bring up press releases or news reports that show an applicant was once affiliated with a company that doesn't appear on her résumé.

Screeners say that it's prudent to let the candidate know when you are checking references and have her sign the appropriate consent forms. If the applicant thinks you're going behind her back, she may become upset or even decline the job.

Digging deep, Pappalardo says, improves the odds that you will find someone who will talk about the candidate. "And if everyone refuses to give more than name, rank and serial number, it could indicate a problem with the person's past. If the individual has done a good job, you will always get a thumbs-up signal, even if it's off the record."

Adapted from Workforce Management magazine, 9/03.

 NEW!  Hiring Sources with CD: a tool kit of hiring materials, by TRAINING SYSTEMS, INC. own Cathy D. Fyock
Available at

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Recruitment, inspiration, training, and retention ideasHave a recruitment, inspiration, training, or retention idea or question? Ask by clicking the question mark, and we’ll post your idea or question (and the answer) in Answers & Ideas on Recruiting, Inspiring, Training, & Retaining Great Employees at


* Dance Flurry attendees in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. – The Fun Meters were used as a fund raiser. Sharon Anne Alley, organizer of  The Flurry, e-mailed us, “Thank you for organizing this Fun Meter button order so promptly. I am sure that the volunteers who sell the buttons for our fund raising will have fun with them, and that they will make our job of selling all the buttons easier, because they are so eye-catching! I’ll let you know how we make out.”
* Teachers, the principal, & office staff at Forest Ridge Elementary School, Oak Forest, IL. Principal David Rupert, said, “Hey, school should be fun—my button is set on MAX!”


Are You Qualified to Be a Professional?

This quiz will tell you whether you are qualified to be a “professional”. Hint: think outside the box. (When you're ready to see the answer pop up, hover over the question with your mouse cursor.)

1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?

2. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator?

3. The King of the Forest is hosting an animal conference. All the animals attend except one. Which animal does not attend?

4. There is a river you must cross, but it is inhabited by crocodiles. How do you manage it?

According to Anderson Consulting Worldwide, around 90% of the professionals they tested answered all the questions wrong. But many preschoolers got several correct answers. Anderson Consulting says this conclusively disproves the theory that most professionals have the brains of a four year old.

(If pop-up answers do not appear when you hover 
your mouse over the questions, click for answers here.)

PowerPoint screen show that features 40 humorous posters that are pre-set to work on “auto-pilot”. Makes a great “WELCOME” message or enhancement to your session break. Runs about 5 minutes, and is set to automatically recycle. You can add in your own slides. (a great place to slip in your objectives!) Get your PowerPoint screen show here!
BUY PACKS of inspirational posters. (Do a Product Search for POSTERS, then look for Training Room Posters (30/pack).)

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* * George Buck, Werden Buck Co. “I really liked the article from the February issue, Forbid Your Staff to Work After 5:00 PM. What an innovative way to work with employees. I also enjoy the quizzes each month in Love Our Posters. Last month’s ‘Just How Logical Are You?’ was hard! I wish you’d publish the answers.”

So, George, they’re listed below in italics after the questions.

  1. A murderer is condemned to death. He has to choose between three rooms. The first is full of raging fires, the second is full of assassins with loaded guns, and the third is full of lions that haven’t eaten in 3 years. Which room is safest for him? 
    The third. Lions that haven't eaten in three years are dead.
  2. A woman shoots her husband. Then she holds him under water for over 5 minutes. Finally, she hangs him. But 5 minutes later they both go out together and enjoy a wonderful dinner together. How can this be?
    The woman was a photographer. She shot a picture of her husband, developed it, and hung it up to dry.
  3. There are 2 plastic jugs filled with water. How could you put all of this water into a barrel, without using the jugs or any dividers, and still tell which water came from which jug?
    Freeze them first. Take them out of the jugs and put the ice in the barrel. You will be able to tell which water came from which jug.
  4. Can you name 3 consecutive days without using the words Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday?
    Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
  5. This is an unusual paragraph. I’m curious how quickly you can find out what is so unusual about it? It looks so plain you would think nothing was wrong with it! In fact, nothing is wrong with it! It is unusual though. Study it, and think about it, but you still may not find anything odd. But if you work at it a bit, you might find out! Try to do so without any coaching!
    The letter "e," which is the most common letter in the English language, does not appear once in the long paragraph.

In addition to the answers above, we heard new answers that worked! Thanks to all our readers who made us have to think logically to see if they should get points for their answers. So far we’ve had 5 winners: Cindy Dahl (2 time winner!), Tammy Zulauf, Nellie Bertran, Holly O’Keefe, Andy Kaufman.

** Janet Long, after participating in a lunch session on The Leadership Genius of George W. Bush, said, “I listened to the kind of culture a leadership genius can create for their employees. It really started me thinking about how that was missing at my workplace, and so I went searching for a company that felt more like the culture I wanted. You really inspired me to think.”
Congrats on your new job, Janet!

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Mentor/Personal Coach – Insider or Outsider?

Should your mentor/personal coach be from inside your company or be an outside professional? In order to ask this question, you must already know that you or your staff need one — Right? Oh, you don’t know that yet? Let’s start with what a mentor/personal coach can do for you. I believe when you look at the list below it’ll be pretty clear to you whether someone outside (benefits = totally objective re: your job/industry, not directly affected by how well you perform) vs. inside (benefits = understands the context of your work & life, may have known you for some time) is best to help you reach your objectives.

Bob Buford, author of Half Time, has an outside mentor — Peter Drucker. As he says, “Not all of us are going to find Peter Drucker to serve as our mentor but the example he sets & the techniques he utilizes comprise a virtual manual for maximizing the mentor/personal coach relationship”. So, here’s what Bob says Peter does for him:

1. Defines the Landscape
Creates the context for individual endeavor, explains the environment in which we function.

2. Describes Opportunity and Potential
Helps to identify results, deploy capacities, develop strategies, and measure success.

3. Clarifies My Strengths and Abilities
Focuses on making talents productive, building on strengths, and bringing out the gifts of others.

4. Identifies My False Assumptions and Faulty Thinking
Demonstrates how conventional wisdom thwarts innovation, unworthy goals stifle initiative and resistance to change impedes excellence.

5. Encourages and Affirms Me
Inspires confidence and courage, spurs commitment to core values and vision. Provides a positive and uplifting influence.

6. Sorts Out My Productive Strategies and Wasted Effort
Offers a sounding board for projects and programs. Creates criteria by which to evaluate strengths and weaknesses, successes, and failures.

And Always
Like any good mentor, he builds on individual’s strengths and strives to make their weaknesses irrelevant. To that end, he listens carefully, asks a lot of questions and is careful to work only with those who take his counsel seriously and act accordingly. He in quintessentially practical, always applying his lessons and insights to the real world. But he never forgets, and never lets you forget, that you have a contribution to make to that same world.

Mentoring isn’t just about getting, it’s also about giving back. At a recent dinner to honor Peter Drucker’s receipt of the Medal of Freedom, a good friend, who had also been mentored by Peter, looked over to me and said, “I guess we are the bearers of his legacy.” It occurred to me then that the best way to compensate our mentor is to carry on his work, passing wisdom and experience once from one generation to the next.

Adapted from Half Time magazine, Nov/Dec, 2002

We’d love to work with you and your staff if you decide an outside mentor will be most effective in helping you achieve! Call 800-469-3560 to discuss your needs from top executives to any level in your organization.

Making the Most of Being Mentored, by Gordon Shea

Mentoring: How to Develop Successful Mentoring Behaviors, by Gordon Shea

(10% off by typing “RIR” in Special Instructions) Or e-mail  

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The Top Training Priorities for 2004 Report Is Out

The Training Magazine report just came in my mailbox! I found it even more valuable this year than last in comparing it with the learning priorities we’re hearing from organizations.

The major priority that struck me – Align training with business strategy — YEAH! We’ve been preaching this for years and even helping our clients do it without them knowing it if that’s what it took to help them only do the training when it met a business objective. 

Now you’ve read my soap box – take a look at the list for yourself. Then, use it to set your own priorities:

Business strategy, Business Impact, ROI               22.97%
            Align training with business strategy                   13.48%
            Business impact of training                                  4.34%
            Culture and change                                             2.91%
            Measurement, evaluation, ROI for training           2.24%

 Softskills Training                                                     18.63%
            Leadership development                                      8.06%
            Management development                                   4.27%
            Customer service training                                    3.59%
            Teamwork training                                              0.95%
            Interpersonal skills                                              0.81%
            Diversity                                                            0.75%
            Sexual harassment training                                  0.20%

 Business Skills and Quality Training                        7.11%
            Business skills/professional development              5.01%
            Quality skills training                                           1.42%
            Lean manufacturing                                            0.68%

 HR Related                                                                11.04%
            Competency management                                   3.52%
            Workforce development                                      3.05%
            New employee training                                       1.96%
            Succession planning                                            1.02%
            Career planning                                                  0.75%
            Orientation                                                         0.75%

 Enhancing the Quality of the Training Function         9.35%
            Enhance the quality of training                             3.39%
            Curriculum development                                      3.05%
            Extend training to a global audience                      1.15%
            Managing the training function                             1.02%
            Needs analysis                                                    0.75%

Online Learning                                                          8.27%
            Blended learning                                                 4.67%
            Online learning                                                   3.59%

Sales Training                                                              7.38%
            Sales training                                                      2.51%
            Product training                                                  1.83%
            Customer training                                               1.76%
            New product training                                          1.29%

 Technical Training                                                      6.10%
            Technical skills training                                       3.93%
            IT training                                                          1.76%
            Operator training                                                0.41%

 Performance Management                                         2.44%
            Performance management                                  2.44%

Safety & Compliance Training                                    1.83%
            Regulatory or compliance training                        1.83%
            Did not answer/not applicable/other                     4.88%

            TOTALS:                                                     100.00%


Elevators: How to Move Training Up From the Basement, by John Noonan
Skill Wars: Winning the Battle for Productivity & Profit, by Ed Gordon.  (10% off by typing “RIR” in Special Instructions) Or e-mail

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Finally – A Performance Review Process That Actually Helps Employees Achieve Goals!

Our good friends at Bridgeway just finished their first year of a 2 phase annual employee performance evaluation system. 

Jim Starnes, their Executive Director, tells us excitedly: “Employee’s goals are now evaluated every 6 months and a pot of money is set aside during each 6 month period for increases in pay — the increases may be a one time bonus or an increase in employee base. The money can be given out all at once or over a 6 month period depending on the goals and actual performance. The organization sets aside a sum of money each year for increases — these increases can be given out in the primary evaluation period or in the primary evaluation period or in the secondary evaluation 6 months later. By having 2 chances each year to give out $ supervisors feel that they can set up “programs” for individual staff. A “program” might be as follows: “Mary will have all case notes complete within 6 hours of completing a unit of service — goal is 98% compliance — 100% compliance in 24 hours. When Mary meets that goal for 3 consecutive months she gets increase — whenever it happens during the year. It will be evaluated at least every 6 months, but could be more often if necessary.”

This last year we had a first — supervisory staff actually requested slightly less money than we had set aside. Why? Because they know if someone was close but not quite there they could get additional monies later.

We started the system about 4 years ago — it takes that long to become part of the culture. The first year people were shocked when they did not receive a raise for just doing what they did last year. They now know we’re serious and if they want an increase they must pay attention to their goals.

The other change that we made was to allow all positions to have a 50% range — if you started a job at $10 an hour the performance range went up to $15. This allows for growth without having to change jobs — and shows staff we’re serious about performance.

This is working well now and we will expand this next year to 75% and go to 100% in the future so we can keep and reward our outstanding performers. People are still struggling with the fact that a new, hard charging employee can surpass the wage of an old hand who is just meeting minimal expectations.

Another side effect is that many marginal employees have gotten the message and have resigned rather than “put up with all those goals” — saving unemployment and other costs and making room for motivated employees.

The system is not perfect but it’s far better than any “across the board system” that we had in the past.”

We’ve just learned of another organization that will also be implementing an innovative, and sure to be successful system. Stay tuned!


Winning the Talent Wars: How to Manage & Compete in the High-Tech, High-Speed, Knowledge-Based, Superfluid Economy, by Bruce Tulgan. (10% off by typing “RIR” in Special Instructions) Or e-mail


Pay People Right, by Patricia Zingheim


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Recruitment, inspiration, training, and retention ideasHave a recruitment, inspiration, training, or retention idea or question? Ask by clicking the question mark, and we’ll post your idea or question (and the answer) in Answers & Ideas on Recruiting, Inspiring, Training, & Retaining Great Employees at


March 10–Telephone Day
March 12–Employee Appreciation Day
March 14–Genius Day
March 19–Let’s Laugh Day & Chocolate Caramel Day (Let’s laugh while eating chocolate!)
March 22–Sing Out Day & Goof Off Day
March 24–Chocolate Covered Raisins Day
April 1–National Fun At Work Day

Call TRAINING SYSTEMS, INC. at 800-469-3560 for ideas!

March 22-24, 2004
SHRM 2004 Spring Seminar Series, HR Generalist Certificate Program, Atlanta, CA,

April 5-7, 2004
SHRM 2004 Spring Seminar Series, HR Generalist Certificate Program, Dallas, TX,

April 19-21, 2004
SHRM 2004 Spring Seminar Series, HR Generalist Certificate Program, Washington, D.C.,

May 3-5, 2004
SHRM 2004 Spring Seminar Series, HR Generalist Certificate Program, Los Angeles, CA,

May 10-12, 2004
SHRM 2004 Spring Seminar Series, HR Generalist Certificate Program, Le Meridien,  
Chicago, IL,

July 19-21, 2004
SHRM 2004 Spring Seminar Series, HR Generalist Certificate Program, Cleveland, OH,

March 22-24, 2004
SHRM Global Forum’s 27th Annual Conference & Exposition, Sheraton Bal Harbour Beach Resort, FL,

March 27-31, 2004
International Association of Conference Centers Annual Conference, Grapevine, TX,

March 29-31, 2004
IQPC’s 2nd Annual Instructional Design & Curriculum Development Summit, Hotel InterContinental, New Orleans, LA,

March 28-30, 2004
Meeting Professionals International Professional Education Conference, Edinburgh, Scotland,

April 18-23, 2004
42nd Annual ISPI International Performance Improvement Conference & Exposition, Tampa, FL,

April 19-21, 2004
Employment Management Associations 35th Annual Conference & Exposition
Washington, D.C., 

April 19-21, 2004
Accelerated Learning Training Methods Workshop, Marriott Lenox, Atlanta, GA, 

May 3-5, 2004
Accelerated Learning Training Methods Workshop, Jurys Hotel, Washington, D.C.,

June 14-16, 2004
Accelerated Learning Training Methods Workshop, The Geneva Inn, Lake Geneva, WI ,

July 7-9, 2004
Accelerated Learning Training Methods Workshop, Hotel InterContinental, Toronto, CAN,

May 23-26, 2004
National Association of Workforce Development Professionals 15th Annual Conference, Portland, OR, 

June 6-9, 2004
20th Annual Training Directors’ Forum 2004, Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, Phoenix, AZ, 

June 17-20, 2004
IAF Conference 2004, Scottsdale, AZ, 

June 21-22, 2004
Preventing Death by Lecture!, presented by TRAINING SYSTEMS, INC. own Sharon L. Bowman, M.A., The Westin Westminster, Westminster, CO,

June 27-30, 2004
SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, LA,


Big Companies Help You Help Others
  • Keebler & Kellogg’s have teamed up for a breast cancer donation program, 

  • Tums will donate 10% for each bottle of antacid purchased to the American Firefighter’s First Responder Institute,

  • Folgers will donate $1 for each foil seal from their 39-oz Classic Roast to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation,

  • Campbells will donate up to 5 million cans of Chunky soup, together with the National Football League, Follow the links to find out how they need you to help. 

Go to to contribute to these 5 organizations: Hunger Site, Breast Cancer Site, Child Health Site, Rainforest Site, and Animal Rescue Site.

Support your local animal shelter! Recycle your inkjet, laser, fax toner cartridges. provides pre-paid mailing envelopes.

Recycle your old computer!

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Are You Qualified to Be a Professional? Answers
1. How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator?  ANSWER: Open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe, and close the door. This question tests whether you tend to do simple things in an overly complicated way.
2. How do you put an elephant into a refrigerator? Did you say, “Open the refrigerator, put in the elephant, and close the refrigerator”? WRONG ANSWER.
Open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant, and close the door. This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your previous actions.
3. The King of the Forest is hosting an animal conference. All the animals attend except one. Which animal does not attend? ANSWER: The elephant. The elephant is in the refrigerator. You just put him in there. This tests your memory. OK, even if you didn’t answer the first 3 questions correctly, you still have one more chance to show your true abilities.
4. There is a river you must cross, but it is inhabited by crocodiles. How do you manage it? ANSWER: You swim across. All the crocodiles are attending the Animal Meeting. This tests whether you learn quickly from your mistakes. 

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