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15yearsagoBy Brian Van Bower

‘If you ask a roomful of watershapers about the toughest of the basic business challenges they face,’ wrote Brian Van Bower in opening his Aqua Culture column for January 2005, ‘there’s little doubt in my mind that a large percentage of them would say that finding, hiring and keeping good employees is near the top of the list.’

‘Depending upon several factors – the size of your company, its business volume, its focus and how much work you submit to outside contractors – your own approach to hiring and employee management will tend to vary substantially.  Regardless of how formalized and structured your procedures, however, the same basic principles apply whether you have a staff of 50 or just five.’  He continued:


‘In finding people to fit these specific, significant roles, you can take one of two approaches, either hiring someone with work experience who exactly fits the position (that is, someone with direct experience in the industry), or finding someone with transferable skills who can be trained to do the job you need done.’  


‘When you hire someone from within the industry, . . . the learning curve will be much, much shorter and less expensive.  . . . Often, [however,] people with direct experience have their own ways of doing things.  . . .  I’ve also found that those hired from within the industry are more likely to exit your own firm one day to start their own companies.’  


‘The other approach – hiring and then training – carries more cost up front because the process of bringing a person up to speed does not yield benefits so quickly. . . . No matter the position, you must have realistic expectations when it comes to those who know little about the business when they show up for their first day on the job.’


‘I believe, however, that the upside potential of hiring from beyond the industry can easily make the cost and effort of properly training these fresh faces worthwhile.  First, you open yourself to a much wider prospect pool.  . . .  Second, you can provide training in specific skills and the needs and priorities of the position.  . . . Third and perhaps most important, when you start with a blank canvas with respect to employee training, you stand a much greater chance of filling new hires with your own business values.’


‘How you find candidates is [another] major concern.  I’ve tried a number of routes, from newspapers and community organizations to job services at local universities.  . . .   But however you slice it, you’ll likely end up sifting through a whole bunch of unqualified (and a few over-qualified) applicants.’


‘One of my industry friends . . . makes use of a professional consultant to screen the pool of applicants for all positions in her firm.  . . .  [B]y using a professional screener, you’re essentially buying the experience of someone who has broad experience in spotting red flags and is knowledgeable about a range of hiring concerns.  You pay for such assistance, of course, but given the importance of hiring decisions, using a professional might well be a wise investment.’


‘The benefit of these sorts of hiring procedures is that they can be used to stack the deck in your favor.  But for all the forethought, discipline and analysis you apply in the hiring process, there still comes a time when you must look a candidate in the eye and make a judgment call.’


‘I see our company as a reflection of my desire to feel as though what I do all day long really isn’t work, per se.  We have lots to do and the emphasis is always on getting the job done, but without a liberating spirit of creativity and shared ambition, the experience of being at work can become a burden.'


'This is why,’ Brian concluded, ‘I’ve always believed that the best employers are those who provide not only a good living for their employees, but also a good life.  Our product is about enjoyment, imagination and self-expression, and by reflecting those values in the workplace, I think we stand a better chance of not only hiring good people, but of keeping them around to share and enhance the experience.’

How do you approach the hiring process?  Do you find that it has changed since the Great Recession?  Is it harder now to find good people than it was before?  Please share your own experiences by commenting below!


Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of Genesis 3, A Design Group; dedicated to top-of-the-line performance in aquatic design and construction, this organization conducts schools for like-minded pool designers and builders.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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