Is it time to hire employees? If you are overwhelmed with a backlog of work, it is a very high-risk time to hire employees, especially for the first time. Unless you take time to crystallize what you need in an employee, it could be a costly experience.
What do you need now and in the future? What do you need from your
employee to best fulfill those plans? You must provide clear and
complete answers to these questions before you actively look for
an employee. If you don’t, you are magnifying the risk factor
Many first-time employers only have a vague idea of what an employee
might do to fill the needs of the business. No matter whom you are
hiring, you must provide a job description so the employee knows
what is expected. But that is only one reason for a job description.
It is entirely possible that your employee could be all that is
in the job description and still not adequately fill your expectations
If you want to hire a seamstress or fabricator, your initial thoughts
might include these expectations:
• Be able to hand sew
• Sew on industrial equipment
• Fabricate soft window coverings and
However, you might also need them to:
• Read English
• Be able to write adequately to make
• Understand work orders
• Be able to do simple math problems
• Be able to read a ruler
• Be open to learning your way
• Remember key processes and be able to
perform them unsupervised
• Be reasonably fast and accurate (There is
such a thing as too slow even when
one knows what one is doing.)
• Be observant to quickly spot mistakes
• Be able to work efficiently unsupervised
• Be a problem solver, e.g. if the fabric was
cut too short, how do you fix it?
• Answer the phone and take messages
• Be able to perform minimal maintenance
• Clean workroom
• Run errands
TWO PROMINENT PERSONALITIES
Assuming you want someone to work in the workroom, there are two
The first one is a follower, or a worker bee. This person can be
taught procedures and he or she will perform the same processes
in the same way every time. These prospects will not be fazed by
repetition. In fact, they tend to work better and faster with more
repetition. They do not want the responsibility of decisions. If
there is something different about a job, then you must explain
the differences clearly and how they are to be handled.
This person does not want to figure out on her own how to get from
A to B to C. Little bumps in the fabrication process will bring
everything to a halt. A certain level of supervision is essential.
On the other hand, the other personality is the opposite. This person
is the creative leader and will bore easily if having to do the
same processes too many times in a row. This person will learn quickly
and be willing to make some decisions on her own. Fabricating and
learning something new and different is a real turn-on and this
person will eventually shine when allowed and encouraged to use
her own initiative to figure out fabrication challenges.
If self-disciplined, this person usually can be left alone and will
resolve unanticipated problems on her own, and will usually do so
successfully. This person would be a prime candidate to become a
supervisor. Do you see yourself in this person?
Besides the just mentioned personalities, there are other characteristics
to be aware of. This list will get you started.
• Honest—They will let you know if they have made a
mistake and they will not help themselves to your inventory.
• Dependable—They arrive promptly to work and rarely
ask for extra time off.
• Speed—You must have a good idea of average speed.
Some people move very slowly, some people move very fast and others
are in the middle. You cannot change them. You might on rare occasions
get anyone to speed up a little, but it will be short-lived.
• Talkers—Some people can work while talking and some
can’t. You will have a tough time stopping those people who
love to talk. Even if their production is not slowed by it, their
co-workers may slow down.
• Dawdlers—They are easily distracted and require supervision.
• Respect you as their boss—Often business owners hire
family, friends and acquaintances from activities outside of work.
Such employees, and sometimes their bosses, too often confuse friendship
and employment. Don’t be surprised if they find excuses for
tardiness, spring last minute appointments on you, or just don’t
show up for work as scheduled.
• Neat vs. sloppy—There is definitely a difference that
can be discovered in the very beginning. Have each applicant bring
in a sample of his or her sewing or something she has made. You
can easily see if the item is pressed nicely, seams are straight,
all threads trimmed and no loose ones clinging where they shouldn’t.
This trait might be changeable if it’s due to not knowing
better. Personal appearance may be a clue as to whether on not sloppiness
is part of her personality.
• Team player—If you anticipate hiring more employees
to work closely with your first hire, then it is essential to have
everyone interact well together. Another aspect of this trait is
that team players will coach and encourage their teammates.
• Be interested/involved with the job—This person wants
to do well for themselves as well as for their co-workers and you.
You do not need a “pay-check collector.”
SETTLE FOR LESS?
OK. I agree you cannot find the perfect employee, no more than you
can find the perfect customer. What you can do is see that you are
clear in what you expect an employee to be and do, and look for
as many good traits as you can find in one person to perform that
Also be clear on what you want that employee to do in the future.
If you desperately need someone who can work efficiently without
your presence, then that characteristic is paramount. If you anticipate
that you will eventually hire more employees, then hiring someone
first who has the potential to be a trainer and supervisor would
be very advantageous. Then you won’t have to sacrifice your
time in all future training efforts.
Many times, you will have far less than what is desirable to choose
from in the job pool. Should you just hire a warm body that doesn’t
meet the needs you have outlined? This is where you will have to
make a gut decision. It may or may not work out. Sometimes a gamble
is all you have.
Regardless of whether your new hire is a good prospect of not, you
will do yourself a big favor if you document your training process.
Include how it affects your income beyond the new hire’s salary.
Your production will fall—by how much? You will work more
hours—how many more? How fast is this person at learning?
Producing? How soon can this person be left to work alone? When,
exactly, do you feel this person is “trained”? Answering
that question in a custom production operation is very difficult,
but it is necessary for you to begin to understand it.
Whenever you hire any employee, you must specify a probationary
period during which you can fire the new person or she can quit
for any reason. The more accurate you can be in gauging this period,
the better you will become at knowing who will work out and who
If you have never had an employee or been in a supervisory position
that necessitates hiring and firing, then you have never felt the
burden of responsibility for employees. You are not just getting
someone to agree to work for you, you are agreeing to provide the
income that person needs for living. This is why it is so important
to make a speedy decision during the probationary period, before
the employee has a hard dependence on his income from you.
The longer you work with someone, the harder it is to fire that
person regardless of the reason that necessitates it. Hanging on
to someone who just doesn’t fit the job is a disservice to
both of you. Very likely the employee already knows it is not working
and her self-esteem is suffering more every day. The sooner you
cut her loose, the sooner she can find something that does work
well for her.
The hiring process is never easy, but the clearer you are about
the kind of person you need and the jobs she will do, the less the
risk you will take. Trying to hire when you are overwhelmed with
work is not the best time to hire, but hiring when you have no work
and plenty of time to train, makes less sense. That is unless you
are absolutely certain the work is coming in to keep you and your
new hire busy. Hiring in speculative anticipation with no hard commitments
is the greatest risk of all.
So, assuming you have decided you need to hire, get out your paper
and pen and write at the top of the page, “This seamstress/fabricator
job requires . . .”
Kitty Stein, CWP, WCAA past board member, is a 29-year veteran
of the drapery workroom industry. She has owned both retail and wholesale
drapery workrooms as one person and as a company of nine, and she
is the founder and past owner of Workroom Concepts, a consulting firm
offering educational resources to the industry. Her experience includes
professional speaking and writing for two industry trade magazines.
She currently owns Kitty Stein & Co., which supplies industry
vendors with the industry-specific products she has authored including
Order in the Workroom, The Price List, Workroom Specifications, and
Price Your Work with Confidence, available through D&WC.