As a lifelong entrepreneur, William Manzanares always has his mind on his business and his business on his mind. “Business is my hobby and my obsession,” as he puts it, and he has achieved a lot of success with this attitude. As owner of numerous start-ups, like his Smokin’ Willy’s smoke shops and North Point Bar and Grill, Manzanares is always looking ahead to the future such that he recently closed the bar & grill to open our city’s first ever health-oriented convenience store called Tacoma Fresh.
With his experience, desire for growth and the drive to get there, Manzanares said he has all kinds of additional plans to keep moving forward – but there is one critical piece that he says consistently holds him back: finding quality people to hire. In the following Q&A, Manzanares discusses this phenomenon of struggling to find good employees and asks Tacoma Weekly readers to help him learn why good help is so hard to find these days.
TW: What would you say is the biggest impediment to achieving your dreams in business?
William Manzanares: What I’m seeing, and in talking to other business owners, is an epidemic of finding quality workers. That has become a growing theme. The jobs are out there but finding the people to fill those jobs has become a huge problem for my businesses and for me as an entrepreneur.
TW: About how many applicants do you typically hear from?
WM: In hiring for Smokin’ Willy’s and Tacoma Fresh, my managers and I lately have gone through nearly 800 resumes. Out of that, about half showed to be potential candidates for interviews and of those about half were put on the “call-back” list.
TW: What is your hiring process?
WM: During our hiring process we ask that applicants complete very simple steps. Using Smokin’ Willy’s as an example, we post an ad on Craigslist and ask people to go to www.SmokinWillys.com/careers to apply. We used to instruct applicants to upload their resume, but we didn’t like that because we thought it was a deterrent, so we changed it to an application online with simple questions. Then if they get a callback, we have them go through a three-tier interview process that ends with me meeting with them before the final hiring is decided.
I created this system based on a lot of research and to stop potential problems before they started. In fact, every time someone quits or gets terminated, I ask what we could do better in order to learn from that. We’ve tried different things to see if it’s us and since we’ve created this system, I’m worried that it’s not us, it’s the people applying for jobs.
TW: Has this been an effective way of hiring people?
WM: Not as much as I’d like. If they just choose to apply by replying through Craigslist, we ignore it because it shows that they don’t follow basic instructions to go to the website and apply. We use little cues like that to help develop an impression of how well, and how willing, applicants are at following instructions.
Once at the website, applicants are instructed to watch three short videos and fill out a brief application. One question asks, “What did you think of the videos?” People who leave that one blank don’t get a callback, and some have even pasted their resume in that space so that negates them too, again due to failing to follow basic instructions.
TW: What happens for those who get a callback for an interview?
WM: For those that we want to come in for an interview, we ask two things: be on time and bring a printout of your resume. Out of the ones we schedule to come in, about half don’t show up and of the other half, a good number of them are either late and/or don’t bring their resume. That cuts more potential candidates out. If you can’t be on time, that’s your first impression. That’s what I don’t understand – why people can’t be on time and bring in a resume. It’s very simple.
For those that make it through, we schedule a second interview and, again, tell them to be on time and bring a printout of their resume. Many either are late, don’t bring their resume or won’t show up, and nor do they call to let us know why. The third interview is with me and this is where I have found some of the coolest people. In the third round, I really get to know someone. I just ask questions and we have a conversation.
TW: I’m sure you’ve encountered some surprises by this time, both good and bad?
WM: Yes, I’ve had one applicant tell me how much she hates customers and others with all kinds of dramas going on at home that they tell me about. I cannot hire someone who has negativity going on. I feel bad about that, but I’m not in the business of feeling bad.
I was interviewing this one applicant and I asked her what her dream job was – where else she has applied. She said she applied at organic health food stores, and I told her about Tacoma Fresh and she was so excited – I hired her on the spot. I said "if you can prove yourself in the smoke shop, you will be at Tacoma Fresh." The point is that you never know what an interview will lead to. She was doing an interview for a smoke shop and now she’s at her dream job working in an organic food store and she’s thriving. I just made her an ordering specialist. She was hired in January and advanced to her dream job in April.
TW: Is this part of your business ethic – to work with your employees to help them advance and meet their full potential?
WM: At my company, I really value the fact that you can become anything you want, because I’m growing. I want to empower people. People get their dream jobs with me. One of my cashiers wants to be a graphic designer so I’m putting her in a place where she’s helping us design menus and other things. If you look at anyone in my company, where they started is not where they ended up. You can become anything and I tell this to young people when they start.
TW: What do you think would deter them then from following through and landing the job if you’re offering it to them?
WM: There’s a lot who think they should get paid big money right from the start and I have the mentality that they have to work from the ground up. I pay higher than any other smoke shop in this area. You may start off lower, but you won’t be there in a month. I’ve had people with high degrees working for me who felt they were above certain jobs and I ended up having to let them go. You have to know every facet of the job to know what it’s like to be in that job.
If my company is this way and we really care and we’re still having a hard time finding people, then there’s something bigger going on here. I’m trying to figure it out. I’m selling them a package – a business that cares about them.
TW: Have you reflected on your hiring process to perhaps discover ways to improve it?
WM: Sometimes I question myself and wonder if I’m too hard on people. The question I have for those reading this article right now, and what I hope to even get comments on, is whether it’s me or is it the workforce? People want jobs, but we’re surrounded by bad customer service everywhere and people who hate their job but is it that you hate the company or is it a self-motivation problem? Do you feel that the glass ceiling is there? I’d really like to know.
I want to give a really big shout-out to the crew I have now, because with these successful people who have been with me for more than 10 years, I have to feel like it’s not me.
TW: Say you do hire someone and he/she works for you for a while, then wants to leave the company. How do you handle this?
WM: What I tell everyone in my company meetings is that when you leave this job, if you ever do, you should be leaving this job for something better, or your dream job. You started here at entry level and when you leave, you would have written your own job description to a level that you can get whatever job you want. In my company, the future is in your own hands.
I try to tell everyone who comes to work for my company that if you do right by this world, you could have whatever dream job you want because if you’re not happy with who you are at this job, you won’t be happy with who you are anywhere. I feel that anyone who starts at my company can do whatever they want in life and I would give them all the tools to become the best that they could be. And maybe one day when they leave working with me, they could have a huge job title where I paid them to learn the job and then they can go do anything.
TW: What would you like to say to those out there who may be currently job hunting?
WM: If I can get someone to quit their career in the pharmaceutical world or in the financial world because of the pressures and come work with me, and they come to my company and love it, I feel like I’m doing something right. If you’re frustrated at your job and you want to make a positive change, contact me.