October 19, 2015

An Amazing Boss Reveals His Hiring Secrets

ColeFor four years, Cole Lindbergh had one of the most fun jobs you could imagine — but it was also a pretty tough one.

While overseeing the games department at the Worlds of Fun amusement park in Kansas City, Mo., Cole managed between 125 and 145 teenagers every summer.

Teenagers aren’t known for being the easiest age group to manage, and Lindbergh’s employees were no exception. He definitely dealt with his share of hormones, drama, and flakiness.

At the same time, however, Lindbergh also created an amazing, familial work environment in which his employees seemingly had as much fun as the park-goers. If you need evidence, just check out Lindbergh’s YouTube channel or listen to the story This American Life did about him.

If anyone knows how to assemble great teams in challenging conditions, it’s Lindbergh. During his time at the park, he retained 75-85 percent of his staff every year — the highest retention rate of any department at the park. On any given year, he would interview some 300 candidates for 30 or so openings. Candidates literally lined up to work for him.

Luckily for us, Lindbergh took the time the share some of the hiring secrets that helped him build an environment in which employees — and the business itself — soared.

Know Who Your Ideal Candidate Is — And Proactively Recruit Them

Lindbergh had a clear picture of the type of candidate he was looking for: someone extroverted, gregarious, and uninhibited. He didn’t just passively let these candidates come to him; he figured out where he could source them and recruited accordingly.

“I was trying to hire very involved individuals who were very outgoing and had strong personalities,” Lindbergh says. “I did a lot of recruiting locally in Kansas City for kids who were on their high school debate teams or individuals who were involved in musicals and theater — people who weren’t afraid to get up and talk and be loud.”

Lindbergh didn’t find applications to be hugely helpful; he mostly used them to see if candidates could spell. But a typo or two wasn’t necessarily a deal breaker.

Face“Of course I was looking for misspellings and bad punctuation on applications,” he says. “But if a candidate indicated they were involved in theater or debate or a lot of activities at school, and that games was their first choice, I’d always call them and ask them to come in to talk.”

Ask Unique Questions

Lindbergh sometimes threw some off-the-wall questions at candidates, like “What’s your opinion on rock climbing?” or “Who’s your favorite Muppet?” These questions weren’t just quirky throwaways: A candidate’s response gave him a lot of information.

“I was in the business of selling fun,” he says. “I had to hire people who could convince someone to spend their last remaining dollars to try to throw a ball in a can and win a giant bear. So you have to some silliness already. You have to be pretty lighthearted. You have to want to laugh. You’re selling fun.”

“Those questions told me not only if someone could be silly, but also if they could work in our environment,” Lindbergh explains. “It’s going to be 100 degrees in the summer, and it’s going to feel even hotter at the park. You’re going to be surrounded by people, and your job is to talk to them and try to convince them to win a prize. These questions let me know if someone doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Can I see them having fun?”

Build a Referral Network

Referrals were invaluable to Lindbergh. They saved him the trouble of sourcing candidates from square one and also served as a prescreen.

“I’d already set in place the standards of what we were looking for when we were hiring,” Lindbergh says. “If my employees could live up to those standards, or go above and beyond them, and then they say, ‘I’ve got a friend who wants to work here,’ that’s huge. It’s huge because it saves me the time and the effort of trying to go find somebody who fits that mold. I’ve already got somebody of that mold who’s a quick call away.”

Referrals also served to strengthen the work environment Lindbergh aspired to create.

“I think there’s something to be said for the fact that friends like working together,” he says. “When you’re trying to create an atmosphere of friends where people are going to become friends with each other, hiring existing friends can go a long way.”

Speak to Your Audience

BooksWhen Lindbergh first began making videos, he simply viewed it as a fun thing to do with his staff. He didn’t expect anything to come of it.

But his teenage candidates absolutely loved them. The videos ended up being a way not only to publicize the park, but also to distinguish Lindbergh’s work environment from others. After all, how many bosses are going to rewrite the lyrics to a hit song and enlist their employees to perform it for all the world to see?

“The effect of my YouTube videos on my candidate pool was huge,” Lindbergh says. “The videos became not only recruiting tools, but also one of those things we did to differentiate ourselves. Because every kid wants to be on YouTube. During interviews, people would be like, ‘I want to be in one of your videos!'”

Focus on Retention

While Lindbergh’s company-high retention rate of 75-85 percent was something he was proud of, he’s also quick to point out that his department was a third of the size of some others.

Still, his knack for creating a work environment to which employees wanted to return year after year yielded serious rewards.

“When I hired candidates I’d already worked with, it helped keep everyone on the same page,” Lindbergh says. “It helped with training, because then I already had a bunch of trained, seasoned employees who could really help the new kids get started. With so many people coming back, it could only improve the department each year. It made everything much easier across the board.”

See Training as an Extension of Hiring

Your efforts to get candidates committed to your organization shouldn’t stop after they candidate has accepted your offer. The real work begins during the candidate’s first day on the job. If someone reports to work on the first day and has a lousy experience, there’s little hope of recovering them.

“Training is the most important aspect of any job,” says Lindbergh. “It sets the precedent for your entire tenure. If I can’t get you hooked on day one, then I’ve already failed. I wanted to make it fun and interactive. I didn’t want anyone to leave training and say, ‘Oh god, this job’s gonna suck.’ I don’t want that all, because it puts me one step behind. Now, I’ve gotta convince them that itis a good job.”

Lindbergh left Worlds of Fun in 2013 after working there for 12 years. In his present role as a sales rep for one of his former suppliers, U.S. Toy Company, he still has the opportunity to work with amusement parks on a regular basis. Though he’s no longer hiring and managing people, he has the chance to share his expertise and inspire others through his growing public speaking and consulting business.

This article originally appeared on Recruiterbox’s blog.

Read more in Management Styles

Erin Engstrom does marketing for Recruiterbox, an applicant tracking system designed for startups and small businesses. She loves Belgian beer, the Chicago Cubs, and working remotely.