Hiring 101. The “mirror” test and why you should avoid it at all costs.

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by Tom Watson on July 10, 2012

If you have been in business for any length of time, you probably know EXACTLY what the mirror test is.

Simply stated, it’s a time-tested method for hiring people to fill open positions in a company. It’s safe to say, this technique is used by countless small business owners from around the world.

Sadly, this well used “technique” doesn’t work all that well. For those of you who don’t know, this is how the hiring process (AKA Mirror Test) works for far too many small businesses. It generally works like this…

  1. Place newspaper ad.
  2. Meet applicants.
  3. Place mirror under applicants nose.
  4. Check for “fogging” of mirror.
  5. Hire any candidate that fogs up mirror.

In others words…if they can breathe then HIRE THEM FAST before someone else gets them. I know that I was guilty of that when I first started, and I know it’s a common problem for other small business owners.

Now why would that be?

The main reason is a lack of preparation on the part of the person in charge of hiring. Odds are they simply don’t realize the work that goes into trying to hire someone. You can’t just show up at the last moment and make a judgement call on who is the best candidate.

You need to know what questions to ask, you need the actual applications they have to complete not to mention a place to interview them. Then once all that is done you have to sit back and hope the applicant shows up on time for the interview, or better yet, shows up at all!

Another reason why small business owners fail at the hiring process is because they aren’t equipped with the proper education. At the end of the day, unless you have done your homework, getting the right employee is NOT easy to accomplish.

The last reason why people fail at the hiring game is due to a lack of time. Generally small business owners are very busy, and as a result they may be doing a lot of the work themselves just trying to keep the business afloat.

This leads to very little effort being put forth on “how to hire”. By the time the interview rolls around, they just want the first person who can pass the mirror test. When they spot one, they hire them and “hope” for the best.

But like I said, this is no way to hire someone.

You need a plan. Better yet a “system” of some kind that allows you to find a great fit for your cleaning company. The proverbial “needle in a haystack” as they say. Well you are in luck!

Over the years I have posted a few articles that should be of help to you as you attempt to hire someone for your cleaning business. Take your time and browse one or more of the posts below…

Interview Basics – This post gives good ideas on what to look for and what questions to ask.

Hiring Quality People – Discusses the benefits of high quality people.

Checking References –  Things to look for when checking out references.

Screening Applicants – Just some tips for saving time when hiring.

Tracking Ads – A simple method for measuring a help wanted ads effectiveness.

Running Employment Ads – A brief tutorial on what to place in a help wanted ad.

Job Descriptions Made Easy – 5 reasons why you need them and 5 tips for creating them.

Well…I gave you a lot to chew on! I hope you enjoy the lessons and PLEASE make sure to comment below with any tips or suggestions you may have (the more the merrier).

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to our RSS feed and get loads more by clicking here. If you need detailed instructions on how to start your own cleaning business, then check out my value packed course by clicking here. If you are badly in need of a first class website to take your cleaning business to the next level then click here.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ben July 11, 2012 at 12:26 am

Hi tom,
Wondering what will be better to start a cleaning company or a lawn service business in northern ca. Or if a good idea to combine both?
Thank you.

2 Tom Watson July 11, 2012 at 9:02 am

Hi Ben!

Cleaning business would be WAY cheaper to get started. You could easily combine them, but I think from a marketing angle it would be better to be a cleaning company that also offers a lawn service to the mix than the other way around. My advice…start the cleaning business as it’s easier on the wallet, then add in the lawncare as you make money (as that allows you to purchase equipment).

3 Giovanni Nelson July 11, 2012 at 11:52 am

Hello Tom
I started a janitorial & property management company in Feb and Im having a hard time landing any janitorial contracts, Is there any reliable pay for leads companies?

4 haley July 11, 2012 at 11:59 am

i have no problem going out trying to meet gate kepper of business most company are under contract.

5 Tom Watson July 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Hi Haley!

They will ALWAYS tell you they are under contract. This is because “generally” dropping in unannounced is “frowned upon” by office personal. Odds are when they see you come in, they just want you to leave, so they tell you “whatever” they can to make that happen.

My approach is to just stop in BRIEFLY to drop off a “Goodie BAG” that has a sales letter, business card and a flyer promoting a special offer. I wrote about that here… http://www.cleaning-4-profit.com/2010/06/08/promotional-ideas-for-your-business/

6 Tom Watson July 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Hi Giovanni!

Not that I know of first hand anyway. Service Magic does seems legit however, just take it slow if you go that route. On a side note, if you are not getting calls, you may need to look at your sales flyer and sales letter. If they are no good, then you will not get any calls. If you like, email what you are sending out or dropping off and I’ll tell you what I think.

7 Amber November 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm

hi Tom

I was wondering what is the best approach in terms of compensation to your staff when you are first starting a cleaning business. Is it hourly or is it commission based. I am looking to start a residential cleaning business and want to know what the going rate is in the Tri state NYC area.

8 Tom Watson November 15, 2012 at 9:04 am

Hi Amber!

The easiest way is to probably pay an hourly rate. When you are new it’s best to keep everything SIMPLE. Just determine what the pay rate will be (check to see what others are paying to get a feel for the market) THEN explain that each job you send them on needs to be done within an agreed upon time frame (unless something unexpected happens that pushed them over that limit).

Like I mentioned with the going rate.. check your competitors. Every region has different price structures. So as someone who lives in NJ… I have NO IDEA what your market is, as I only know my own. Just call around, look online or in paper and you’ll get a good feel for what others are paying.

9 jeff March 6, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Hi Tom, I started a residential cleaning company about a year ago which has slowly evolved into some commerical, move in/move out cleans as well. Our company is totally web based where our customers can schedule, get quotes and pay online and its worked well but our biggest obstacle that we just cannot seem to get by is finding cleaners. We have tried craigslist, the local polish newspapers in chicago and we can barely even get resumes let alone pick between them to find the best candidates. without more cleaners we fear going after new business that we wont be able to service, but without the new business we will never grow, its a double edged sword we have been battling since inception. Any ideas for the chicago market or in general where we can get some talent. Also in regards to the commerical jobs, what are the best ones to target? Post construction has been good too us when we can get them, but other than that we have trouble pricing the bigger jobs. some small stores seem to be good repeat biz. thoughts?

10 Tom Watson March 7, 2013 at 9:22 am

Hi Jeff! Sounds like you have a nice system, that’s great. Anyway… Hiring is TOUGH. I’ve been EXACTLY where you are. I wish I had a magic wand to hand you, but I do not.

Maybe a bonus for a crew member referring someone would work (it could be a nice one as the cost of the ad you run could just go to someone who refers a newbie who lasts 2 or 3 months).

You may also want to consider letting all your customers know you are actively expanding and are looking for help. No need to bore them with the details of WHY, just make it known that you are looking for good workers and if anyone refers someone who sticks around they will get a credit (or whatever) for thinking of you.

Whatever you do… don’t lower the standards too much, as that will just waste your time and money over the long haul. The tough part is finding that balance between aiming high on staff and yet casting a wide enough net to keep your company growing. I will keep your question fresh on my mind, and if anything pops in, I’ll touch base!

As to who to target, take a look at doctor offices. They are generally on the smaller side (easy to bid), plentiful (lots to target), have a need for multiple services (cleaning first, then carpet and floor-care) and best of all they need service quite a bit (many are 5, 6 or 7 nights per week). LOTS of money in this segment!

11 Laura April 10, 2013 at 4:34 am

I have a small residential cleaning company where it was just me as the sole cleaner. I am wanting to grow the business and have someone else do the cleaning. ( I went back into Real Est fulltime) But I don’t want to be an employer. Can I set it up where the person I hire is an independent contractor for me and they purchase their own supplies/equipment and I basically find them the jobs under my business name? And issue a 1099 at the end of the year? I would do a contract as well as a non compete clause. Thanks for any info.

12 Tom Watson April 10, 2013 at 8:11 am

Hi Laura!

Growing the business and have others (as in YOUR EMPLOYEES) do the cleaning is not a bad idea, but the whole 1099 part has issues. You need to run that part by an accountant, as 1099 is a slippery slope to build a business on. I never did it that way so I don’t know anything about it other than it has risks associated with it.

On another note, not wanting to be an employer doesn’t match up with being a business owner. I understand at what you are getting at, but I don’t see how you separate the two. Even if you 1099 a bunch of people who clean dozens of accounts, YOU STILL ARE REPONSIBLE for them when you look at it through the customers eyes.

Though I’m not a expert on what you are looking to do, it seems to me that all those 1099 folks better have their own insurance too (and you may be responsible for checking) as I’m not sure they fall under your coverage (I would HIGHLY suggest you talk to your insurance agent to see how that works).

To sum this up, you need some expert help that is beyond the scope of me and this site. Talk to your accountant, insurance agent and a lawyer as well to make sure your plan works as you intend it to.

13 alixandra urena August 3, 2015 at 6:10 pm

Hi, I have a small cleaning business, since a year ago, and i used to do all the the work, later i hired some one that worked part time for me, i did not have enough business to have her full time, them she decided to go to another company to work full time, and have been so difficul to get someone else to cover her job, i would like some advise on which way to go to get some people to work with me

14 Tom Watson August 8, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Hi Alixandra!

Sorry for the delay… been away for a mini vacation. There is no easy way to go about it. I wish I had a magic answer. One question to ask people is (before you hire them) “do you prefer part time or full time?”. This will help prevent you from hiring someone who secretly wants FT yet will take your PT hours until they find a better job.

So just ASK. Not everyone will be honest, but it’s worth asking to weed out people. No use hiring someone PT who aspires for FT. When you are small, your options can be limited by WHO you know. But try Craigslist. It’s free, and you can reach a bunch of people, one of which may work out for you.

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