Now Hiring

It’s the day you’ve dreamed of and dreaded with equal fervor. You are so busy, you need to hire a helper. What happens next? My first two employees were my best friend and then my sister in law. The scary part was that day when I hired the first person that I did not already know. I was hiring a baker. She would work when I wasn’t there, baking my cakes. The day I gave her the key to my shop, I thought she was going to have to pry it from my fingers! I kept picturing coming in the next day to find all my equipment gone. Trusting a stranger with my dream, equipment and reputation certainly gave me pause.

Over the course of my bakery ownership, I probably had 120 employees. On average, I had sixteen employees working for me at any given time. Some stayed with me for years. Some lasted weeks, days or hours. All in all, I think I was pretty lucky about the people who came to work for me. I considered more than a few to be friends and still stay in touch with many of them. That being said, I also saw just about every type of employee out there! I want to share with you some of what you might encounter. Maybe it will help you decide who will be the right fit for you.

The Competitor
This person does cakes from home, but thinks you don’t know. This person gets mysterious illnesses on days when they have orders going out. I had one that seemed to always get a “Fridaygraine”, a migraine every Friday so she could finish her wedding cake. Usually an excellent employee, unless she is overbooked. You need to lay ground rules at the start about what you will and will not allow your decorators to do.

The one who knows better than you
This employee isn’t in charge, but is always telling others what to do. This person has a loud, dominating persona and can ruffle feathers with how she says things as much as with what she says. You have to put a stop to this quickly or the person will continue to try to run your business.

The drama queen.
This person never has an ordinary day. There is always a crisis, real or manufactured, going on. They are constantly on the phone and texting dealing with these family issues. They will only give you the very minimum amount of work. They need to focus on their lives and just can’t be bothered to actually work. As soon as I discovered I had one of these, I worked very hard to squeeze them out. They disrupt the entire flow of a bakery.

The misfit
The seemingly quiet one that you think will be a great worker. And they are, but they cannot interact with customers or other employees. You find yourself trying to isolate them from others. With one employee, I found a way to make it work. With another, she quit when I would not let her work alone in a quiet room. (Where on earth was I going to find this quiet room?)

The cleaner
The one who is always cleaning, fixing and organizing. Sure, there’s some OCD at play here, but this person seems to get their job done and make the place look better. Grab them. Keep them.

The right hand
The one who sees how hard you work and does everything they can to make your life easier. They anticipate what you need. They keep things running when you aren’t around. A true gem. Treat them well. Keep them by your side as long as you can.

The troubled ones
I saw more than my share of these. People fighting addictions. People struggling with mental illness. They did not last long. They would always disappear back into their problems and stop coming in.

The teller
This one never asks off. They tell you they are leaving for a month. Or two. It’s family. It’s important. Often, it is, but they never bother to ask. They just make pronouncements. You have to decide whether they will have a job when they return. I had a couple of these over the years. Both were very good employees and were in unique situations, so I let them come back. But I never stopped resenting that they just told me how it was going to be.

The insecure one
This one is constantly asking for help with their work. They ask for multiple opinions before starting. They second guess themselves and will work at a snail’s pace. They drain your resources because another employee always has to help them finish their work. They have talent, but are afraid to believe in their own judgement. I always tried to make it work with these folks. I would compliment and build them up, but you cannot make someone believe in themselves. I was always relieved when they left.

The thief
They slip money from the register. They “borrow” cutters, books, pans, product with no intention of returning it. Get them out as soon as you figure out who they are.

The half asser
They don’t read the order thoroughly. They mess things up constantly because they just aren’t giving their full attention to work. They aren’t really paying attention to anything. You will be doing refunds non stop until you get them out.

The spy
This is the person who starts working for you to learn you recipes, methods and organization. They will leave to set up their own competing business. For me, it was one I did not expect. Luckily, she wasn’t really that good at doing it all (baking, decorating and working with customers), so her efforts had no impact on my business.

The handy one
Not only is this person good at their job, they also have useful skills. They fix things. They are your MacGuyver. Hold on tight and treat them well.

The mid life crisis
They have a great, well paying job. They want to leave to follow their passion. They talk a good game. You give them a chance. They last only days when they realize how hard “decorating cakes” really can be. I regretted each of these hires.

The slug
They don’t even give a minimal amount. No one walks this slowly. Seriously. They have to practically lay down to take an order. They have two speeds. Slow and slower. Get them out!!!!

The gossip
They want to know what everyone makes. They pry in your office. They stir up trouble between employees. They cause people to mistrust each other. They are toxic to a work environment.

I’m sure I’ve only barely scratched the surface of the types I had over the years. The one truth I can give you is that you have to talk to a potential employee for a while. Maybe have them decorate a cake for you. Have them show you pictures of their work. Introduce them to the other employees and see if they seem to get along initially. In the end, you have to trust your instincts. They’ve gotten you this far! And don’t be afraid to take a chance on someone. One of the most talented people that ever worked for me had a rough interview. She was so nervous she got red, her eyebrow twitched uncontrollably and she barely spoke. Luckily, a friend had vouched for her. She turned out to be my right hand.

I hope you find great employees. Having a business that is growing is incredibly exciting! Enjoy the ride.



12 thoughts on “Now Hiring

  1. What about “The Walking Tornado”? Job gets done but there’s a path of destruction left in her wake. This one hasn’t figured out how to clean as she goes! That would be ME.

  2. Oh, Ruth–true, true, true. I smiled and cringed at so many of your descriptions. Makes it look like most potential hires need a full battery of personality tests–and maybe they do. It takes a lot of effort to get a well oiled wheel going–and then to find out that some of the spokes are bent or broken……..ugh.

  3. We’ve all been there, done that. I’d like to add “The Black Cloud” – you know this one, too. This is the person whose life is perfect until 30 days after you hire them. After that, there’s a terminal illness in the immediate family, a stint in rehab, or a divorce in the works– all at the same time!!! I hate to say it, but we’ve hired “The Black Cloud” more than any other group. Is it a cake thing?

  4. I kept going through each category, finding things that seemed to fit me. But then, I found THE ONE. I was THE HANDY ONE! THE MacGuyver!!! And you treated me well. Very, very well. And because of that, I wanted to be your MacGuyver. You put up with me bringing my kids to work, because I fulfilled a role that you needed to make it all work. We were a good team. Thanks for letting me be part of it, Ruth. And of course, the kids will always look back so fondly on those days. You have no idea how badly they miss them. This is a very good article for anyone who is in business for themselves, or who is considering it. Ruth has much wisdom to share. She has been there, and done that.

    • Oh Darrell, how lucky was I that you came to work for me? I thank my lucky stars over and over that we took a chance on each other. I know the bakery was far from perfect, but I loved the unconventional home we created for so many people.

      I was fortunate to not have to make people fit into traditional bakery roles. I was lucky that your schedule would allow me to let you bring your kids to work. I got to watch these four incredible children grow up and always felt like a part of the family.

      We saw a lot of crazy folks at the shop, but in the end, we had some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met work there. I was blessed to work with them and you.

  5. Ruth, It took me a long time to find what my passion was.From the first cake decorating class I was in love, I went to culinary school and my focus was cake decorating and baking. Then I went out to get a job in Los Angeles was asked if I spoke spanish which I don’t, you really have to to communicate with others,I continued to take classes joined ICES went to conventions and cake camp, so I baked for family and others it’s just ins’t enough I don’t want another hobby. I move to PA and now over and over again I get I’m not the right fit. You article has given me insight to what other might be thinking of me, All I really want to do is do want to do what I love and love what I do and be around others who love it too,

    • Donna, don’t give up. I’m sure people wondered why a lawyer would start doing cakes. If your passion is there and if you have the gift for decorating or baking, you will find a way to do it.

      For me, I took an entry level job at minimum wage and worked my butt off to show that I truly wanted it. My dedication paid off. You can show people that you want this. Make a plan and be proactive. Best of luck.

  6. How about the “resentful” one. When you have a very small business you are bound to get close to your employees. At some point some see you as an equal and become resentful of your perceived “perks”. “She gets to run errands” or “this is an $800 cake, why am I only getting $10/hour.” They don’t understand all the things we do like taxes we pay, hours we spend doing emails and paperwork, or the stress of making payroll when things get tight. One of the best employees I had was the wife of a small business owner (landscaper). When I said “I’m sorry but we have to do ….. today”, she said “whatever you need, I’m here to help you”. Her husband had his employees to work at their home just so he didn’t have to lay them off during slow times. Some would appreciate that while others would resent it. People don’t understand that when working in a small business you have to do all sorts of things that some think are not their job. Someone has to clean the toilet!

  7. You scared me! I read “The Cleaner” and was busted. Glad I read to the end before hanging my head in complete shame. Yes, OCD is a hallmark of decorators. But that is why our cakes are spot on and our kitchens can pass the white glove inspection. Makes my husband crazy. LOL!

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