I Can't Find a Good Employee from Generation Y

Last Updated Jul 29, 2010 1:41 PM EDT

By Alanna Peterkin, Owner, Head Games Salon, Portland, Me.
I've interviewed 60 people for stylist jobs since December, but only two made the cut. One of them quit yesterday.

She told me that when she started, she only had to do two haircuts a day and she really enjoyed it. But now that she's really busy, she doesn't like it anymore.

It seems impossible to find good hires from the generation of 18-to-25-year-olds today. With the huge pool of unemployed people, it's just shocking to me that there aren't hard-working people available to choose from. Right now, we have 10 employees, and we're hiring for nine positions. (Our sales were more than $500,000 last year, and we're expecting about $700,000 for 2010.)

I think parents have spoiled these kids so much over the last decade -- they've taught them that everybody has a Gucci bag. I haven't found anything that helps if you hire someone of that mindset. I think we may just have a whole generation of people on unemployment, because there's nothing that seems to inspire them to work.

A generational shift
When I first opened Head Games 10 years ago, most staffers would stick around for two to four years. Now, we have people who'll only stay here for a week or a few months. And this is after improving our compensation packages: We provide paid vacations, flex-time, and health benefits. There probably isn't a salon on the planet that provides more opportunity to young stylists.

With the traditional salon, you can walk in and see three stylists chatting all day, but at Head Games we're always busy. If you're really good at what you do, it takes two years from finishing school to booking five or six clients a day. Here, if you're good at what you do, you can get to that level in five or six months, because we're popular and well-known. That's a huge incentive, since the more clients you have, the more you'll collect in tips. But for stylists who don't have a good work ethic, the financial motivation doesn't seem to matter.

My stylists who've been around for a while absolutely love the job and appreciate it. But for the most part, the people who leave do so because they need a slower pace. I want to be successful and make money, and so do the stylists who stick around. The people who don't make it want to sit around and chew gum all day, and when it comes to having to work, it's a turn-off for them.

How we choose our new hires
We like to take people just out of school, who've done at least a cosmetology program or an associate's degree so they have a little bit of life experience. Then we provide our own training courses, which can take six months to a year to complete while simultaneously working with clients.

To cut back on staff turnover and find people who are a better fit for our culture, we started to interview differently last year. We never hire anyone after one interview; it's more like four. We weed out tons of people on phone interviews, and we do a personality test in a face-to-face interview. Then they have to come in and do a test, so they do a foil, a haircut and an "occasion" style -- for example, styling a bride's hair for her wedding -- so we can see how much training they need.

We also have all of the stylists talk to them as a team. New hires get voted in: It's a democracy here, and everyone has to agree. Hairstylists have to be there for each other. If you're not a team player, then this isn't a good career choice.

One Gen Y potential hire came in to do her foil test, and said to a stylist who was busy with her own client, "Would you mind grabbing me some more foil?" If you're willing to stop a busy stylist during your interview, you're probably a prima donna. Needless to say, I didn't hire her.

A problem without a solution
When I get a 28-to-35-year-old applicant, I'm so psyched, because they tend to be far more dedicated to the job and willing to put in long hours. But I just don't get very many of them.

All the other business owners I've talked to are having the same problems working with Generation Y. With lots of them, their parents are still paying for everything -- there are 24- and 25-year-olds who don't even realize that you have to pay for electricity.

There are a few gems out there, but they're really hard to find. The overwhelming majority are over-privileged youth.

Are you having the same experience? Tell me in the comments how you recruit and retain Gen-Y employees.

Alanna Peterkin, the founder of Head Games Salon, purchased her first home at age 22.
-- As told to Kathryn Hawkins

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