How to Hire an Office Manager
Bringing an office manager on board might seem like a luxury for a small business. But if you're embarking on a period of rapid growth, need some piecemeal HR help, or are housed in an office that requires plentiful daily upkeep, it could be time to add an office manager to your management team.
"It's more of a luxury to have someone to do that, but if you're doing a lot of running around or selling or meeting investors, you do need someone to be there," says Ellen Rudnick, the executive director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.
For Caroline Colom Basquez, owner of and designer behind Paloma's Nest, an online hand-crafted pottery store, the realization came suddenly that she needed help running her office space.
"About a year and a half into the biz I was doing everything, and I mean everything – including all the order processing and shipping, marketing, public relations," she says. "The important thing is knowing when to get help and not waiting too long. You know it's time when the volume of work you're doing and the hours per day you are spending is such that you can physically not do more for the business to help it grow."
Before posting a job listing, it's important to identify exactly what the office manager position you'll be hiring entails. The simplest method: take the time necessary to carefully craft a job description and clearly define what you're seeking.
Hiring an Office Manager: The Job Description
The first item under the job title should be a summary overview of the position. A list of job duties and responsibilities should follow. Depending on what your company needs in an office manager, that list could include a wide variety of tasks, from clerical work to administering payroll and expenses to office maintenance.
Though the nuts and bolts of the office manager job description will vary greatly from company to company, a single consideration is of greatest importance when hiring an office manager: experience. Figure out exactly what level of experience, and in what field, will create the best fit. It is important that the person you choose to bring on board is well versed in a variety of office tasks, personnel and has tremendous people skills. Multi-tasking ability should also be a priority.
When drafting the description, it's key not to forget a catch-phrase line to include additional "duties as assigned," just in case the job morphs over time or something is omitted. "Basically, it's so a hire doesn't come back and say 'that wasn't in my job description," said Roberta Chinsky Matuson, the founder and principal of Human Resource Solutions.
When the job description is clearly laid out and agreed upon by management, it's time to write and post the job listing, for which the foundations are already laid.
Hiring an Office Manager: How to Determine Compensation
Because experienced office administrators can be in very high demand, they likely have much steeper salary requirements than those with a lesser degree of experience. Before deciding a salary, it is important to weigh the skill level of the position you need filled with the amount you are prepared to spend and find a balance.
Small companies with a tighter spending budget might want to consider seeking a part-time office manager. Rudnick suggests that graduate students – and even undergrads – make great part-time employees, and can impact the budget less, because they don't necessarily require benefits. A start-up she recently advised has 10 dedicated employees, but only two of them are full-time, allowing the company to keep costs low.
To find a salary that's fair to offer, search other local listings online, and check out what office managers of the experience level you are seeking demand on PayScale.com – where you can search for position plus experience, and take location into account. Searching Salary.com reveals that the median base salary for an office manager in a large city is between $57,000 and $79,000, while in a more rural area, it is roughly $14,000 less on average.
When in doubt, it's also perfectly couth to ask applicants about their salary expectations. Consider benefits, also, as part of that expectation, because there is no gold standard for salary-setting. Applicants' experience levels can be another determinant of salary, which is why it's preferable to set your qualifications in advance of the hiring process.
Hiring an Office Manager: Attracting the Right Applicants
For small companies with an intimate workspace, one of the best bets for hiring lower-level positions is within social networks – both online and in the real world. CEOs hiring entry-level office managers and executive assistants should actively seek referrals from friends and colleagues, as well as being mindful of other people they encounter who impress them with conscientiousness or skill.
Online, turning to social networking can be valuable for finding members of a small core group of employees – but be selective which sites you choose. While posting on Craigslist.org may cause a landslide of resumes, an e-mail over LinkedIn is likely to yield a few qualified professional applicants whom your trusted contacts already endorse.
You'll want to clearly list job responsibilities and a job summary, which can be pulled directly from the job description you've already created. Responsibilities could include data entry, reception duties, motivating and training an administrative staff, and some traditional human resources tasks, such as managing expenses, payroll or training. In some offices, the office manager is expected also to manage the company budget and monitor goal percentages.
In addition to the overview and list of responsibilities found in the job description, a great job listing incorporates desired behavioral characteristics of your ideal hire. If you're not sure about these temporal and experiential traits, Matuson suggests to just look around you.
"If you have employees, you look at your star performers, and look at what they have in common," she says. "In a start-up, the ideal employee is someone who can multi-task, who has high-energy, and can switch their game instantly. A person who will work well at a law firm is very different."
In an office manager, admirable behavioral traits could include detail-orientation, self-motivation, a positive attitude, winning people skills and stress management. Lines in the resulting listing might read: "Ideal candidate will be able to work well in a fast-paced, energetic environment with a positive attitude and impeccable time-management skills."
Next, include at least a paragraph detailing minimum qualifications, including preferred educational and experiential background. Being detailed will help narrow the applicant pool.
Preferred educational and experiential background can also incorporate behavioral characteristics. Instead of a bullet point saying "10+ years experience required," consider something along the lines of "Team player with strong leadership skills and 10 or more years of demonstrated ability to manage effectively."
If a flood of applicants is your fear, listing a salary could narrow the pool. Otherwise, experts suggest it is not necessary. While your listing should be thorough, don't do a data dump. Keep it succinct and digestable.
With the listing complete, post to your company jobs site, if you have one. Supplement that with listings in targeted trade publications and specialized media and postings on online job sites. If sites such as Craigslist.org and Monster.com seem too general-interest, don't worry. In the era of spider-search sites such as Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com, your listing will be crawled by search engines, and qualified candidates will have the opportunity to find your post.
Once applications start coming in, it's up to you to sort through them, and to find out who fits your qualifications and with whom you'd like to talk. Even the experts say this process is always subjective.
Hiring an Office Manager: Interviewing Applicants
If interviewing seems intimidating, just remember your key objectives are to find out: Can this applicant truly do the job, and will they fit into my company's work culture? Of course, these are just the basics. To this, add discovering whether the applicant possesses the desired behavioral traits you've already laid out.
"In an interview, you want to go over job responsibilities and skills, and then the other component is behavior," says Jamie Resker, president and founder of Employee Performance Solutions. "Especially at a start up, the entrepreneur typically wants someone who is like moldable clay, not someone who has the personality of a steel rod. Will they go with the flow? Because a small business works a lot different than a big company."
Simple? Crafting questions that elicit responses that easily display the answers to these questions might not be as easy as it seems. Asking a candidate whether they function well under pressure is likely to elicit simply a "yes." Asking her a question that directly applies pressure, such as "What makes you think you are better for this job than all the other candidates?" or "Which co-worker at your last job did you not get along with well and how did you handle that situation?" is more effective, and will likely yield a telling answer. Hypotheticals about a candidate's future employment at your company can be even more revealing.
As you ask these behavioral, open-ended questions, listen not only to the content of a candidate's response, but also to the voice and manner behind it.
Matuson says: "Are they pretty lethargic? Are they being honest with you? Did they do the right thing? Did they ask for help when they needed it? After a while it becomes really obvious this person is a go-getter, or they work hard, or they make good decisions."
Hiring an Office Manager: Checking References
Checking a candidate's references is the most overlooked part of the hiring practice, but experts say it is absolutely essential. Many employers also ask that applicants agree to credit-history checks and pre-employment drug screenings; those are optional, and often depend on vocation.
Of three references, have a phone conversation with at least two, and pay attention to the tone of a reference's recommendation, not just its content. Most people feel that it is not wise to hamper future employment for a past employee, so savvy references won't say anything negative. One tip: Leave a voicemail message that says, "I would appreciate a call back only if you feel this candidate is exceptional." If a reference truly believes in the candidate, he or she will return the call quickly. If you don not hear back from them, you can read into that, too.
Human resources experts also recommend trying to check a reference that's not recommended by the candidate: Hunt down a person at the applicant's most recent workplace (on LinkedIn, for example) who should have known him or her well, and ask for an opinion.
And when you have a reference check on the phone, what should you ask? Resker, president of Employee Performance Solutions, says: "A question I like to ask is 'if the person could have been more effective, what could she have done differently.' Rather than asking one weakness, which can make them uncomfortable."
Hiring an Office Manager: Other Best Practices
• Great candidates should naturally follow-up on an interview with a call or e-mail, making it easy for you to invite them back for a second meeting. Do so, and allow other managers to meet with potential candidates on their second interview before offering a position. A second or third opinion is valuable.
• Set up a program that rewards current employees for referring apt job candidates. People within the organization can recognize others who would fit in well, and are unlikely to choose someone who wouldn't pull their weight.
• In both job listing and interview, pose only legal obligations and ask only legal questions. As an employer, you are not permitted to ask questions about a person's age, race, creed, sexual orientation or marital status.
• Despite a good gut feeling, never hire on the spot. Take time to review all candidates interviewed, both so that you have a chance for reflection and because you want to be in a strong negotiating position when discussing compensation.
Hiring an Office Manager: On-Boarding the New Hire
The buzz-word right now is "on-boarding" for making sure a new employee is up-to-speed and productive as quickly as possible.
Before the new employee even walks in the door, there's much to be done. Resker sums up the mindset for managers to embrace: "Employers forget that it's very scary to start a new job. Thinking about it from an employee's perspective – they don't know where things are located, even – how are they to know they're meeting expectations."
The first objective should be to make sure their work station is set up and clean. The computer should be ready for use, and it should be their nameplate on the door and their business cards on the desk – not those of a recent fire.
"When you work in these small companies, you are always understaffed, you never have time," Rudnick says. "But it's really important to take the time you don't have to get a new employee up to speed."
One thing that helps is to have company policy, including employee guidelines and procedures in place. Even if you don't have an HR department, having human-resources policies in place is essential from day one, experts say. It will not only ease the transition into the new job for employees, who will know what's expected (it's never fun to have to ask a new boss "what's the vacation policy?" on the first day), but also protect your company from potential future legal trouble. Consider including expected work hours, presence in the office, and acceptable personal use of company electronics and space. Binding it in a guidebook, or having an online employee guide that's always available to staff is your best bet.
Managers should make it a priority to schedule face-time with a new employee within the first day or two – and ask pointed questions about how they're feeling and what they feel would help them out in their job that hasn't been provided.
Looking ahead, a company intent on keeping its new employees should schedule regular check-ins. Matuson suggests a manager checking in with a hire after 30, 60 and 90 days, just to ask what changes they might suggest and allow them to ask any lingering questions in a pressure-free way.
CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.