Pre-Recruitment Preparation… Your Key to Success!

By: Bob Heidlage & Alex Kistler, Global Recruiters of Batesville
Wednesday, March 23, 2022

If there is one thing that has become almost gospel truth in funeral service these days, it is that good help is hard to find! We have been recruiting exclusively for the funeral and cemeteries professions for over 15 years, and see the challenge up close every day. Covid-19 has certainly exacerbated the issue but did not cause it.

The risk of Covid-19 has caused some Directors and Embalmers at every experience level to re-think their career choice, and clearly, some have chosen to leave the profession. Some owners have sold their businesses; others have chosen to take a step back from the day-to-day activities. The net effect has been more opportunities at every level, but at the same time, we’ve seen a dip in the number of available top-notch candidates. This has created a rather unique circumstance that makes this the perfect time to re-think your staffing strategy.

One trend we have noticed with our clients is that many firms started a candidate search without having a well-developed plan in place. Think of a search campaign as a football coach thinks about recruiting. You need to know exactly what you are looking for, or you might end up with a new recruit who doesn’t fit your needs. That is why the “Before You Recruit” phase of a search is extremely important for you to have a successful outcome!

We will focus on three (3) critical areas, based on our conversations with hiring managers and licensees over the past several years, and some best practices that have been tried and true. We recognize that finding the right people can be difficult at a local level. And while it may be tougher than it has ever been, and not likely to get easier in the short term, these tips should help you get the most out of your team-building efforts:

  1. 1. Retention of Exceptional Staff
  2. 2. Identification of Need
  3. 3. Intentional Recruiting

Retention of Exceptional Staff is something that is often overlooked, but we speak about it with our clients every chance we get. We call it ‘Inside-Out Recruiting’ and it just makes good business. It is also MUCH cheaper for you to effectively utilize. Why spend time, talent, or treasure finding new people when a small investment in your current staff minimizes the need to hire as many new people over time? We know that great teams are almost always full of experienced, exceptional individuals, so keep the great ones on your team, and then focus your hiring efforts on how to best supplement your existing, well-trained team.

There is a truism in the recruiting world that employees don’t leave companies or jobs, but they do leave bad managers and unappreciative bosses. As owners we want our employees to appreciate US, to be thankful that we gave them a job. And that approach might work when prospects are plentiful, but that is not where we are in the business cycle right now. As an example, if you have an Apprentice who is a rising star, express early and often that you see a bright future for them with your team. Do not be afraid to ask for their commitment to stay with you in their post-apprenticeship career. And the same holds true for everyone, in every role, at your firm!

We have a saying that seems appropriate, “Don’t let your best team members leave for greener pastures; instead, make your pasture greener so your superstars stay with you!” How best to brighten your pasture? Well, public praise can go a long way toward making employees feel appreciated and valued. Those efforts can have huge benefits to your business. Sending someone home early to allow them to participate in a special family event is a great way to say, “Thank You”. Have you ever sent a note home to show a spouse or significant other that you appreciate their loved one’s time spent away from their family for your business? If not, why not?

Owners often tell us that ‘they love on families every day’, that this is their ‘secret sauce’. Maybe loving on a great employee’s family would not only be appreciated, but a perfect match for the company culture you have spent a lifetime creating!

Identification of Need is a simple concept, but we see firms running forward without being concerned about the direction they are going and often end up lost. Recruit for ‘generalist’ positions and you will find generalists. If you really need an Arranger but hire an Embalmer who prefers to work in the Care Center, have you achieved your goal? Mistakes can be avoided by adopting a ‘go slow to go fast’ process. Before doing anything, assess what you truly need. Understand the specific attributes you are looking for based on current and future needs.

Go beyond job titles, and get to specific tasks that need to be completed. Do you expect a Director will spend 30% of their week meeting families or 75%? Will 20% of the average week be working services or 60%? Know what you need, and then prepare to go find a person who can do THAT! Write down a list of the needs you have and then use that list as a guiding document.

Most of the firms we partner with do not have a written Job Description when we start. The Job Description clearly lists the individual tasks that your new employee will be expected to complete and forms the basis for what you are looking for going forward. A Recruiting Checklist is another useful document to create. It is simply a ‘scorecard’ you can refer to when speaking with interested candidates. The more items on your checklist that a particular candidate is prepared to handle on Day 1, the more immediate impact they can have in your business. No one will be a 100% match; we expect an 80-85% match is an outstanding candidate. Perhaps, in this market, a 70% candidate is perfectly sufficient and can be ‘trained up’ on the other critical skills over time.

One example we often use might help as you think about what you need, and how to determine the most critical skills you will be looking for in a search. Alabama’s Nick Saban does not ask his QB to be a Punt Returner, and Georgia’s Kirby Smart would never expect his Offensive Linemen to kick field goals. Both coaches know what they need for each role, and they focus on finding the best version of that person available. 

Likewise, in our profession, a terrific Embalmer does not a great Arranger make. And a tremendous personality in an Arranger may not be organized enough to run services efficiently and effectively or to write a worthy obituary. Make your Recruiting Checklist items specific, optimize your Job Description for what you need, and then go forward feeling great about finding the right person to serve the families who choose your firm.

Intentional Recruiting means going about the recruiting process in a systematic way. Once you are ready to go forward, and you have a solid Job Description and Recruiting Checklist, be ready to react to interested candidates quickly, or risk losing them. We recommend scheduling time on your calendar to work on the recruitment process. If an owner does not respond in a timely fashion to a request from an interested candidate, you risk losing out. And unfortunately, we see that happen too frequently.

Remember too, if you are an owner, that an employee’s schedule is much less flexible than yours typically, especially if they are currently employed elsewhere. They cannot always call you when it works for you, so be as flexible as possible with your schedule so the candidate can have a confidential discussion with you at a time and on a day that is best for them. Their ability to make that call privately and ‘safely’ might be the difference between being able to connect with them or losing a potentially ‘Wow’ candidate.

Being intentional does not mean being inflexible or rigid, but it does mean consistently moving forward toward the goal of hiring the right person, in the right role, and who can complete the critical tasks you need done well. One final tip, especially for anyone who has not hired a new team member in this current environment, is to remember that we are not hunting for unicorns. We need to find someone who exists in your market, and is available for you to hire!

Every owner has a recruiting approach that will feel right, and as long as you stay engaged throughout, your probability of success goes way up. Whether you choose to make discreet phone calls, post your job for all to see, use public social media, or partner with a funeral service recruiter who can do the heavy lifting for you, be intentional. As the old adage recommends, ‘Plan Your Work, then Work Your Plan’. Your successful recruitment will ultimately raise the service level provided to the families you serve. And that’s really what it is all about!

As President & Managing Partner of GRN Batesville, Bob brings more than 25 years of experience on the vendor/supplier side of the funeral & cemetery profession. Bob spent 8 years as the Senior Search Consultant for GRN of Cincinnati before purchasing the business in 2021. Before that, Bob spent 10+ years at Batesville Casket Company and 8+ years as an award-winning sales & marketing consultant for 8 years with The Forethought Group. His breadth of experience working with Funeral Home clients gives Bob a unique understanding of the recruiting needs of the profession. He can be reached at 812.932.1290 or

Alex (Heidlage) Kistler joined Global Recruiters of Batesville in 2021 after a 4-year career in the Search and Placement profession. She learned the fundamentals of search by working with individuals & companies, and was a part of, and ultimately led, a team dedicated to fulfilling the needs of both individuals & businesses. Alex focuses her time at GRN Batesville working with individuals who are looking to make a positive move forward in their careers. She loves to engage with funeral professionals at every level of education, experience, and licensure. Alex is also our Mortuary School liaison, where she routinely engages students who will become the future of our profession. Alex can be reached at 812.932.1290 or akistler@grnbatesville. com.

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