Service of Matching a Person to the Job

October 13th, 2011

Categories: Accommodation, Attitude, Customer Service, Jobs, Responsiveness, Service Personality, Training


In a response to a previous post, Mervyn Kaufman explained inadequate service by retail staff by pointing to lack of motivation, inexperience, poor pay and/or little to no training. He especially resents  it when sales associates don’t know their inventory. Mervyn also blamed a store’s cynical management that believes it can get away with such poor performance and maintain business levels. I agree with him.

Short of asking each person who provides lackluster/inadequate service at retail or in a service job or restaurant, it’s impossible to know all the reasons. In some cases the reason is as simple as the wrong person has the job.

office-lobby-reception1In the New York Times “Social Q’s” column, columnist Philip Galanes advised a Houston man who staffs the desk in the lobby of a big building. The receptionist, Joseph Z, told Galanes that it was exhausting when he had to smile, nod or wave back each time someone who’d just passed his desk did so again within minutes. “I’m sure it’s annoying to be cheery all day, but short of a large ‘One per Customer’ plaque, I’m afraid that smile fatigue is simply a peril of your profession,” wrote Galanes. I asked the guard/door person in the lobby of my office building whether it annoys him when people say “hi,” “bye,” wave or smile at him even if it happens within minutes. He said he liked it. I think that Galanes might have told “Joseph Z. in Houston” to get a job better suited to his personality. Maybe he could ask for the night shift.

In another instance, I dropped by a high-end deli near my office to buy a pound of ham. I wanted it cut very thick and held up two fingers, at least a quarter inch apart, to illustrate just how thick. The ham here is baked with bone in and is unrelated to the lumps of pressed meat you see at many delis.  My heart sank when the counterman turned in my direction to weigh a pile of very thin slices. He’d used the slicing machine, not a knife. Did he hear me? Did he understand English? Listening carefully and giving customers just what they ask for determines the success of a place that sells special things and charges appropriately-i.e. plenty–for them. Did the manager check for this trait when he hired the guy, even if he’d had umpteen years experience at a supermarket deli counter?

turkish-food1New York has great ethnic restaurants and many are value priced. I’ve noticed no relationship between the level of service and the price. I’ve enjoyed the most elegant and cheerful dinner service where grilled chicken shish kebab served with rice costs $12. Imagine being a waiter here, standing and walking all day long with enough energy at night to be pleasant when tips, based on a negligible total, won’t stretch far?

Can you think of instances where a person’s personality, rather than or in addition to skill, determines their success or failure at a job?


8 Responses to “Service of Matching a Person to the Job”

  1. Simon Carr Said:

    For some reason your most recent post led me to think of the recent “Wall Street Journal” article about the day labor hirer that, as patriotic gesture, hired Americans at “fair” American wages, instead of Latinos at “illegal” immigrant wages, and had them all walk off the job by 11:00 am, because the work was too hard!

    I know this is a non-sequitor, but somewhere along the line we sold ourselves a fairytale that work is fun. We are all spoiled rotten. Most work is dull, miserable, hard, dangerous, and at best certainly not fun. If you bring an “attitude” to the job, you will make it that much worse, perhaps not for yourself these days, but for everyone else.

    Yes, you can successfully match people to jobs. It happens all the time. But who really wants to be a garbage collector or prison guard? Most of us, like it or not have to take what we can get.

    I can say very little nice about the work I had to do during the two compulsory years I unwillingly spent in the US Army. However, I and most, but not all, of my fellow conscripts got through them in one piece. We learned how to survive and make the best of it, some of the time even cheerfully.

    Even more disastrous had been that we have, admittedly misguidedly, also persuaded large chunks of our population that the government will make sure that they will not be dismissed from their jobs for almost any reason no matter what their “attitude” might be.

    From my personal experience as a manager in a large corporation, I saw this result in a weird, obviously unwritten, corporate policy. If you got stuck with an undesirable, you would try to get him or her “promoted” to a “better” job in somebody else’s division or department. Failing that, you put them in a unit that didn’t do anything vital, and the next time a general reduction in staff came around, you got rid of the unit and them with it. Of course, there were law suits, but their expense was a bargain compared to the cost of having to put up with rotten workers.

    Almost all of us would collectively be better off if the government got out of the business of trying to engineer social change.

    Yes. People can be trained, but only if they want to be. People who really don’t want to work must be made to do their jobs like we were in the army.

    Oh yes, for those of you who have jobs that you actually like, thank your lucky stars!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I was going to post about that New York Times article. Great minds! I still might so I’ll save my powder.

    There are days that even a prison guard or garbage collector might consider good–when saving a life, being praised, winning a promotion, getting a raise or bonus. Some of us are lucky, as you point out, and have longer stretches of better days.

    Your army experience makes me think that maybe we should have mandatory military service again. Lots of people could use a dose.

  3. Debby Brown Said:

    I was struck by an item on the national news last night when Brian Williams reported Michele Obama frequently leaves the White House to go shopping. At Ben & Jerry’s, she reported, she’s never been noticed as the help (service providers?) “just look right through her!” (No, I don’t think it was a race issue.) Brian suggested at the end of the piece, a call would likely be coming from corporate on the subject of service.

    Over the years, I learned one essential key in hiring the right person for the job: check references. Not those necessarily supplied by the interviewee but talk to people who worked with him/her. One instance stands out when a friend of mine hired a candidate with all the right credentials and background. No one, including the boss, talked to others in the company where the candidate came from. It was a disaster and the person who “interviewed well” was fired in the first month!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a story! Michele Obama’s voice is distinctive even if she’s wrapped up in a scarf and sunglasses.

    I was waiting in line for hydroponic tomatoes at a farmer’s market in upstate New York years ago and heard a familiar voice–Mary Tyler Moore’s. She didn’t look a bit like the star and if she hadn’t said a word, I wouldn’t have recognized her. The tomato seller was alone at her booth and because it was spring, and everyone was hungry for a tomato that tasted close to vine grown, she had a long line, was working as fast as she could and never looked up. She was shocked when I told her she’d just sold a bag of tomatoes to the star, but even then, didn’t have time to blink as she was on to the next customer.

    Somehow I don’t think the ice cream sellers were in such a crunch.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    There’s no guarantee one is hiring the right person, regardless of the research one conducts, even with former colleagues and bosses. A perfect fit for “A” may not be good for “B.” Over and above employee requirements, unforeseen personality clashes may greet a well qualified new employee. Supervisors/bosses are not perfect and may also cause problems. The best solution for successful hiring, is to have a feeling for people in general. Those who follow their gut, over and above consulting references, hit the most jackpots.

    As for, Michele Obama, does it occur to anyone (other than Ben & Jerry workers) what a riot such a presence may cause? As a store manager, I would demand “non recognition” of any high profile personality, not only for orderly conduct of business, but more importantly, for the safety of that individual. It is also possible that the establishment may have been warned not to create a fuss. Many well known individuals welcome privacy, and are not happy with the idea of being followed about. Anyone remember what it cost Princess Diana?

  6. jeanne Byington Said:


    Wish you were right about Mrs. Obama. Had she been a rock or movie or sports star the staff would have recognized her. I fear they wouldn’t know what the President’s wife looked like if she sat at their dinner table.

    I also doubt that ice cream scoop training is as good as you describe. Turnover in such businesses barely allows staff to distinguish between Chunky Monkey and Rocky Road flavors before they change jobs. A luxury store no doubt has such training but not an ice cream store.

    If you get someone to tell you about a prospective employee unofficially, you may learn some basics such as “dependable as no other,” or “can’t juggle two projects,” or “is painfully shy but gets her job done” or “interviews well but that’s the only thing he does well.” You may still hire the shy person for a back room job or the bad juggler if she’ll never need to do more than one thing at once. If you can get such intelligence, I think it’s a good idea. It gives you an edge if no guarantees.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Our First Lady is a great deal more visible than you give her credit for. Her styles are being copied right and left, with some inspiration undoubtedly coming from womens magazines, a guess – I don’t read them, but dollars to donuts the icecream girl does.

    I am well aware of how many of those establishments work, (very poorly) since my sons worked there at one time or another. Ben & Jerrys, is somewhat above the lower cuts, and there are managers to run things. It comes to reason that training differs depending on area, and that establishments in DC will work differently than members of the same chain in Topeka. But even in Topeka, it’s highly probable that working girls of all echelons know what Mrs. “O” looks like!

    It’s not wise to judge another’s intelligence. Many an unexpected victory has come about through underestimating the opponent. The shopgirl you look down upon today, could be the one who is in a position to hire you tomorrow.

  8. jeanne Byington Said:


    Uninformed doesn’t equate with stupid. Sarah Palin is canny as a fox and at the same time uninformed.

    I assume your sons were young when they worked in such shops as, no doubt, are the ice cream scoopers. If they fit what we are told about this demographic, like their parents, they don’t watch TV news or read a paper–or a magazine–I think that it’s doubtful they’ll know what Mrs. O looks like. That’s why they’d hire us to counsel them when they head the division of their firm in their next job (which could happen as by then, they’ll replace the 30-somethings thought to be too expensive if the economy continues in this morbid direction).

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