How to Hire Engaged Employees…Not Zombies!


With Halloween quickly approaching, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about one of the scariest phenomena in the working world: employee disengagement.

Today, disengagement in the US workforce is nearly as widespread as an outbreak of zombification.

According to Gallup: “Though there have been some slight ebbs and flows, less than one-third of U.S. employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces during these 15 years.”

Since the year 2000, only about 1/3 of the people who work in this country have been engaged in their job. The other 70% of employees fall onto the disengaged side of the spectrum and the most lifeless of these employees are referred to as “actively disengaged.” Even more alarming is the fact that, compared to the global workplace engagement level (13%), we’re in pretty good shape.

Any job can get tedious, but often, the reason that someone isn’t engaged in their job is because they never wanted to do it in the first place. Just because someone has held a job title doesn’t mean they enjoyed doing that job, and just because it says “5 years’ experience” on their resume doesn’t mean that it wasn’t five years of foot dragging and near-disasters.

Signs of Zombie Hires

Deadened eyes, moaning and an insatiable hunger for coffee breaks are signs of advanced job zombification, but some candidates are in denial about their affliction.

Like the person in every zombie movie that gets bit and doesn’t tell anyone, these candidates want to appear full of life so they can join up with your team and follow you to greener pastures. Unfortunately for the team, they are now relying on a zombie in the making and it is only a matter of time before their engagement drops to undead levels.

Chronically disengaged employees are spinning their wheels at the cost of their employers everywhere. Here are some of the most common signs of zombie hires:

  • Attention is Split -Displays much more enthusiasm when not talking about your open job. Whether they’re obsessed with music festivals or fantasy football, you can learn how invested a candidate is in their job by asking what they like to do off the clock. Take note of when candidates appear to be the most engaged. If it’s when you’re explaining technical aspects of the work they’ll be doing, you have a winner. If they’re the most engaged when talking about basketball, basket weaving or Burning Man, it is a sign that their attention is split between work and play. Follow up with their references and ask them about how effective the candidate was at balancing their work and their obsession.
  • Attitude is Questionable– Displays an indifferent attitude towards their current job or the work they do. If a candidate becomes bored while explaining the work that they do or while you’re explaining the work they would do, it is a sign that they don’t care much for the work that they do. They might be good at this work, but their heart isn’t in it. If it feels like you’re talking to a brick wall, then the person before you is suffering from job zombification and hiring them for the same job at your company will do very little for their condition.
  • References are Lukewarm– Zombie employees will always come with references that are room temperature. Some references may tell you that you’re dealing with a zombie, but, often, candidates call ahead to warn their references and solicit them for a good review. It can be hard to say no, but it’s pretty easy to tell when a reference is struggling to come up with meaningful accomplishments. When you encounter a lukewarm reference, ask them about the candidate’s overall levels of engagement and how those levels fluctuated during their period of employment. If there is an issue there, this direct line of questioning will lead you straight to it.

Interviewing for Signs of Life

Just because there’s a swarm of zombies out there doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few survivors that you can add to your team. Most people can chug a large coffee and put forth enthusiasm in the interview, but a true love for your craft is hard to fake.

Here are some of the signs that the candidate before you is engaged with the work they’re doing and ready to be an addition to your team’s fight against the undead.

Has their Finger on the Pulse of Your Industry

People who are engaged in their job always keep their eye on the horizon for the next big industry upset. Whether it’s a new technology, tool or technique, engaged candidates will be excited to talk to you about the next big thing.

Given that this is an election year, see if candidates are aware of any proposed legislation that is poised to have an effect on your industry. Another good way to test industry knowledge is to ask what they know about your company’s competitors and what is making them choose your company over the competition. When a candidate displays a great deal of interest in your industry, this is a sign that they are engaged in the work they do and that they will be a good addition to the team.

Knows What They Know (And it’s a Lot)

Engaged candidates will always be trying to improve their skills and build upon their understanding of the work they do. Besides having advanced knowledge, they will also display a desire to learn and will know where their own expertise could be improved. It’s hard to admit that your knowledge isn’t complete, but engaged candidates are more interested in knowing where they can improve than looking like they know everything.

Ask candidates what they are most interested in learning or what they think would be the most useful skill for them to learn. Ask if they are taking any online courses or if they are interested in furthering their education. You’re looking for signs of curiosity here, both in the work they’re doing and the way that your company is doing it.

Is Going Somewhere with the Skills You Need

An engaged candidate has a plan that is related to the work they’re currently doing. While their ultimate career goals might involve employing someone with their current job title, engaged candidates will have a passion for the skills required by your open job.

Ask candidates about their career plans and how they see your job fitting into those plans. This helps build rapport between interviewer and candidate, but it also shows you how much longer they’re planning on using their current skill set. If they envision using their skills for some time, or using these skills as a stepping stone to greater expertise in their field,  For instance, if you were hiring an accountant

Has Glowing References

Engaged candidates are hard to come by, and the real deal will always come with good recommendations. Unlike the lukewarm references that zombies get, engaged employees will have a clear list of accomplishments and will have left a positive impact on the places where they have worked. Just to be sure, ask references about the candidate’s engagement levels and if they have ever taken a noticeable dip during their time on the job.

Conclusion of the Living Dead

Employee engagement is important, as anyone currently employing a zombie will tell you. Engaged employees put forth more effort because they enjoy the job, the work and the company they work for.

Disengaged employees do not. Like someone bitten by a zombie, their energy levels will decline quickly after being hired and, before long, you’ll be wondering what led you to hire them in the first place. However, by watching for signs of zombification in your candidates and looking for signs of passion and engagement, you can separate the survivors from the soon-to-be-zombies and promote greater levels of engagement at your company.


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