Interview with Victoria Workman, Professor of Human Resources SLCC

Victoria Workman has held many professional titles in Human Resources for various companies over her career, before settling at St Lawrence College Cornwall as a Professor of Human Resources where she instructs the next generation of Human Resources Professionals.

When is the right time for a new business owner to decide to bring an employee into the business?

Once your company is up and running successfully for about a year or so, depending on your business needs, you could hire your first employee. It could be part-time or contract work, it doesn’t always have to be full-time.

What is the first step a new business owner needs to take when they have decided to hire someone?

They need to think about the job and how the job fits into the overall business strategy. They'll need at least a rudimentary job description, and there will be ID requirements for the candidate. Like many small business owners, many people like to talk to their friends and offer them work. We need to be very careful because these preliminary discussions could also count as an employment contract. They need to be careful what they might promise because an employment contract is a binding legal agreement, even discussing it might be considered a verbal contract.

Can you explain the difference between a job description and a job specification?

The job specification usually contains the skills, qualifications or traits needed to do the job, as well as the job description. The job description lists the working conditions which might be things such as: Is the job 7 days a week? Does it take place in a shop? Are there any hazards?

Would these be useful for a smaller business just starting up?

For a smaller business just the job description is fine. You can find templates available online there is no need to create it from scratch. Many of the templates have tools that can help you. The Federal Government of Canada has templates which have all the legal requirements specific to the federal and provincial laws.

How important is it to have a well-written job description?

A job description is a legal document, if it is improperly written, they could be sued. Using a template provided by the government can be a protection from that. It is a risk, and ythey must ask themselves what kind of risk they want as a business operator.

What are some dos and don’ts of writing a job description?

Access the Canadian or Ontario template for the right legal protections.
Connect it with the overall business strategy: you really want to make sure that that line of sight is available.
Be thoughtful of each requirement listed.

Overinflate the requirements because they could get into legal trouble.
Keep looking for the ultimate candidate, you might pass up some excellent candidates while trying to find the “perfect” employee.

What are some things employers might fail to consider when looking to employ someone?

Employers focus too much on who referred the candidate. There can be higher expectations because of the referral. Some business owners might fail to do their due diligence to check whether the candidate has the right skills because they were referred by someone they trust. One should not overlook the basic steps, and always act professionally.

What should the small business owner be looking for in a candidate?

Just to generalize some of the things a small business owner might be looking for are employees who are able to deal with change, because that rapid resilience is very important in small businesses. Independent workers are very important as well in a small business. They need to be making decisions on their own and know the steps to take to decide. They will need to have a positive attitude. Another important factor when hiring one of their first employees, is the trustworthiness and reliability. They need to make sure that the employee is honorable and has integrity as they represent the business in the community.

What are some methods small business employers could use to screen their candidates effectively?

Telephone screenings are a great first step and certainly, that is one way you can do it yourself, and do screening interviews through the telephone. Obviously, a structured employment interview using some good behavioral questions is an excellent screening technique. There are skills testing available that you can find online as well. If you want to test for a certain skill, those are also available online. You can assess your candidate job references. You must be careful about reference checking. There are limits to what you can do in Canada legally, and not every job is appropriate to have certain referencing done so you have got to be thoughtful. Also, I would take all references that you get from previous employers with a grain of salt. They are helpful to a certain extent, but many companies have a policy not to provide references, and some that do may not be providing you with the most accurate information, so you should just be careful.

There are also job boards which one might have to pay a small fee for the service, but it is not expensive. If you want to have your applicants screened through a service, there is AI on LinkedIn which does a lot of pre-screening, and one could also hire an agency to do it all for them.

Are there any community-based resources that might help connect employers to prospective employees?

For job boards, probably the most popular one in our local area is They have a lot of locally based employment opportunities posted there and a lot of candidates search there regularly. Local schools are another great source including Saint Lawrence College. We also have our own job boards as well as connections with past graduates and students. Jobs can be posted for no cost on the College Job Board, and it is free for graduates to look at.

How can a small business owner make sure they attract the right talent?

social media is very big right now. They will want to be seen as an employer of choice and to do that they need to build their brand. Social media is a no cost or low-cost way to do that a business owner could even pay for a social media amplifier service to help get their message out some of these social media amplifier services even have free levels so you might not have to pay right away.

Do you have any other hiring advice for a new business owner in S D & G just starting out?

Something that many new employers might not be aware of is that we have so many international students in the area, and of course local domestic students too. As someone who has been teaching at the college for the past several years, we have many new international students coming into our area and they are all looking for part time jobs. SLC international students all speak English and are for the most part incredibly hardworking and anxious to get a job in Canada.

Taking on a part time student can be a great way ultimately to then have a skilled full-time employee when they graduate. It can also be a great way to dip your toe in the water with employment and not commit full-time to someone.  Hiring a student is a great way to train that perspective person and have them pretty much tailor ready for you when they graduate.

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