When it comes to recruiting, hiring and retaining great frontline employees, Mel Kleiman sees things a little differently than most. For instance, just about every interviewer will ask a candidate to tell them about their last job. A better question, according to business consultant Kleiman, is: “Tell me about the very first thing you did to earn money.”

He explained why that’s a better approach: “Most people start from the front (most recent job) and work back. I say, start at the start. You can see progression, growth, challenges — you’re finding out about the real person.”

That is absolutely vital because your company is only as good as the people working for you, he added. “Frontline workers — hourly workers — are the backbone of the marketplace,” Kleiman said. “They make the difference.” That’s one of the messages he hopes people will take away from his seminar at the 2013 International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo, running in Las Vegas Nov. 12-14.

But how do you find top-notch employees? “Use ‘uncommon common sense’ to hire and retain A-team players,” he urged. “If you need someone who works hard, do you ask if they have a good work ethic? Do you ever ask an applicant, ‘What’s the hardest job you ever had, and how long did you last at it?’ Why don’t we ask that? Hire for attitude, train for skills.”

To show how serious this hiring game is, Kleiman pointed out that a company’s well-being ultimately is at stake. “When you put up with mediocrity, you’re creating a slow death for your business. Mediocrity is a cancer. Being good is no longer good enough,” he said.

The president of Humetrics Inc., based in Sugarland, Texas, is a leading authority on such staffing issues. His 37-year-old firm offers research, hiring tools and training programs for business owners and hiring managers to help them reduce hourly employee turnover, boost productivity and improve profits.

Kleiman also travels around the United States and abroad, giving custom presentations to companies and associations of all sizes, from Applebee’s and Jiffy Lube to the National Apartment Association, not to mention corporate meetings and events such as the upcoming Expo in Las Vegas.

A former business owner himself, Kleiman once owned three different firms, including the largest group of Hertz Rent-A-Car franchise locations in the USA. He knows firsthand the importance of finding and hiring productive, motivated, responsible employees, and has shared his insights in five business books, including the best-selling Hire Tough, Manage Easy (Humetrics, 1999).

Kleiman and his wife, Roberta, have two children and four grandchildren, who love that their grandparents have a backyard pool. Not surprisingly, in his leisure time, Kleiman said he likes to work out and swim.