Wednesday, November 04, 2009

hiring the help

I had a new intern start yesterday, a high school student obsessed with clay. Next week, I have another person starting as an assistant who I've been wooing since the summertime. She's coming from another studio so she has experience, a quality that is difficult to find. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but it seems that the under staffing problem I've been having since the beginning of the year since losing Sara to grad school may be coming to an end. And not a moment too soon.

You've may have heard me talk before about the importance of having help in the studio when you are always under the gun meeting orders. I've had people helping me in the studio since about 2004, and my life is better and more sane because of it. Some people, who shall go unnamed, and who really really need the help, have yet to take this step. There are several reasons for this: 1) some artists don't want to take the time away from their work to train new assistants. 2) some artists don't want other people messing with their work and changing its character, or worse, damaging it. 3) some artists think they can't afford the help. 4) some artists just don't want other bodies in the studio, making noise while they breathe, and changing up the dynamic.

I get all of these reasons. A lot if these fears can be overcome by finding the right person to work for you in the first place. I have always been extremely lucky in having really talented people work for me, individuals who can fit into my flow smoothly and pick up the work quickly. Each assistant I've hired has been better than the last. This year I had my first exception. I made a really bad hire. All of my instincts told me this person would not be a good fit, and I hired them anyway because the first person I hired totally flaked, and I was desperate. My studio can actually no longer function without extra hands, and the flaker put me right up against my deadlines, so I went ahead and hired someone who promptly drove me crazy. Not only because they simply could not handle the fast pace of a production environment and do the work in the way I wanted it done, but because of personal habits, like walking really really slowly. And dragging their feet while they did it. After about 8 weeks, I fired them. And vowed to never again hire anyone I had doubts about.

Finding the right person is more difficult than any of the reasons for not hiring someone in the first place. Unfortunately, suddenly putting the word out that you are hiring does not usually bring a flock of qualified applicants. My technique over the years has been to keep my eye out for people constantly, even if I'm currently all set. All of my friends know I hire help, so sometimes people will send me their nieces or random people they meet in workshops. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but staying open to the possibilities of new hires keeps a fairly steady flow. And I can't wait for my new person to start!


  1. brilliant read ive been all over the blogosphere this morning, thanks for that entirely enjoyable..

  2. I almost didn't read this cause I was all: 'yawn! business!" but your links make it so funny....I have someone helping right now and I consider myself productive (business is slow) when I get her weak in the knees with laughter. We have a great time together. ....its tough getting the right dynamic, takes years sometimes.

  3. I try to not be too dry and keep my blog amusing and interesting, even when I'm talking about business. I agree it can take some time to get the dynamic right with a helper, sometimes I never hit that really good vibe with some assistants. For me it's more important that they do their job well and enjoy what they are doing. But when you have someone working for you who is also a great studio pal it makes it so much better.

  4. I'm not even close to needing an assistant. But in my former career I hired and trained many assistants. I found that the best long term match was usually someone over 30, that had already developed a work ethic. Also getting along and laughing is certainly a plus, but becoming "Friends" was never a good idea.

  5. I had a few posts to read to catch up, but enjoyed every one of them!

    Just a couple of questions:
    Out of curiosity, what do get your hired help to do? (Not that I can take the job, I live too far away!)
    And did I understand your previous post (about the lady who wanted free delivery) correctly? She wanted free delivery because you under charged her??

  6. Hello Miss Undaunted, good to see you again.

    The stuff I have assistants do totally depends on their pay grade. Interns keep the studio tidy, do simple glaze jobs (like little flowers) clean molds, wash buckets, wedge clay, make me more coffee, and whatever little annoying job I don't feel like doing. My throwing assistant throws cake plates, wedges more clay, pours molds, and does the finishing work on molded items, and whatever other thing I don't feel like doing. My glaze assistant mixes glaze, preps work for glazing, then helps me glaze and load kilns. I'm going to add "massage my shoulders" into that job description.

    And yes, the customer wanted free shipping because of the initial undercharge, which needed amending. To be fair, she did pay the difference without complaint, but I still felt annoyed about her demand for free shipping. I would never ask that of somebody, unless they made an egregious mistake. But, the world doesn't revolve around what I would do. Unfortunately.

  7. Wow, what a cheek! I mean the lady wanting free shipping, not you wanting your shoulders massaged!! I think that's a reasonable request!

    I got free delivery on my grocery shopping, but that's because they forgot a whole bag of items and I had to go to the supermarket myself to get them! But if I had been undercharged, it would be me ringing the company to tell them! As you say, the rest of the world behave in their own way.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog by the way :)

  8. So timely, Whitney. I procrastinated in hiring someone for so long. Last month I was featured in People magazine although I had not read a copy in over 10 years. No help as no longer an option.
    So, 3 weeks ago I took the plunge and hired an assistant and the light went on in my studio. I couldn't be more pleased.

  9. Hey, I now have my own glaze technician! Yippee! Well, ok, it's my niece! She's 12 and I paid her in chocolate this time! But it could become a regular thing... :)