It’s true that with a standardized cleaning system, quality equipment and some upfront training time, most employees are capable of performing routine cleaning tasks. But cleaning companies aren’t just about cleaning; they’re about customer service. This is important to remember when it’s time to hire new employees. In fact, you might want to focus your job search on the basis of exceptional customer service.
Standard interview questions such as “What were your responsibilities in your last job?” or “What did you like or dislike about your previous position?” will provide basic information about a candidate’s background and skills. However, these questions don’t indicate whether the applicant is reliable, respectful toward others (including fellow employees, supervisors and customers), willing to make the effort to complete tasks, or is capable of responding appropriately to unexpected problems that may arise. 
Behavioral questions that elicit focused answers and specific examples provide better clues as to how employees will perform in these areas. For example, asking, “How do you deal with a difficult customer?” gives you insight on how the candidate views and interacts with other people. Does he try to understand their issues? Does he communicate effectively? Can he take responsibility for his part of the problem? 
There are three things to look for in the answer: First, a specific example of how the customer was difficult; second, what the candidate did to resolve the issue; and finally, any indication of lingering resentment toward that customer. If the interviewee answers, “The customer is always right,” and says they always do what they are told, you may want to press them further. Making sure you know the conflict resolution style of an employee can save you headaches down the line.
Another question to ask is, “When have you gone ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ on your job?” This question is designed to help you understand how intrinsically motivated the candidate is. 
You will be looking for examples of how a candidate put in extra effort, cooperated with and helped fellow employees or customers, and his ability to move out of his comfort zone. For instance, a quality answer could be: “When the boss was sick one day, I helped his secretary fill out the daily schedule. It took me an extra half hour, but the rest of the crew got to their assignments on time. It also helped to see how the system worked. I like learning new things.” 
Asking a question like this can help you find employees who will provide you with the flexibility that every good cleaning organization needs.
Remember, despite all your efforts some hiring decisions may not work out. The old adage, “hire slow and fire fast,” are words to live by in the cleaning industry.

Judy Gillies is the founder and president of The Surge Group Inc., a cleaning consulting company located in Toronto that helps facility managers improve their cleaning operations.  She is one of the authors of “Behind the Broom, A Manager’s Guide to a Professional Cleaning Operation.”  For more information about Gillies or to get a copy of the book, visit