Q. I am about to hire my first employee. Do you have any advice on how to interview?
A. If you are new to the hiring process, interviewing can be daunting. After spending only a few minutes with several strangers (candidates), you have to decide who you’ll trust to care for your baby (company) as it grows. This is one reason so many small-business people depend on friends and family members for their first employees—but that is a topic for another article. The good news is that interviewing doesn’t have to be difficult, if you follow these ten tips.
1. Decide what you need – Write down what skills, cognitive capabilities, and behaviors the person you hire will need to succeed. These are the “job requirements.” Experience can be important, but we advise you to hire behaviors and train skills. Don’t skimp on this step. The rest of the process is dependent on the work you do here.
2. Plan the interview – Develop questions, cases and other assessments that will help you to determine how well the candidates meet your job requirements. For example, if you want to know if someone understands bookkeeping, give them a sample invoice and ask them to walk you through how it will affect the income statement and balance sheet. You’ll need between five and ten questions for a typical hour-long interview.
3. Leverage multiple opinions – Invite others to participate in the process. You can ask other business owners, an HR or other type of consultant or friends with appropriate backgrounds to sit in on the interview. The goal is to have at least one additional person involved in the process. Having a second opinion is invaluable.
4. Do the homework – After you have narrowed the field to those you plan to interview, send the job requirements, resumes and cover letters to those who will help you. Insist they read the documents carefully. It is amazing how many people conduct interviews without having prepared.
5. Divide and concur – Discuss the questions you want to ask with those who will help you interview. They may suggest questions you hadn’t thought of. Determine who will ask which questions and who will take notes.
6. Set the stage – Ensure you have the proper surroundings and enough time. Hold the interviews in a comfortable, private location. Set aside at least one hour for each interview and a few minutes following each interview to discuss and complete your notes.
7. Help the candidate get comfortable – Start with easy, get-to-know-you questions. Most candidates will be a bit nervous, so asking a couple “softball” questions will help to break down barriers. You want to see the candidate’s natural behavior as much as possible.
8. Stay focused – Ask questions that pertain to the job. Avoid questions that ask about the candidate’s race, gender, religion, marital status, age, disabilities, ethnic background, country of origin, sexual preferences and/or age. Stick to questions that will help you to determine which candidate will best fit your job requirements.
9. Follow-up and dig – When a candidate finishes answering a question, you don’t have to move on. You can and should ask follow-up questions. For example, ask, “Who else was involved with the project, what was your exact role, what were the outcomes or results, why did you approach the issue that way, what other ways could you have accomplished the same thing?” The trick is to get below the surface. Follow-up questions will help you to see the full picture.
10. Let the candidate do the talking – Those new to interviewing often make the mistake of doing most of the talking—explaining the company and the job. Instead, stick to your plan and your questions. While it is fine to spend a couple of minutes reviewing the job requirements, make sure the bulk of the interview is spent listening to the candidate.
If you need help developing questions, search online for interview and case questions. There are hundreds of sample questions available. Best wishes to you for a successful search.