Small Business

By: John Rossheim

Your small business has achieved the revenue level where you can and must hire your next employee. Candidates are coming this afternoon for the interview. Are you ready to make one of the most important decisions of the year?

Here’s what you do: look around your business, review your interview questions and make sure your new hire provides a worthy return on investment -- just like your first hire did.

Devote sufficient time to conduct -- and prepare for -- interviews. You know from experience (perhaps both positive and negative) that hiring decisions are among the most significant that you make. So allocate proportionate time to the process, especially for interviewing.

"It’s important to slow down," says Bruce Bachenheimer, professor of management at Pace University. "Small business owners are typically dealing with a myriad of critical issues and many are in a rush to hire." Consider using an interview guide for better hiring.

Learn the details of the open position. You can't know all the tasks that your people perform everyday – unless you ask. "Ask the person currently in the role their daily schedule," says Jason Carney of WorkSmart Systems, a professional employer organization.

"Know the specific duties and responsibilities of the open position, and be familiar with the job role and how it contributes to the overall business."

Know the candidate before you shake hands. It's simple: You won't win over the best candidates unless you prove that you're interested in their careers. "Thoroughly research the candidate," says Sandra Lewis, of Worldwide 101, a virtual assistant service.

"I've been part of many interviews where the interviewer got confused about who the interviewee was – they got the background wrong or asked a question obviously geared towards someone else."

Ask broad questions to prompt candidates to reveal themselves. Begin by asking the opposite of yes-no questions. "Ask generic, open-ended questions and see how they answer," says attorney Jonathan Broder, owner of Strategic Professional Staffing.

"How they respond and what they decide to share with you will reveal a lot about how they think and who they are."

Ask detailed questions to assess expertise. After you've gotten the candidate to reveal himself or herself, drill down to assess subject-matter expertise and analytical skills with more specific interview questions. You might even bring in a current employee in a similar role to help evaluate her or his prospective peer.

Find out what the candidate knows about your small business. Whether from the local newspaper or your web site or public records, there's a lot that a candidate can -- and therefore should -- find out about your business before coming to speak with you. Candidates' level of knowledge is a good indicator both of their genuine interest in your trade and their research abilities. Take this opportunity to test them.

Pose a question regarding an issue your company has recently confronted. Maybe you've had a customer service snafu. Or a human resources issue. Or a cash-flow glitch. Lay out the situation and ask the candidate how they would go about resolving it.

Suit the questions to the job and your company's culture. Your small company culture  is water, and you are the fish who is so immersed that you can't even see it. But you ignore what's invisible at your peril.

"Ask two types of questions," says Angelo Kinicki , a professor of management at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

"The first type should be behavioral interview questions that assess if the candidate has the knowledge, skills, and competence to do the job. The second kind of question should focus on person-culture fit."

Observe their communication style. You may have seen it happen: An otherwise competent hire starts work at a small business and a wave of misunderstandings begets a tsunami of mishaps. Now's your chance to try to head off such trouble.

"Have the candidate join a staff discussion, react to a difficult test situation, engage in a discussion on an issue important to the team over a casual lunch," says Bachenheimer. "Carefully observe body language, temper, congeniality and other traits -- not just oral communications."

Keep the interview legal. While you're doing all this productive probing, take care to keep the discussion professional at all times. "If a question feels too personal and intrusive, it probably is," says Broder, who is an attorney.

"To ensure you don't expose yourself to legal liability, stick to questions that pertain only to the candidate's job history, experience, education and skills." Many ill-advised hiring managers ask about how the candidate's home life will affect availability for work; this can be illegal as well as unethical. Inform yourself and be sure you follow a legal hiring process.



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