Interview Techniques to Try Out at Your Small Business
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Interview Techniques

(This is the third step in my 5-step hiring process series.)

job interviewHere are the tasks I complete to prepare for an interview.
I ask myself “What do I want to know?” I know what experience or skills I want the applicant to have and that determines the questions I need to ask. I prepare my interview questions ahead of time– at least mentally. I have done this so many times now, that I don’t need a complete list of questions. Instead I jot a few notes on the application or resume for things I want to be sure to ask. I start with a notepad and a fresh sheet of paper because I will be taking notes during the interview. You may prefer to interview from a printed list of questions.

Lists of interview questions. To get your list of questions started, there are online resources like Interview Questions: 25 Great Ideas. Ultimately, you are just preparing for an organized conversation with the goal of getting honest responses from the applicant.

Be compliant. Again. Interview Questions to Avoid and Preparing for a Candidate Interview list questions and other behaviors that have the potential to get the interviewer accused of discrimination. Even a relatively tame question like “Where are you from?” could land the interviewer in Big Trouble if the applicant claims discrimination based on national origin.

I usually start with a phone interview.
Reasons to do a phone interview. Yes, it is an extra step in the hiring process, but in the long run it saves time for both me and the interviewee.

  • If the open position involves speaking with customers by phone, it gives me the chance to hear how well the applicant can communicate over the phone.
  • I use a shorter list of interview questions and take notes during the call. If I invite the applicant for a face-to-face interview, I can have follow-up questions ready that are based on my notes from the phone interview.
  • It breaks the ice for the face-to-face interview.
  • If the applicant is not a good fit for the open position, and therefore, a face-to-face interview is not needed, it saves time for both of us.

Surprise them! I don’t schedule phone interviews. Since my schedule is often derailed, it is easier to catch the applicant when the calling time is convenient for me. With cell phones, I almost always reach the applicant on the first try. If I need to leave a message, and I do not get a call back, I know where I stand.

  • I might call early in the day to see if they are still asleep.
  • I like to see how they handle distractions like young children, barking dogs, etc.
  • I see if they can land on their feet and handle the unscheduled interview professionally.

A face-to-face interview follows a successful phone interview.
Review. Just before the interview, I take the time to look over the applicant’s resume, application, Pre-Employment Questionnaire (PEQ) responses, and notes from the phone interview or the information I saw online (i.e., LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google).

  • The review saves time by keeping the interview on track and reminds me of questions I want to ask, points of concern, and attributes that are particularly interesting.
  • I am less likely to confuse one applicant’s answers with another applicant’s answers.
  • It helps me focus on the interview instead of the hundreds of other tasks I need to be doing.

The interview. The best interview is a conversation that first establishes rapport, the applicant does most of the talking, and it ends with a professional thank you. Conducting An Interview goes into detail about the before, during and after of the interview. In addition, here are my hints to avoid hiring a loser:

  • Did the candidate come prepared? (If s/he did not even look at our website to learn about our company, that is a bad sign.)
  • Does the candidate have questions about the job or the company? (If s/he has seriously thought about the open position, there should be at least one question for me!)
  • Does the candidate seem to really want the job? (Allowing for more reserved personalities, I don’t expect every candidate to be gushing with enthusiasm, but there should be a comment or question that communicates a desire to be hired for this specific job.)
  • I take notes during the interview. If our follow-up reference and employment checks tell us that the candidate lied in the interview, that is a bad sign. Really bad.

Sometimes a second face-to-face interview is needed; sometimes I decide to move to the next step; sometimes the candidate does not measure up.

Second interview is needed. I may set up a second interview if…

  • there is another person in my company who should meet the applicant(s) before a job is offered,
  • or if I have given the applicant(s) an assignment to complete (e.g., a writing task).

Rejection. Usually, I tell the applicant face-to-face that they are not a fit for the position. If you choose to send an email message to notify an applicant that they are not a fit, there are samples on the internet. This is another situation that requires careful attention to laws about discrimination.

Move to the next step. If I am seriously interested in hiring the applicant, it is time to do a background check, call references, etc. And since I don’t want to lose a strong applicant to another employer, I am sure to communicate clearly with the applicant through the background check step. After all, the applicant is forming a first impression of my company, too.

Ask the Small Business Expert

Mike Kappel, Serial Entrepreneur

describe the imageQuestion: Are there any “red flags” you look for during an interview?

Mike says: There are the obvious red flags like arriving late, inappropriate attire, using a cell phone during the interview, or bringing a parent into the interview. (Yes, these things have actually happened!) But I have a few other things I watch for…

  • I have been known to conduct “The Atrium Test” which involves the applicant keeping up with me as I give a brief, brisk tour of our offices. I think it tells me something about the applicant’s energy and confidence if s/he keeps up with me. To paraphrase Sinatra, if they don’t keep up there, [maybe] they won’t keep up anywhere. And I admit I am impressed when an applicant zips ahead of me.
  • I recently tried the unpopular brainteaser question “Why are manhole covers round?” with a job seeker. I wanted to see if he would think about it and offer some kind of response… any kind of response. He did not. I think it told me something about his ability to think on his feet. I did not hire him (based on other factors as well).
  • I am also thinking about long-term retention during the interview because employee turnover is expensive. How long did the applicant remain in previous jobs?

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