Don’t bore yourself and candidates with a generic interview. Learn how to ask thoughtful questions that help you hire the best possible employees for your business.
Everyone looking for work prepares extensively for a job interview.
As a small-business owner looking to hire a new employee, your homework should be every bit as thorough and thoughtful — particularly with regard to the interview questions you ask.
The cost of a poor hire is both emotional and financial. Not only do you have the unpleasant task of letting someone go, there’s the expense of recruiting, advertising and other costs.
“Hiring anyone is expensive. Hiring the wrong person is even more costly,” says Cleveland-based interview consultant Don Georgevich. “That’s an expense that a lot of small businesses simply can’t afford.”
Ask the right questions
That makes solid interview questions a must. To begin to draw up potential questions, think about ways to frame them that elicit real-life examples from interviewees. For instance, “Tell me about a time when you had to handle a professional crisis” as opposed to “How do you handle stress?”
“You might ask an applicant for an example that shows how they would fit into the culture of your business,” says Georgevich. “Let them talk about ways they’ve adapted in the past.”
That’s not necessary in all cases, however, adds Georgevich. It’s never a bad idea to mix in an occasional question that can be answered with a yes or no and see which candidates run with it and which ones settle for a terse response that doesn’t tell you much about them.
“Anytime an interviewer asks a yes or no question, the interviewee should assume that they want an example,” he says.
Another solid question is something of an old standby: “Why do you want to work here?” While that may have a few wrinkles on it, the question offers interviewees the opportunity to move beyond simple job skills and address topics such as your culture, work environment and other elements that can suggest whether they would be a good fit.
It’s also important to craft questions to fit the available position. For instance, interviewing a candidate for a sales position naturally suggests your questions will be geared more toward relationship-building and personal skills. By contrast, an IT technician’s interview might focus more on core competencies and levels of training.
Another strategy involves questions that, in one way or another, most every job applicant would be able to address. An interviewee who says she’s never had professional or personal differences with any co-worker may be the sweetest person alive. But it’s also possible that her prior work experience was particularly superficial and designed to avoid even the most innocent sorts of disagreements — or that she simply isn’t telling the truth.
“If someone continually says, ‘That didn’t happen,’ it may mean he doesn’t have the depth of experience that you want,” says Georgevich.
Nor do questions have to focus exclusively on actual events and experience. In the book “Human Resources Kit for Dummies,” author Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of the staffing firm Robert Half International, points out that hypothetical situations — such as asking how an applicant would handle a particular problem or challenge — can be very revealing about his creativity and ability to think on his feet. (Just make sure the imaginary situation is pertinent to the job you’re looking to fill.)
Remember — interviews are a two-way street
It’s also important to pay attention to an applicant’s responses as a reflection of the quality and thoughtfulness of your questions. For instance, if questions during the first couple of interviews bring out stilted or clipped responses, try rephrasing them to see if they can elicit more useful information. “If you can think of better ways to ask questions, your second and third interviews will be better than your first,” says Georgevich.
Additionally, don’t treat the interview process as an exclusively one-way street. Although you want to draw up questions that help you identify the most qualified candidate, bear in mind that the interview is also a reflection of you and your business. If your interview questions come off as wooden or stereotypic, that may convince the best candidate that she would be better off working elsewhere.
“It’s extremely important to make it a two-sided interview,” says Georgevich. “The applicant is going to ask himself if this is a place that he wants to be. That’s why it’s so important to do a solid job up front with the interview. Don’t just Google a few interview questions and be done with it.”