The biggest corporations have experienced human resources professionals to handle all interviewing, hiring, and firing. They know not only the best questions to ask and the best assessments to use, but also the laws that govern what’s appropriate to ask during an interview. Us small business owners are often stuck doing the interviews ourselves, armed with just the information we could scrape out of the Internet in the half-hour before the meeting.
It’s far from optimal, but in the small business world you have to do what you can with what you have. In the spirit of increasing the “what you have” part of the equation, here are ten top tips from human resources experts who have experience working with global corporations.
Two interviews conducted at different times by two different people is a far more reliable method for choosing a perfect candidate than a group or single interview. It takes a little extra time – and may require some creativity if you run a very small shop – but it helps weed out personal preferences that have little to do with the specific requirements of a job. It also helps as a defense against accusations of discrimination (which are a risk for companies of any size).
Practice the 80/20 Rule
You know the 80/20 rule as applied to productivity and customers, but it’s just as much a part of interviewing. From start to finish, you should do at most 20 percent of the talking. Many interviewers spend time talking about the company or even themselves, but the point of the interview is to find out as much as you can about the candidate.
Get Familiar with Google Forms
Major corporations often conduct a custom-built assessment test as an early stage in the interview process. You probably can’t afford something like that (they run in the five and six figures even for basic builds), but Google Forms allows you to create one for the cost of about a week’s worth of effort. This tool will weed out the most unqualified candidates (and the job seekers who won’t bother beyond a resume), letting you focus your efforts on the best leads.
Meet with the Team
In the smallest businesses, you are the team and you know exactly what you need to make a good decision about what a particular position requires. But if you’re not in a department on a daily basis, take time to visit with that team. Ask them what they would like to see in a new candidate, and specific questions that will best gauge the core qualifications for the job. The people who best know what a job requires are the people who do that job – or work with the person who does that job – daily.
Don’t be satisfied with the first answer to any given question. Instead, ask a follow-up question on whatever part of the candidate’s answer that caught your attention the most. Do this for two reasons. First, it helps you stay focused on the interview – which can become difficult as a day of interviews wears on. Second, you’ll learn more about the candidate as a person when you go beyond the first level of queries.
Take Enough Time
Schedule an hour per interview, minimum. Although most won’t take that long, it leaves time at the end to take notes and even rest before the next candidate comes through. If you’re tired or pressed for time, you will not conduct effective interviews. If you don’t take notes, you won’t remember the most important differences between the various candidates.
Research the Candidate
Thirty minutes on Google and Facebook will tell you a lot about a person. Don’t use that information to find the most embarrassing bachelorette party or frat house photos to grill and embarrass them. Those have little to do with the job (and you wouldn’t want to be judged for your most embarrassing moments either). Instead, look for the hobbies, interests, and experiences that would make the candidate a great match for the position and the culture of your company as a whole. Open the interview with a few questions on those topics. It will put the candidate more at ease and allow for a more comfortable and honest conversation.
Practice Active Listening
Active listening is a counseling and mediation technique that both helps you listen and understand someone more fully and reassures the person that you are fully listening. Like any skill, it takes practice but you can learn the basics in a couple of hours and practice them with your staff. Even a little bit of active listening can produce very different results in an interview.
Avoid the Forbidden List
It is against the law to make hiring decisions based on gender, religion, race, age, disability, family status, (irrelevant) criminal record, nationality, country of origin, or sexual orientation. If you ask about any of these points and don’t hire a candidate even if the question had nothing to do with the decision, you open yourself up to a lawsuit. Avoid those topics in their entirety.
Most interviewers go into the meeting with a list of questions, which they then ask in order. Although it’s good to show up prepared, the list should not direct the meeting. If an answer needs some follow-ups (see #5 above) to get the information you need, you should ask those follow-up questions. If the candidate answers question number 6 during his addressing of question number three, go ahead and skip question number six. An interview is a conversation, not a manufacturing process. Arrive prepared to customize it as the candidate and situation require.
It’s likely you already practice a few of these tricks, but adding just one or two to your repertoire can help make your next interview more likely to bring in the best talent for whichever position you need filled.
Do you have a tale of triumph or woe to share with the community? Tell us about it in the comments below.