Question: Interviewing techniques for business owners


It is difficult it is to find good, reliable employees for small businesses. Yet, most guides relate to hiring for big company jobs. Here are some of the questions I have:

1. What kind of preparation should a busy interviewer do before the interview?

2. What kind of questions are best to pinpoint the right candidates?

3. How can you structure the interview to determine whether a candidate has traits desirable to the job in question?

4. What are some red flags during a candidate's interview?

5. Is it a good idea to hold multiple interviews?

6. What kind of followup should the business owner do after the interview?

2 Expert answers


I often help my clients to find good people to fill key positions. Before any interviews ever happen make sure that what people are responding to is a very solid job ad. Small business owners being very busy hastily post a shallow ad that doesn't fully describe the position, skills necessary to thrive in the position, minimum qualifications, and opportunities for growth (yes, even in a small business people want to grow!).

Here are my answers to your questions:

1. Review the resume, look for the candidate on LinkedIn to verify information, Google them to see if any surprising information comes up.

2. What large companies do that small ones often don't is to ask a set of standard questions. This way every client is treated equally and sketchy questions are avoided. After asking a vetted set of questions related to the resume and workplace behavioral questions such as, "Tell me about a mistake you made in your last job and how you handled it.", additional spontaneous follow-on questions can be asked for further clarification. This is the best way to get the right information from each candidate. Don't wing it!

3. Ask the behavioral type questions. How would your former co-workers describe you? What do you think are your strongest assets we can count on? How does this job fit in to your long-range career plan? What type of optional self-improvement training have you done in the last year? Remember, you're looking for someone who can do the job, fit in to the culture and be a long-term asset. Just asking about job-related skills isn't enough.

4. Showing up late. Not looking you in the eye. Being unsure of their answers. Not smiling. Having no questions of their own about the company. Showing little evidence of having done their homework about your company (or you). Having a poor answer to why they'd like to work at your company specifically.

5. Absolutely. If you want long-term employees, then you should have at least 2 rounds of interviews. I've had 2nd round candidates take an assessment that is not a basis for a hiring decision, but one that reveals more about the type of person they are.

6. I don't think it's the interviewer's job to follow-up with the candidate after the interview. However, they should talk with internal team members about the candidates who have interviewed to see who seems worthy of being invited back for round 2.

These are the best practices I've employed to help clients find great people.


In working within companies of all sizes as a business coach I have dealt with this challenge several times.  I will respond to each question you have presented.

1. The interviewer(s) need to create a list of the qualities that you are looking to find.  This is particularly important when you are small and in your case a startup.  What are the specific responsibilities that go with the position and the qualifications that will make them viable candidates?  Experience, background in your industry as necessity or not?   JUST as important is the characteristics in terms of personality that you want in your new hire(s).  Their attitude toward working in a team environment.  Their attitude in working with the clients/customers.  The better you have defined what the ideal looks like the clearer you will be in the interview you conduct thus giving you specific responses that will let you be a better judge of the candidate.

2. On the technical side, what do you need them to know and bring to your table.  This is the easy part.  At the same time asking them questions  that will reveal their attitudes is very important and valuable to hiring the 'right' person.  Tell me a difficult customer or supplier you have handled in the past and how you rectified the situation ... or ... How far do you go to satisfy the customer (internal or external .. what is far enough? ... or how would you handle 'this' type of situation (one you make up that fits the reality of the position) ... or tell me an example of some challenging situation you experienced and what you did to make it better?  What this type of question reveals is the person's attitude toward others (their customers or fellow team menber).  Being a small organization you want to waste no time and energy on hassles related to personalities.  You obviously have a huge task ahead to make the company all it can be.

3. See answer # 2

4. A basic red flag is the candidate showing up and ready to go 'on-time'.  Therefore, you get a good sense of this when you set the interview time for the start of the day (8 or 8:30).  It's amazing how many times the person arrives late due to 'traffic'.  If this happens, the interview is over quickly.

Another are  those who offer response that don't clearly answer your clear questions.  They came in determined to tell you what they wanted (somethings to impress you) and as a result are not the best listeners.

Another in my opinion is an interviewee who has nothing to ask you of substance.  You are doing some selling of the position and you definitely want to be sold.  After they have heard about the job let them tell you why they are qualified to fill the position and what qualities they posses that will make them successful.

5. Multiple interviews are definitely valuable when you are filling a key position ... something you may well be doing as a start-up.  In doing this it is important that you don't discuss or agree among yourselves as to what you want to tell them or ask them.  They will undoubtedly hear similar question from all of you doing the individual interviews.  That will only inform them as to the importance of that issue.  After all have completed their interview, then is the time you want to come together and compare notes.  Usually you find a meeting of the minds in the overall and the reason to offer the position or not.

6. I'm not sure if you are questioning the follow-up with the applicant or writing of the experience for the trade publication.  If regarding the follow-up with the applicant, Give him/her a date by which you will respond to them and then meet that date.  If you find a good fit you don't want to create a concerning impression because you don't communicate with them when you committed to do so.  If they are interested they will loose enthusiasm because it doesn't appear to be important to your company.

I hope this is helpful to you and you're welcome to contact me again if you have further questions.