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Tips for Interviewing Potential Employees

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Congratulations! You’ve narrowed down your prospective job candidates to a small, select group. Now it’s time for the interview process. Many small business owners dread the interview process, but with a little preparation, it doesn’t have to be painful. The following are some areas you should cover to gain a well-rounded view of the job applicant.

First impressions matter in the workplace, so take yours into account. Upon first meeting, is the applicant friendly, energetic, and confident? Are they well-groomed and dressed appropriately?

Start your interview by delving into the person’s job application and résumé. Now is the time to follow up on any gaps or confusing points. Ask about past jobs held, duties, and what they did and didn’t enjoy about each position.

Depending on the applicant’s experience, you may also want to ask about education. What did the applicant study and how does it relate to their career goals? What subjects did they enjoy the most (and least), and why? Also ask about any certifications or other special educational attainments that relate to the job.

Ask about the applicant’s short-term and long-term goals. Where does the person hope to be in three, five, or 10 years?

You’ll also want to explore the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses. What do they see as key strengths, and what areas need improvement?

If specific skills are needed for the job, such as familiarity with a certain software program or machine, probe into those skills. How frequently and for how long did the person use these skills?

Describe the job in more detail and tell the applicant about your company and where the job fits in to the business’s overall operations. You may want to introduce them to some of the employees they would be working with.

Finally, ask the applicant if they have any questions about the job or your company. Questions show that they’re engaged and thoughtful, so a lack of questions could be a warning sign.

Throughout the interview, ask questions that encourage detailed and thoughtful answers. To get the best results, focus on open-ended questions -- such as “What was the hardest aspect of managing people at X Company?” -- as opposed to questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”

A first interview isn’t the time to discuss salary or benefits. Save these topics for a second interview when you have narrowed the field to a few top contenders. Do let the person know when they can expect to hear back from you and how you will be in touch (e.g., phone or e-mail).

After the interview, take a moment to write down your overall thoughts and impressions of the candidate. This will help you later on when you’re comparing applicants.

The more experience you gain interviewing job applicants, the more comfortable you’ll become with the process -- and the better you’ll get at zeroing in on the most promising candidates.

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