Interview Do’s and Don’ts for Small Business Owners

Small Business InterviewsFinally, you get to be on the other side of the table.

After years of career coaching and kissing up to interviewers when you had to work for other people, now you are the boss. And you get to pick from the hundreds of hungry applicants lining up to get a job with your small business.

And you’re kind of wishing you were one of them right about now.

Because like everything involved in running a small business, you don’t realize how much harder it is for the boss until you are the boss. And as you screen through applicants you can’t believe had the nerve to apply, you realize it only gets worse: Now you have to interview them.

And as fun as it was thinking “When I run the show, this is what I’d ask,” when you actually have to do it, it’s a little more difficult. So what should you do – and not do – when trying to find the next great member of your team? Here’s some simple interview guidelines for small business owners.

DO establish rapport - Nothing’s more awkward that staring at each other across a desk like “So … should we talk or what?” It’s like a bad first date without the option of alcohol.
DON’T ramble on irrelevant tangents - Small talk is good. Lengthy conversations about your upbringing in rural Saskatchewan are not. This isn’t your chance to tell a captive audience your life story, so stick to some inoffensive neutral topics like the weather and sports and move on with the interview.

DO ask a lot of questions - You probably knew this already, but don’t ever apologize for asking too much. This is your chance to learn everything you need to know to make a crucial hiring decision.
DON’T talk too much - As in, don’t ask questions that have 5 minute explanations before them. You should say about one word to every ten from the applicant,even if she is a person of few words.

DO ask open-ended questions - Instead of asking “Do you think our company’s corporate culture fits you?”, ask “What kind of corporate culture would you like to work in?” They may give a canned response that fits your exact corporate culture, but at least you know they did their homework.
DON’T ask questions that can have a yes or no answer - Because A) You don’t learn anything and B) Who in his right mind is going to answer a question like “Do you think you’d be good at this job?” with “No.”

DO try and determine how they’ll act in job-related situations – But do this by asking about a time in the applicant’s life where he or she had to do something similar.
DON’T ask them how they’d do something they haven’t done yet – Judging an applicant on their response to a hypothetical situation is like getting in a fight with your significant other about what you’d do if you met your favorite celebrity. You’ve never been in that situation, so there’s no telling how you’d respond. And arguing over hypothetical situations is just a waste of time.

DO sell the company and the job – If your company is poised to make moves and you think the position is a great opportunity, let that applicant know. And let them know why you think they’d fit. If you didn’t think that they could be a good new hire for your business, then you wouldn’t be wasting your time on an interview.
DON’T make any promises of hiring – Even though it’s made abundantly clear on every job application “this is not a promise of hiring,” make sure that’s reinforced after the interview. The last thing you need is someone quitting their job and moving to your city because “the interviewer said it went well.”

DO assess if they can physically do the job and work the schedule – Ask questions like “Can you meet the physical demands of the job?” or “Can you work the days this job requires?”
DON’T ask illegal questions – Asking illegal questions during an interview such as “Do you have a disability?”, “What religion do you practice?”, “Do you have kids?” and “How old are you?” is a great way to end up in a lawyer’s office on the wrong end of a discrimination suit.

DO determine if they’ve committed disqualifying crimes – Hiring a convicted embezzler to handle your finances would be kind of like hiring Paula Dean to monitor your cholesterol.
DON’T ask about a criminal record – Though it’s technically legal, it can get you into hot water if you pry too far into someone’s personal past. If you do ask about a criminal record and they say they have one, ask for an explanation and if it’s something unrelated to the job leave it at that.

DO ask about any potential red flags you see – For instance, a few common red flags include large gaps in employment, frequent changes in career, or not listing a supervisor under a previous job. These CAN be signs of disqualification, and you should know as early as possible.
DON’T immediately disqualify people because of red flags – Just because someone didn’t work for two years doesn’t mean they spent it in jail, and just because they moved jobs doesn’t mean they’re hard to work with. Companies go out of business, people have personal issues to take care of, and former supervisors may be gone. The point is: don’t assume the worst about people. Let them confirm it for you.

DO take notes – Not only does it make you look interested in what they’re saying but, let’s be honest, you’re not going to remember every word an applicant said. Especially if you’re interviewing a lot of people.
DON’T put anything in them that could indicate discrimination – You may not even mean it that way, but noting that an applicant that you DO hire was “young and full of energy” might be cited by an older applicant who WASN’T hired as age discrimination. Yeah. America is a litigious country.

DO your homework – That means going further than just looking at the person’s resume. Google searches, Facebook stalking and LinkedIn investigations are considered regular employer behavior now, so take the time to do it and formulate some interesting questions.
DON’T ask for information you already have – Imagine if an applicant came into your business and asked “What does your company do?” That’s exactly what you’ll look like if you ask an applicant something like who his last employer was or where he went to school.

DO ask original questions – There is no need to ask stuff like “If you could tickle one Muppet, who would it be?” but asking original questions that you don’t see on the Forbes list of potential interview questions will show you how applicants think on their feet, how creative they are, and are a good window into their personality.
DON’T ask cliché questions – Some cliché questions include “What’s your biggest weakness?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years.” The answers you get will be as predictable and banal as the questions you just asked, and therefore tell you exactly nothing about the person sitting across from you.

Be respectful of everyone’s time and prevent wasteful interviews by prescreening and only bringing in the top candidates for interviews. As an interviewee, you should be well prepared. Ask critical questions that will help you find the best candidate. And if you think a candidate is dancing around a topic, don’t be afraid to ask appropriate follow up questions. Most importantly, get the answers you need to make an informed hiring decision for your business.

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Matt Meltzer

Matt Meltzer is a professor of business communication at the University of Miami. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and holds a bachelors degree in business administration from UM, as well as a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of Florida.