The Payroll Blog

News, tips, and advice for small business owners

How to Interview Someone

Posted On
Anne Perisho

Finding the ideal candidate for your small business can be a ton of work and is one of the most frustrating aspects of any business. Between pouring over resumes, selecting candidates, interviewing said candidates, there’s a lot that goes into getting someone on your team

An aerial view of one person handing a resume to another.

We’re here to make the process a touch easier by giving you some helpful hints on:

  • Writing a targeted job description;
  • Reviewing resumes;
  • Screening and interviewing candidates; and
  • Selecting the right team member

Writing a Job Description

The first step in getting qualified candidates interested in your position is to provide them with a clear, detailed job description. Avoid overly flowery language and superlatives – ‘seeking world-class sales ninja’ – as they’re distracting and can give the impression that you don’t take the process seriously. If you want to attract serious candidates, start with a concise, engaging overview of the position, including how it relates to the company’s larger objectives and goals. Another tip is to highlight growth and development opportunities to demonstrate that you’re looking for a long-term employee, not just a quick fix to a short-term problem.

It’s also important to let your company’s culture shine through. Job seekers are often looking for something more than just a higher paycheck; they want something that fits their lifestyle and motivates them to come to work every day. If you’re able to offer them perks like working from home or free food, you can mention it here. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be careful about gender-biased language – even if you’re not using pronouns, studies have shown that masculine words such as ‘dominant,’ ‘leader’ and ‘competitive,’ can dissuade female candidates from applying. Keep your language gender neutral, and you’ll find yourself with a larger pool of candidates to pull from.

Reviewing Resumes

Reviewing resumes is one of the most frustrating processes you’ll have to encounter when looking to hire a new employee. You’ll likely be receiving dozens of resumes and weeding out the unqualified candidates is key so that you don’t drown in information. During the first skim, keep in mind the key traits you identified in your job description – if you require a college degree, do they have one? Do they have other experience that might be more qualifying than a degree? Is the resume well-written and organized? While mistakes like typos may seem minor, they can often point to something larger, like a lack of attention to detail.

Once you’ve done a quick initial review and weeded out any with obvious faults, take a deeper dive into the details. If they have a resume objective, review it for motivation. Are they looking for a long-term position they can grow into, or are they just seeking a paycheck? Did they take the time to taper it to your company, or is it just a stock response meant to appeal to multiple audiences? If they took the time to review your job description and are serious about your position, they should have taken the time to adapt their resume to highlight how their specific qualification is a fit.

Finally, take note of any gaps in employment or signs of multiple career shifts. While maybe not disqualifying on their own, they may tell a story of someone that doesn’t have all their ducks in a row.  

Phone Screen

Once you’ve narrowed your field down to a handful of more qualified candidates, the phone screens can begin. Phone interviews are generally very high-level, mostly to make sure the candidate on the phone matches the one on paper. It’s also usually the first place that salary requirements come up. Use phone screens as a way to gauge interest and personality – is the person excited by the prospect of interviewing with you? Are they confident in their work experience? If so, move them through, if not, don’t feel too bad about passing on them. Often these candidates have applied to several positions and aren’t sure where they want to end up. Also, check again for red flags – many people lie about their qualifications and experience. If someone stumbles or can’t give detail on something on their resume, it may be a sign that they may be stretching the truth.

Interview 101 – Have a Plan

Hopefully, by now, you’ve narrowed your candidates down to the best of the bunch, and you’re ready to sit down with them. However, before you enter the room, have a plan. How much time do you need? Who needs to be in the room? Figure out your questions and what exactly you want to know by the end of it. If you are also inviting other team members to interview your candidate, make sure you’re not all asking the same questions. Let the interviewee know what is expected of them in terms of timing, who they’ll be meeting with, and what they need to wear.

There’s no worse way to start an interview than to start with, “So… tell me about yourself.” Questions like this leave so much room for interpretation and won’t help you understand your candidate’s motivation. Ask questions that will get your candidate to tell you about the way they work. What is something they’re proud of? What kind of management style do they do well under? How do they see your company, and what do they see as a challenge? Ask them questions that test them on your company, their critical thinking skills, and how well they know themselves. Keep in mind there are also questions you are not allowed to ask.

It’s also important to remember that it’s an interview, not an interrogation. Be a little forgiving – interviewing is scary, even for the most qualified candidates! Don’t make it any more so by being demanding or trying to rush responses. If your candidate is nervous, reassure them by cracking a joke or telling them a little bit about yourself. It’s also important to listen to their responses, and if they inadvertently answer another question you have on your list, be flexible and pivot where needed.

Remember, the best person for the job may not be your favorite person overall. If you pick someone on their personality and not their qualifications, you may pay the price later, so make sure you’re unbiased in your review – just because they like the same sports team as you doesn’t mean you’re going to work well together!

Selecting Your Winner

After your interviews, you should be in the home stretch, but it’s still important to do your due diligence. Contact any references they may have provided and make sure their stories line up. If you feel its necessary, you can schedule another interview, but be respectful of the candidates’ time – don’t schedule an in-person interview unless there is some pressing question you need to be answered and you can’t do it over the phone. If you do feel the need to meet again, consider doing it in a less formal situation.

When you’re ready to make your offer, let your enthusiasm show through! This will make the candidate feel appreciated and welcome, and they will likely be more interested in joining your team if you are excited about having them.

It’s also important to take the time to respond to the other candidates and let them down gently – you may need them in the future. Thank them for their time and let them know the underlying reason they weren’t selected. Constructive criticism is helpful, as long as it is, in fact, constructive. They can then take that feedback and apply it to future endeavors.

Bottom Line

Hiring a new employee is a big deal, and as a small business owner, it’s important to hold up your end of things to ensure the interviewing process is smooth sailing. Interviewing is stressful, both for you and your candidates, so the better prepared you can be, the better experience you’ll all have. With a smooth interview process in place, you’ll be in a better place to move forward with onboarding your new employee.  

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