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Innovative Interview Techniques for Small Business Hiring

Innovative Interview Techniques for Small Business Hiring

By: Donna Fenn

Small companies thrive on teamwork, shared values, and collaboration. This can be true especially when it comes to how to interview candidates. So when a CEO slips up and makes a bad hire, everyone suffers. That’s why it makes sense to make absolutely sure that every employee not only fits the skill set you’re seeking to fill, but brings the right energy to your corporate culture. Sure, you’re familiar with all the tried-and-true interview questions, but are they working for you? If your company seems to have sprouted a revolving door when it comes to retaining employees, it’s time to get creative. Here are a few interview techniques from savvy company owners:

1. Look for Patterns. Aaron Patzer, who sold his online personal finance company, Mint.com, to Intuit last year for $170 million, swears by an interview method called topgrading. Topgrading looks to identify the longterm patterns in human behavior by always asking the why rather than the what., “I had one guy say he left job because he didn’t get along with boss,” recalls Patzer. “And then he said he left the next job because his boss was kind of a jerk. So you say, wait a minute, maybe it wasn’t your boss – maybe it’s you!” Patzer says topgrading was “over 90 percent effective in identifying people who worked out and worked well,” at Mint.com. The method involves asking candidates detailed questions about success, failure, decisions, and key relationships in every full time job they’ve held, in chronological order.

2. Involve Your Staff. Eric Shiffer, owner of CEA Business Solutions in Montgomery, AL, says that he sets aside “a good portion of the interview for the person to interact with current staff. I will introduce them and then leave the room for 15-20 minutes or so.” It’s not only an opportunity for employees to evaluate a prospective co-worker, but a chance for the candidate to ask questions about the owner’s management style. “If the staff noted some things that I did not see and they were really against hiring the person, no matter how much I like them I would not hire them,” says Shiffer.

3. Test Critical Thinking. Whenever Tom Szaky hires a new employee at Trenton, NJ-based TerraCycle, he always asks the same question: “If you move into a new market, and you have a negative $10,000 budget, how do you break even?” When vice president of public relations Albe Zakes first interviewed at the company, which makes consumer products out of waste materials, he was initially thrown off balance by the question. “I stumbled through some answers and then said ‘this is a tough question, can I email you with some answers?’ Tom told me later that he liked the fact that I didn’t give up.” So it’s not the answer to a tough question that matters — it’s how a prospective employee reacts to a challenge, and the process that they use to come with a solution to a thorny problem.

4. Tease out Behavior. At Meathead Movers in San Luis Obispo, CA, brute strength alone won’t get you a job. Co-founders Evan and Aaron Steed know that every employee at their moving company will reflect the brand that they have worked so hard to establish. “So when he hire, we gauge character,” says Aaron Steed. Prospective employees are told ahead of time to come to their interview in a collard shirt and to make absolutely sure they’re on time. “If they don’t, then they don’t get hired,” says Steed. Likewise, Barry Steinberg at Direct Tire & Auto Service in Watertown, MA asks his interviewees to show up at 7am because that’s typically when customers start dropping off their cars at his company. If the candidate makes a poor early-morning impression, there’s no chance of being hired.