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To Hire the Best, Professionalize your Interviewing

To Hire the Best, Professionalize your Interviewing

By: John Rossheim

Consumed with daily operations, many small-business owners take little time to hone their hiring procedures, such as the interview process.

“Most small business owners say, ‘I know how to conduct an interview, I’m going to wing it.’ But that’s a huge mistake,” says Pamela Skillings, principal at Skillfully Done, a coaching firm.

Here are simple ways to dramatically improve how you interview the people who could make or break your business.

Start with a well-groomed job description. A comprehensive and up-to-date job description is a prerequisite to conducting effective interviews.

“It’s important to define criteria for each position,” says Skillings. “Get input from other people in the company to make sure you know what you’re looking for.” If an incumbent employee is doing the job now, ask him to review the description.

Screen carefully before you interview. Use careful reading of promising resumes, brief phone interviews and other screening techniques to arrive at a Goldilocks set of candidates for face-to-face interviews: not too few, not too many.

“Before the interview, we identify the competencies and key characteristics that go with the role and create a survey that goes out to applicants,” says Jennifer Mackin, CEO of The Oliver Group, a consulting firm in Louisville, Ky. “This saves us time and gives us a more targeted pool of people to interview.”

Use open-ended questions. In formulating interview questions, think essay, not multiple choice. Ask a question pertinent to the job and see where the candidate takes you. “Be careful about leading too much,” says Skillings. “If you tell them everything you’re looking for, all they have left to do is say ‘yes.’ ”

Get behavioral. Describe a complex business situation that the candidate might encounter in the job she’s seeking and ask her how she would handle it. Drill down with behavioral interview follow-up questions to probe the candidate’s thinking process. Ask why – and don’t be afraid to dig beneath the surface in your candidate interviews.

Be consistent. Before the first interview for a given opening, settle on what you’re going to ask to reduce the chances that a disgruntled candidate will accuse you of bias. “Prepare a list of questions, and ask the same questions of all applicants,” says Dianne Moretzsohn, counsel at McCausland Keen & Buckman in Radnor, Pa. “It’s okay to vary questions by position, but not by applicant.”

Who should do the interviewing? Finalists should interview with all the kinds of people they would be working with: managers, peers and direct reports, if any. “We do individual and group interviews,” says Mackin. Multiple internal perspectives will help you screen for candidates’ match with company culture.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Especially in small and growing businesses, long-term potential can be as important as short-term performance.

“What you’re focusing on in the interview should depend on, for example, whether you’re hiring a salesperson and only want them to do sales for the next 10 years versus looking for someone who might grow into managerial role within 3 to 5 years,” says Dan Farkas, an instructor in strategic communication at Ohio University.

Avoid discriminatory discussions. A claim of bias in hiring, even if the alleged discrimination was unintentional, can destroy a growing business. So be aware of local and state as well as Federal law pertaining to discrimination in hiring processes, including interviewing.

“You want to make sure you’re not asking questions that tread into protected characteristics,” says Moretzsohn. Such characteristics include age, marital status, and national, ethnic or religious background.

Talk about the job, not the candidate. Keep the interview on the topic of the candidate’s ability to do the job at hand — not on his personal history, present circumstances or future family obligations.

“Leave out anything that’s not an essential function of the job,” says Moretzsohn. For example, the interviewer should not ask about the candidate’s year of graduation, because it usually correlates closely with age.

Make an objective record of each interview. To ensure the integrity of your interviewing process and to keep all those candidates straight, create a record of every conversation. “Have a scale of 1 to 5 for each competency area,” Skillings says. “Have each interviewer score each candidate on each question.”

Says Moretzsohn: “I think it’s a good idea to make notes. If you’re ever challenged legally, you’d have that record to rely.  Do be careful what you jot down.”