Interview tips for small employers


Interviewing approaches and question content are as diverse these days as the employers and employees hiring! A local employer recently asked how to approach their interview with a prospective employee. Since they have long-term staff (with tenures averaging 10 years or more), they don’t hire very often ~ and hence, don’t interview very often.

We suggested a blended approach to their interview questions.

Backward-facing questions – behavioral style
Based on what you see in the person’s background and what you know about this role for your own company, choose 2 or 3 questions to ask that will probe past behaviors. Keep probing to get more detail because it’s the detail that’s really informative. What you are looking for in these questions and answers is what the person says … and what they don’t say (such as maintaining business confidentiality for previous employers). Examples:

  • How did you organize your tasks on a typical work day for XX Company?
  • How did the work cycle change over the course of a year for XX Company ~ and how did you adjust your work style as a result?
  • Please give me an example of a difficulty with a customer and how you worked it out.

Present-looking questions and priorities
This is a chance to ask about the person’s present expectations and focus. Again, what they don’t say can be as informative as what they do say. For instance, if you ask them about their priorities and they name things like money/benefits, then you have to wonder if their commitment may be short-term as their attention is. Examples:

  • When you think about a new employer that will be a great fit for you, what are your top three priorities?
  • When you think about a new job that will be satisfying for you, what are your top three concerns?
  • If you could choose a job that balanced using your skills with developing new ones, what would that look like?

Forward-looking questions – behavioral style
Think about business problems, changes, and challenges that may occur. It’s like the first questions, but it’s more focused on what is likely to happen in the future. Again, choose 2 or 3 questions at the most. Spend your time probing the answers. Part of what you’re exploring is not only the individual’s response, but also how they think this through. Examples:

  • When the new manager joins the team in January, what steps will you take to learn her business approach and work style?
  • When John Smith takes his leave of absence, it could start earlier than expected. What tasks for his desk would be hardest for you without training, how would you communicate what you need, and what support from us would be helpful for that?

Legally and ethically sound questions
As you know, there are certain questions you may not legally ask. You can’t ask the person’s religious preference, political preference, marital status, or similar things. You really shouldn’t ask if they have kids in school or parents for whom they provide care in terms of fine ethical/legal lines and protected categories. However, if you feel inclined to ask some of these, before the interview ask yourself what is the root concern of your query. There may well be a different way to ask the question that is legal and will get the information you need for business decisions.

  • You shouldn’t ask, “Do you have children in school?” Instead, you MAY say, “Our business hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Do you have any responsibilities that would interfere with your ability to work those hours, especially with winter driving?”
  • You shouldn’t ask, “Are you married?” or “Are you planning to retire soon?” Instead, you MAY say, “We need for the person hired to commit to this position for at least X years. Do you have any responsibilities or commitments that would affect your ability to commit for this period, if you were offered this job?”

Our experienced staffing consultants will gladly assist your interviewers in preparing suitable and consistent interview plans as part of our regular consulting and placement process. Contact Frank’s Employment to learn more.

Note: We are not labor attorneys. If you have questions about the legality of your interview choices, please consult your business legal counsel.

Republished with permission (including modest content and format edits). Originally published by Elyse on our employer blog in 2013.

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