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Why Your Small Business Needs an Interview Process

By Denis Jakuc

You’re a startup or an expanding small business. So, when it comes to hiring staff, you probably think you don’t need to establish an interview process. As you may do in other areas, you may just want to “trust your gut,” and you may feel processes slow things down.

The fact is, hiring itself is a process—a funnel where you look at lots of applications and resumes, speak with some candidates on the phone, interview a few in person, and then hire the one you like best. By following a consistent interview process, you’re more likely to build a high-quality staff, and you’ll save yourself—and your candidates—valuable time.

Here’s how to proceed:

Step 1: Create an application

In addition to asking candidates for a resume, have them fill out an application. This should contain questions that will help you decide whether to take the applicant to the next step.

You’re trying to gain insight beyond what the resume tells you, and to weed out the least qualified candidates. Avoid questions that everyone would answer “yes” to, such as “Do you consider yourself hard-working?” Instead, think of questions that relate to the job requirements, such as “Are you willing to occasionally stay late, or to put in some weekend time if we’re faced with a tight deadline?”

Step 2: Decide which applicants to proceed with

Base this on their resume qualifications and application answers. Send emails to those you reject, thanking them for their time and interest in your company.

Step 3: Make screening calls

This can be a regular phone call or a video call. The goal is to weed out candidates who you know won’t work out, before you waste your time—and theirs—in an interview.

Step 4: Interview the best candidates

This step may only require a single interview for each candidate. You may choose to do more than one interview, either because you need to have a follow-up conversation or you want another member of the organization to weigh in with an opinion.

Every interview should have a plan for how it will proceed. Take time to review the candidate’s resume, application answers, and any notes you made in the screening call. Write down any questions you want to ask.

Ask open-ended questions that can prompt a discussion, such as, “What attracted you to our company?” Look for follow-up questions prompted by the candidates’ responses. Ask why and how they got involved with doing the kind of work they do, and what they like best—and what they like least—about their job.

Be sure to describe the job fully, and find out if the candidate has any questions about what the position entails. If you’re feeling positive about the candidate at this point, take the opportunity to sell them on the job. This is especially important if you can only afford a salary that’s below market rate. You’ll have to give them some good reasons to come work for you in spite of the lower compensation.

Step 5: Give them an assignment

If you want to really see how candidates will do in your company, send them away with an assignment on something related to the job. If you don’t want to take the time for that, think of a hypothetical assignment they can talk about in the interview.

If you’re hiring for customer support, you could have them answer some typical customer questions. If you’re hiring developers, there are online tools that will show you how they code.

For more senior level positions you may ask for their evaluation of your business and what they perceive needs action. Suggesting usage of PowerPoint is often a way to see how the executive best presents his thinking.

Step 6: Check references

Candidates won’t give you references they expect to be negative. However, if the references aren’t actually glowing, probe a little further with the person. Keep in mind that people are often hesitant to speak ill of others.

Check with people the candidate didn’t propose, such as others who work in the referral’s company. Do an online search of the candidate’s name, and check for posts on all social media platforms.

Step 7: Make the decision

This is the tough part. If you’re hiring for a job that’s outside your experience, ask someone who knows the skills you should be looking for. If something bothers you, talk it over with a colleague.

If necessary, schedule another interview. If you’re having trouble deciding between two equally qualified candidates, experts suggest picking the one who you believe wants the job more. As you know, motivation contributes a lot to success!

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