Taking on staff - do's and don'ts for interviews

Posted on: 14 January 2014

Taking on staff is one of the most important investments many small businesses can make. Here’s a list of do's and don’ts to think about when conducting an interview.

Taking on staff is one of the most important investments many small businesses can make. Get the right people and it can mean an increase in productivity, a boost to sales and the opening up of new business possibilities.

Get things wrong and, for a small company, it can be a serious disaster!

One of the most relied upon methods of selecting that special someone from the crowd is the interview process; and going into one without proper preparation is not just a bad idea for any candidate, it’s also pretty foolish for any employer.

Here’s a list of do's and don’ts to think about when getting ready to conduct an interview for a new hire.

  • The first thing is to make sure you have prepared and know who the candidate is and have read up on their details and application. Anyone who comes for an interview and finds the interviewer doesn’t know much about their application is going to feel more than a little insulted and probably unenthusiastic about having you as a boss.
  • The interview should have a format, even if just a simple one of: ‘we explain the job, we ask you some questions, you then can ask us questions’. And this format should be explained before the process begins. Don’t forget to introduce yourself and the business.
  • Stay on track. Have a series of questions and, as much as possible, stick to them. Don’t wander off at a tangent, but keep focused on what you need to know about this person in terms of them fitting into your business and doing the job they are here to be considered for. Having said that, it’s important to follow up on anything the person says that either raises doubts in your mind, or perhaps encourages you to think they may be a perfect fit for the job on offer. Ask for more detail or elaboration.
  • Any candidate will expect certain conventions to be observed as applying and being considered for a job is a serious business, therefore it needs to be treated as such. So, being friendly is one thing, overly casual quite another. That doesn’t mean you should sit behind a desk and peer sternly over your glasses. Far better to find an informal area where you won’t be disturbed, make sure the candidate is comfortable and then be friendly and professional.
  • Make sure you take notes throughout the interview. This is not only to remind you who was who and what you thought of them, but also to remind you why you rejected people in case they issue a challenge when they learn they have been unsuccessful.
  • Don’t forget to sell the job to the candidate. In this economic climate, for most businesses it’s an employer’s market; but at the same time the best candidates for any job will be among the ones who really want to do that job. So, you need to see if someone is genuinely enthusiastic and watch what aspects of the job you describe they pick up on, if any.
  • If you are going to test for technical knowledge – when interviewing an electrician or a plumber, for example – remember that being super articulate for a job like this is probably less important than ensuring they really know what their trade or have the aptitude to learn it, so helping them along (without giving technical answers away) is perfectly OK.
  • Make sure you let the candidate know what your timetable is for getting back to them – this is just courtesy and it will also stop you being pestered for the results of interviews.
  • It’s also very important to make sure you don’t ask questions you shouldn’t. If you do, and a candidate is unsuccessful, they may be able to use these questions to launch a complaint against you under employment laws. There are lots of areas you should not ask about and there are many places to get advice on this; but in general, you should steer clear of asking directly about personal information, such as health status (the only relevant question is whether they can do the job), family commitments, marital status, religious or sexual orientation or politics; but again, you can ask whether they are able to work awkward shifts and so on.

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