two men at a job interview

A spot-on job listing can shake the bushes, but it’s the interview stage that separates the contenders from the pretenders.

The only thing is this: You can’t wait until right before the face-to-face meeting to properly prepare.

Preparing for the interview

There are several steps to take in preparing for the interview, from hammering out an interview process from start to finish, to vetting each candidate.

Create your process. Curating a seamless, step-by-step interview process will make you feel organized and will also help the process run smoothly.

“Be sure to flesh out your interview process before posting any positions. This will help set clear expectations for the interview team as well as the candidates, ensure a better candidate experience, and help develop a positive impression of your business,” said Jim Virgulto, senior manager of people operations at Simply Business.

“Be sure to offer detailed and extensive training to your interviewers, as well, and assign them certain topics to focus on, including key questions that the business deems important,” he said.

Research your candidates. Just how candidates are expected to perform due diligence on the company prior to the interview, the business owner should do the same about each candidate.

Vetting candidates before bringing them in saves time in the long run because it allows you to get the basics out of the way. If there is a quality in a candidate that you find to be a deal-breaker, you have a good chance of figuring that out with a few clicks of a mouse before investing time in a meeting.

Consider your optimal interview approach. The best interview method is the one that encompasses all necessary interviewers in the most efficient manner.

Many insist that a group interview approach works best because it helps thoroughly vet an on-site aspirant. “This way, you can have various team members present, ask different questions, and share what’s great about working for your organization. I can weed through a lot of people quickly in a group setting,” said Susie Carder, financial and business coach with SC Consulting.

If the team likes the interviewee, she said, “that person can be invited later to a second, more comprehensive one-on-one interview.”

Additionally, John Light, partner at Evolving Talent Group, advises to avoid unnecessary complications. “I worked with a client once with five required interviews, each on different days. One of the interview steps included four hours with two organizational psychologists.”

To rectify that situation, he said, “I would keep the interview process to three or less in-person meetings. You can always add a follow-up call or video conference in there, too.”

Every interviewer ought to pose questions that bring out examples of how a candidate works.

John Light, partner at Evolving Talent Group

During the interview

Once you’re sitting across from your candidate, you want to ask the most effective interview questions. When interviewers pose appropriate queries, they save time and, ideally, elicit desired responses.

“Every interviewer ought to pose questions that bring out examples of how a candidate works,” said Light. Pertaining to this subtopic, Light suggests asking the following questions:

  • “What is a day in your life like?”
  • “How do you approach problem-solving, both as an individual and as a team?”

In addition, ask for examples of things like gained efficiencies or sales goals met, “especially when results can be quantified,” Light said. “[Also] accept that some of the examples given may illustrate failures, which is okay. You want to know what they learned so they can solve the next problem they encounter.”

Carder agrees that “give me an example”-type questions are particularly valuable, and also makes mention of questions relating to office culture. Such inquiries that she often asks are:

  • “Can you provide an example of when you were tasked with multiple projects from your employer?”
  • “How did you prioritize and complete them?”
  • “Can you tell me what the culture is like at your current or last workplace?”

In another light, Dave Munson, owner of Saddleback Leather Company,chooses to ask personal questions designed to put an interviewee at ease early in the sit-down, including:

  • “Do you have any family in the area?”
  • “Do you have any pets?”

“I'm looking for how relatable and down to earth they are,” Munson said. “We want the candidate to feel like we care about them, and not just the work we can get out of them.”

It’s important, too, to ensure that potential hires also fit within your small business’ culture. Virgulto suggests asking questions that gauge the level at which candidates consider the meaning of success, such as:

  • “Can you describe a successful day? What made it successful and what happened that made it feel energizing?”

“We look for responses that show positive overlap between the role, the company values, and how that person would fit into our culture,” Virgulto said.

After the interview

Following the interview, you should plan to put emphasis on reference checking.

“Use the first interview to gather insights into a candidate; then, contact their references to ask about the candidate’s answers given. The key is to listen for consistency related to the candidate's answer,” Light said.

Speaking with references is just another way to ensure that the candidate with whom you met is, in fact, the optimal person for the job.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published March 19, 2019