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Conducting Meaningful Interviews

Updated: May 9

Conducting Meaningful Interviews

I’ve recently been in a number of client conversations involving bringing on more people to join their respective teams. These conversations involved many aspects of hiring, including timing, compensation, the interview process and developing the “right” questions to ask candidates.

For today, I’d like to focus on the latter topics listed above: the interview process and candidate questions.

My point of view shared here is motivated from a position of helping enhance a small business owner’s confidence in conducting meaningful interviews and save valuable time.

Let me start by saying, I am not HR. My point of view shared here is motivated from a position of helping enhance a small business owner’s confidence in conducting meaningful interviews and saving some valuable time.

Larger corporations have a process for interviewing candidates, and so should you. Albeit, in small business much of the process will fall to you, the owner, and perhaps your hiring manager. Candidly, the stakes can seem a bit out of scale compared to a larger organization…less room for error, if you will. This is one reason I encourage my clients to develop an interviewing process. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but rather a simple process that will help you and your business in profound ways compared to the old standard of “winging it”.

Consider three core components for your interviewing process (understanding that this will need to be followed by the hiring and on-boarding process; topics for another time):

  • The job posting (description of the role, responsibilities, qualifications, compensation, among other relevant factors, including why someone would want this position and/or work at your company). This is your candidates’ first impression of you and your business. Let’s do our best to attract the right applicants. Think of this step in your process as your marketing efforts designed to attract the right opportunity for next steps. And like your marketing efforts for your business, don’t underestimate the importance of developing a clear message that will resonate with your target market, i.e., qualified candidates. A little creativity here may help as well.

  • The initial screening. This step in the process is designed to help sort through your applicants before a more formal conversation is scheduled. Invest the time to thoroughly review resumes, LinkedIn profiles, cover letters, applications, and any other available job-related information provided. At this step in the process we’re primarily looking for ways to determine if skillset, experience and knowledge line up with your needs. Additionally, however, I would also encourage you to try to get a feel for organizational fit. Not always a simple task from a static piece of paper, but you would be surprised at how much can jump off a page.

  • The formal interviews. This step should actually be multiple steps. In other words, plan on conducting more than one interview of candidates, refining and honing as you move along. As important as first impressions may be, let’s not rely on them alone for a hiring decision. I would also encourage you to have others in your organization involved in the interviewing process. Additional input and perspective for such an important component of business ownership can prove invaluable.

Other considerations to add to the above list may be assessments (DISC), skillset tests, background checks, reference checks, etc. Consider the three components listed above as foundational and add others as your situation requires.

When at the formal interview stage of the process, I encourage you to be prepared with a clear agenda for yourself that includes your screening questions along with notes, including what you may be looking for in terms of candidate responses (bearing in mind there is a difference between a generally good answer to a question and one that illustrates alignment to the role and your organization).

Let’s dig into those questions a bit. First and foremost, consider your objective for this hire. Yes, you are looking for skillset to fulfill your needs of the role, but your objective should also include organizational fit. How well this person will fit your culture and into the team must be an integral component to your hiring decision process.

I’d like to propose three main buckets of candidate questions:

  • Background and skillset match

  • Behavior and attitude alignment

  • Culture and values fit

To assess background and skillset match, we’re trying to better understand a candidate’s professional experiences and talents. A resume provides us an outline, but the interview allows us the opportunity to go deeper. Consider questions such as:

  • Tell me what aspects of this position excite you the most and why?

  • How do you see your experience providing the needed skills to fulfill this role?

  • What types of valuable professional development have you engaged in?

For behavior and attitude alignment, think about questions that will have the candidate reflect back on real world examples that may apply to the potential challenges that lie ahead in this role. Consider questions such as:

  • Share with me a time when you were pushed to decide between something that would have personal benefit or organizational benefit, but not both. What did you do?

  • What are your long-term career goals?

  • What would you do if your boss suggested that tomorrow is your day to do whatever you choose?

For the culture and values fit section, be creative. In preparation, review your company’s vision and values. Assemble questions that will help you better understand how the candidate aligns with these important elements of your business. Your questions should not, however, be overly specific. As an example, if integrity is one of you core values, you wouldn’t want to ask the candidate if they believe integrity in business is important or not. But rather a question that may help uncover alignment to this value. Such as, tell me about a time when you were asked to look the other way about a decision that didn’t line up with your professional standards.

This last category of questions may arguably be the most important. They certainly will involve some preplanning on your part, as well as some deeper thinking on the candidate’s part. So, spend some time here. Formulate some powerful questions that will “speak” to your vision and values. A few questions that may work here (depending on your core values), may be:

  • Tell me about a time when you presented an innovative solution to a problem. How was it received and how well did it prove out?

  • Tell me about a time when a critical decision needed to be made without a manger’s involvement?

  • Why are you interested in working for a small business as opposed to a larger corporation?

And of course, you should encourage your candidate to ask you questions as well. Before you wrap up, perhaps include questions such as:

  • What else would you like to share with me today?

  • What questions can I answer for you?

Hiring is a challenging multifaceted part of business. Assembling and building a team to keep your business operating and growing as seamlessly as possible is vital. And since your team is an extension of you and your company’s brand, we need to get this right…or as right as possible. Following some of the framework outlined here may offer a great place to start. Additionally, I welcome a conversation so that you can be best prepared to conduct meaningful interviews.

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