How to conduct a job interview

The most integral part of starting, growing and running a successful business is having happy, effective staff under your employ. Not having a clear idea of the skills and characteristics that are required of your staff is a surefire way to create problems further down the line in your ability to provide the right service and product. Because of the importance of staff to your business, learning how to conduct a job interview is crucial for any business owner.

Unfortunately, there is no single way to conduct an interview that will work for every business. Knowing your aims as a business and the type of staff and skills you require is the best way to then formulate how you want to conduct an interview and the sorts of questions you want to ask.

Understand your goals as a business

A small, growing business with only a small number of staff members requires different skills and approaches to a large, established company. When hiring for a small business, keep in mind the sort of characteristics you need. Can the person demonstrate working well within team environments or are they more of an independent worker? A startup usually requires a high level of collaboration, with staff wearing a number of different hats. An independent worker may not be able to collaborate in the right way, while an individual who has only worked in giant companies may not appreciate the skills (and patience) required for wearing a variety of undefinable hats within a startup environment.

This can of course go the other way. If someone only has experience in small businesses, where they have carried out a great range of tasks that fall under different ‘departments’, they may find their role within your larger company restrictive, and the processes needed to streamline their work too formulaic and constraining.

Secondly, what are your goals as a business? You may just be starting out, and so have vastly different needs in the sorts of tasks and timelines staff will be working by compared to a business that may be trying to achieve partnerships or even an acquisition. Knowing the short-term and long-term goals of your staff will help define the sort of questions you ask.

The process of finding a chef is just like any other job. You have a challenge: an omelette, how do they approach it? Ask them to cook an omelette.

The process of finding a chef is just like any other job. You have a challenge: an omelette, how do they approach it? Ask them to cook an omelette.

What are the right questions?

There are two general types of questions that are best for an effective job interview, and these are behavioural and situational. Whether the interview is in a coffee shop or in front of a panel, you still need to ask questions that address these two principles. The only difference is how you do this.

Behavioural questions seek to understand how the person will interact with your current and potential staff, as well as how they approach issues and challenges within a workplace. This could be as simple as asking them whether they have ever had to deal with any difficult personalities in the past, and how they did this. Be cautious of those who say they have never had a problem with anybody. A great candidate may be someone who even owns up to failing in their approach to an issue/challenge/personality but be able to show that they learnt from this experience, and applied that knowledge further on down the line in their career.

Situational questions relate to the role in detail. What are the common sorts of challenges your business or that particular role faces? Talk them through this challenge and then ask them how they think it is best addressed.  Have them talk about their past experiences to see whether they either correlate with or may be applicable in some way to what they are likely to experience in your business.

These two types of questions will help you identify whether the person can do the job you need done, and whether they will do it in the best way for your business. However, don’t get too fixated on whether the person is the ‘right fit’ for your business type, especially if you are a startup. Do not discriminate against those that seem a little more shy than other candidates, as every business needs to have a good balance of personality types. Quieter staff are often better at identifying possible hurdles in a project.

Make the process easier on everybody

Try to put a candidate at ease, regardless of the nature of the interview (whether informal or formal). In a formal interview, you may like to warn a candidate in advance that you will be asking them questions according to a specific system (such as the STAR technique: situation, task, action, result). In an informal interview, you have done a great job in relaxing a candidate just by meeting them at a café, but you can reassure them that you wish to see whether their skills and approach to work suits your business through a relaxed conversation, and that they should still try to frame things in a way that can help you understand their approach to a workplace and their role, but not to feel like they have to respond according to a strict formula.

One tip: plying someone with coffee may not be the best idea for their nerves. Order a calming tea that you can both share.

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