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Now Hiring: Keep Those Interview Questions Coming

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(Photo: © iStockphoto/Kirby Hamilton)

Howard Scott |

PEMBROKE, Mass. — You need to hire a staffer, but how do you go about the process so that you employ a good person who will stay for a bunch of years? To get someone who will do the work, be attentive to customers, and get along with you? It’s not easy, as most of you can probably attest.

How many times has someone looked good on paper and been hired, only to begin coming in late, calling in sick, and not performing up to standard? The individual has to be terminated, and you are back to where you started. This has happened too many times, I’m sure.

As a starter, set up an interview; never hire off the application or from recommendation. You want to meet the person, size him/her up, and get a feel for your relationship. It could be that the individual is perfectly competent and understands the business but rubs you the wrong way (he is a know-it-all or a chronic complainer, for example). That dynamic wouldn’t work out.

Having said that, look over the application and ask questions. Why did you only last a year and a half in your last job? Why did you move from industry to industry, and never stick in one field? What was the reason for your recent termination? Why didn’t you graduate high school? What exactly did you do in your last job?

On paper, what you would like to see is steadiness, someone who has held a few jobs of some duration. That means the person was steady, stable, and did a good enough job that the boss was satisfied. What you don’t want to see is a candidate with a checkered work history.

Keep the questions coming. What do you expect this job to be like? Do you have any mechanical aptitude? What is your personal life like? What are your obligations to family members? What is your transportation situation?

The point of your questions is to get the individual to talk, which then gives you an opportunity to evaluate. Now, you have to ask yourself some questions: Is this candidate steady enough, and stable enough? Does she need a job or is she only casting about? Is this job right for her, or is it just something she will do for a few months and then move on as soon as she finds something more appropriate?

Can I see this person working for me for a long time? Does she have the kind of personality where I can mold her into a company person, or is there friction already building? Does this candidate have a chip on her shoulder? Is she mentally stable?

Next, ask your candidate a series of prepared questions: What is your best strength? What is your worst weakness? What type of people do you like to work for? What type of people rub you the wrong way? Why is it important to be at work on time? Why should one never call in sick? The purpose of these questions is to pin down the candidate’s work habits.

Now it’s time to explore the hypothetical. If a machine broke down and the customer started to yell at you, how would you handle it? If it was snowing, and you couldn’t get your car shoveled out to drive to work, how would you proceed? What would you do if the boss asked you, at the last minute, to work overtime?

If the boss yelled at you for a mistake you made, and you feel you didn’t deserve it, how would you react? If you weren’t getting along with your shift replacement, what would you do to change the situation? If you promised a customer his order at a certain time and then see later that it will not be ready, what would you do?

The purpose of these concrete examples is to calibrate how well the candidate thinks on her feet. Can she make sensible decisions quickly? Also, it shows the candidate what’s in store.

Ask the individual if she has any questions, then answer her concerns frankly. If you are dishonest or deceptive, it will come out. For instance, if she asks about opportunity for promotion and you operate just one attended Laundromat, the chance for promotion is not high. You can offer her a stable position, and she must realize that. Otherwise, a year later, she will want to move out of her slot, and there will be nowhere to go. The way you answer might be her opportunity to determine if she wants to work for you or not.

Look the candidate in the eye. See that she makes eye contact. Continue to stare. Perhaps you will see something—a desire to work, a need for a break, a yearning for steady work. Or perhaps your stare will get the individual to say something, anything that might help or hurt her case. Once I did this, and the candidate blurted out, “Of course, I must check with my husband and see if he approves,” which cancelled everything she had said and made me realize that she didn’t really want the job.

Always check one or two references. They could be the candidate’s friends and offer bland platitudes, but they might say something insightful. Once, I got a former employer to admit he fired the candidate because she stole money. That did not go down well in my evaluation. Still, don’t automatically accept everything you hear.

Never decide on the spot; think about the candidate(s) overnight. Review in your mind what she said. Peruse her application. Note the reference comments. Sleep on it. Then go with your gut feeling. Hopefully, you’ll get it right.

There are many ways to hire staffers. Some interviewers talk about themselves and their positions, but I think that forcing the interviewee to discuss herself or himself is a better way to get a sense of who they are and what they can bring to your business.

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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