Interviewing job candidates: Every small business owner has to do it
It’s rarely a favorite task. What’s the best way to find great talent? Here’s advice from small business owners who’ve been there, done that.
- Quiz them on your business. “I always ask potential servers whether they’ve checked out our menu,” says Lorna Donohoe, owner of Wilde Wine Bar & Restaurant in West Hollywood, California. Donohoe expects candidates to know what Wilde serves before they talk with her: “Don’t be surprised when I tell you we don’t serve hard liquor.”
- Make them think about how others perceive them. Expect platitudes if you ask about strengths and weaknesses, says serial entrepreneur Richard Rygg. He twists it by asking how a past boss would describe their best and worst qualities. “Candidates tend to be honest because they’re immediately thinking you’re going to call the person and check up,” he says.
- Check out their sales skills. Donohoe asks potential servers how they’d suggest wine pairings to a customer. She wants to explore their wine knowledge, but more important, she’s looking at how they interact with customers.
- Listen for good judgment. Is the person concentrating on important things or going on about insignificant details? How candidates choose to tell their stories shows what they think is important, says Rygg. Look for people who get to the point and tell you what you need to know – they’re likely to be efficient and effective on the job.
- Role-play. To see how the person you’re interviewing would interact with customers, role-play a typical situation, with you as the unhappy customer. Watch the candidate’s attitude, voice and body language. Is she instinctively soothing, or strident and nervous? Tactics for handling unhappy customers can be taught, but you want hires who can take the heat without melting.
- Probe for problem-solving. Small businesses run lean, making every employee important in a crisis situation. You need people who can figure out what they need to do when things go wrong. Ask them how they would handle a hypothetical to see how they think, suggests Rygg: “You and another person are supposed to open at 10am, and the other guy, who has the key, doesn’t show up. What do you do?” Look for candidates who think on their feet and know how to get around obstacles.
- Look for initiative. Rygg always wants people who get creative when resources are scarce. He asks candidates to describe a project or situation where they started off with limited resources and got things done. Donohoe specifically looks for people who are working their way through school or holding down multiple jobs: Despite their busy schedules, she says, they’re more motivated, work harder and show up reliably.
- Seek out team players. Donohoe tells candidates all the down sides up front, like pooling tips and servers bussing their own tables: “I need people who don’t mind getting their hands dirty.”
Interviewing can be a challenge, but there’s nothing better than finding the perfect fit. How do you hire the best of the best? Leave us a comment and share your secrets.
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