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The dos and don’ts of interviewing job candidates

Consultant Claire Derry is a London-based business coach who started and sold her own highly successful small business with 30 employees. Now she helps small businesses to grow their sales and build talented teams. Here she gives her key interviewing dos and don’ts.

Getting your recruitment decisions right is crucial, because getting it wrong can prove very costly - especially for small businesses. And when you’re trying to grow a business, you must attract and retain the right people.

It begins with knowing exactly what contribution the role must make to your business. Then you can decide what knowledge, skills, experience and values the person should have. Recruit from as wide a talent pool as possible. Have a system that allows you to narrow down applicants to a short list of three or four.

Get the interviewing stage wrong and you risk making bad decisions. So, what are my key interviewing dos and don’ts?

Key interviewing dos

1 Have a clear job description and person profile ...

It will help you to attract the right candidates when advertising the vacancy and when deciding which questions you need to ask.

2 Ask open questions…

You must encourage candidates to reveal as much relevant information as possible, so don’t ask closed questions. These can be answered more concisely, often with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Ask open questions, because their answers provide greater value.

3 Find out about experience and skills related directly to your role…

Ultimately, these will largely determine someone’s ability to do the job. Taking on someone who is unsuitable or out of their depth won’t work out well for them or you.

4 Find out whether the candidate’s values are aligned with yours…

Someone’s skills and experience shouldn’t be your sole focus. Their values must be closely aligned with your business. You need someone with the necessary skills, experience and values. Someone might have the necessary experience, but their attitude might be totally wrong. The fit must be right, especially within a small business.

5 Ask the same questions to each candidate

Consistency is a must - otherwise you won’t be able to compare interviewees successfully. Asking different questions makes the job more difficult.

Key interviewing don’ts

1 Don’t make up your mind in the first ten seconds…

Even good candidates can make a bad first impression, often because they’re nervous. Allow for that. You shouldn’t be quick to judge someone shortly after they’ve entered the interview room. Judge them by their responses. It’s good to have diversity in an organisation and you shouldn’t be looking for a replica of yourself either.

2 Don’t speak more than you listen…

The whole point is to gather information. Ask good questions and give interviewees the opportunity to answer them. Talk about your business, sure, but don’t overdo it. Use the time to find out the information you need to know.

3 Don’t judge interviewing ability

Some people can be great in interviews, they can promise much, but fail to deliver when in the role. Alternatively, someone might not interview as well, but be a far better fit. Give people a fair chance.

4 Don’t forget to sell your business…

Make people want to work for you even more. Even if they don’t get the job, you want them to go away thinking good things about your business. Treat them well. Be courteous and professional when telling people they’ve been unsuccessful. You don’t want them to think bad things and share them with others.

5 Don’t forget to make job offers conditional on references

There have been times when I’ve taken people on without seeking references - and I’ve lived to regret it. Don’t do it by email, as people can be reluctant to put things in writing. Make a quick call. Even if someone is reluctant to directly make negative comments, you can gauge a lot from what they do say and how they say it.

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Next step:

Find out how to recruit and motivate key team members