Happy Hiring

You spend hours poring over employment application forms, checking references and choosing the best of the lot. When you're through, only a handful of people deserve an interview. You take the time to meet with each and, finally, hire the top candidate.

Or so you hope.

Hiring is an integral part of your business strategy, and the interview is perhaps the most important step of the employee-selection process. You'll assure yourself of a successful interview when you prepare for it, ask the right questions, and know what you're looking for.

The best person for the job should help you meet your customers' needs, work well with existing staff, exhibit trustworthiness and good character, and fit in with your company culture. Not only should he or she have the proper skills and experience, but also be able to work as a team player, and dress and behave in a manner that's consistent with your business goals and image. Don't settle for anything less!

BE PREPARED

An interview is not a conversation, so don't wing it. To make the most of it, be sure to:

Maintain a pool of applicants.

Don't wait until your top salesperson gives notice before you start hunting for a replacement. Constantly be on the lookout for prospective employees, and interview as many qualified people as possible.

Standardize your hiring process.

Keep your application forms, interview sessions and follow-up procedures consistent for everyone. Prepare a list of questions and write out the interviewee's answers so you can compare applicants' responses.

Plan the interview.

Use small talk to get acquainted, then move into your interview questions and job description. Finally, let the applicant know what to expect next — another interview, pre-employment assessment or a phone call or letter with your decision.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

A face-to-face interview lets both of you learn as much as you can about each other to determine whether you'd be a good employment match. Granted, looks may not be everything when it comes to book covers, but you can read a lot into the way candidates present themselves during the interview.

Does he dress in accordance with your company's image?

A man with a ponytail and nose ring might fit into a fashion-forward magazine's editorial staff, but maybe not your pool and hot tub dealership.

Does she greet you with extra-long fingernails and spiked-heel shoes?

She probably won't enjoy stacking boxes full of merchandise, if that's part of the job description.

Does he look tired and ragged?

He's probably not up for the job, no matter what it is.

Does she walk in with worn-out shoes and a dirty collar?

If her attire is in good shape, it shows she cares about herself, and she'll probably put that care into the job.

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

First, encourage a relaxed and positive, yet formal, interview setting. Dispel any initial nervousness by putting the applicant at ease. Establish rapport with the person and describe the interview's structure, so she knows what to expect.

Don't focus too much on information from the person's application or resume. Situational questions better reveal how the person might perform on the job than those that inquire about past employment requirements or responsibilities. Questions that begin, "Could you please tell me about a time when . . . ?" and, "What would you do if . . . ?" reveal attitudes, capabilities and limitations. Ask the person what he liked and disliked about his previous jobs. What were her strengths and weaknesses? What has he done that he's most proud of.

Here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • What do you do in your current job?
  • What has been your greatest success in that position?
  • What has been your most disappointing failure in your current job?
  • What are some of the problems you encounter in meeting your responsibilities?
  • How would you describe your management style?
  • How would you describe the management style of your current supervisor?
  • How do you manage an employee who has a different work attitude than you do?
  • What, to you, is a satisfactory attendance record?
  • What are some work concerns that you and your supervisor disagree about?
  • When I speak with your supervisor, what do you think he or she will tell me about your job performance?
  • What would you like to avoid in a job, and why?
  • Why are you interested in seeking new employment? And why with this company, and this position, in particular?

KEEP YOUR EARS OPEN

You may be excited about the job you're offering, but don't be so quick to ramble on about it or your company. Let the applicant do most of the talking. Listen objectively. Don't let his initial nervousness and possibly jumbled or inarticulate answers to your first questions color the way you perceive his remaining responses. When she speaks, be aware of more than just her words.

Does she respond to your questions easily?

If so, she has come prepared with answers, which implies she'll take the job seriously.

Does he display intelligent use of language?

The way he talks to you is how he'll talk to customers. Know what you want to hear.

Does she know how to listen?

Take note of the way she answers your questions to determine how well she understands you.

Does he ask questions of his own?

If so, he shows initiative and interest in the job.

Measure a person's words and behavior against these three questions: Is she capable of doing the job. An applicant needn't have experience to be qualified, but you can't train for strong character or an outgoing personality.

Is he willing to do the job? Look for an enthusiastic attitude and a flexible mind-set about hours and duties.

Would she be manageable?

You want someone who conveys an ability to cooperate and work as part of a team.

TRUST YOUR GUT

From appearance and body language to character and attitude, most of what an applicant puts across isn't spoken. So, consider your hunches when evaluating a candidate's eligibility. Some pre-employment screening tests may be appropriate for your hiring needs. Ultimately, however, the decision comes down to your own observations and intuition. Listen to your head and trust your gut.

When you prepare for your interviews and conduct them using the right tools and techniques, you'll make the clearest, most intelligent hiring decisions. Now, make sure that person fulfills your expectations!

Speak No Evil

During the interview, be aware of illegal questions, or your ignorance might land you in a lawsuit. The No. 1 no-no is discrimination — of age, ethnic background, gender or religion. Invasion of privacy is another, which includes asking about marital status, family life and child-rearing plans or situation.

Avoid the following questions:

  • What is your date of birth. Or, How old are you?
  • What is your ancestry, or racial or ethnic background?
  • Are you married? Are you divorced?
  • Do you have children? If not, do you have plans for a family?
  • Who takes care of your children while you're at work?
  • What is your religion? What church or synagogue do you attend?
  • How is your health? (The exception is if health specifically relates to performance of the position sought, such as a strong back for heavy warehouse work.)
  • What are your views on [any controversial subject]?
Also, steer clear of these statements because they are promises you may not be able to keep:
  • You can look forward to a long career here.
  • After your probationary period, you'll become a permanent employee.
  • Just do a good job and you won't have to worry about job security.
  • Nobody ever gets fired unless there is a really good cause.
  • The company provides full health and dental benefits. (Both are subject to the employee's acceptance by the insurance carrier.)
— C.S.
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