Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The 5 Worst Things You Can Do When Conducting An Interview

I'm willing to wager that, as a small business owner, you aren't a big fan of interviewing. You don't exactly see it as a day at the beach. In fact, you may get as nervous as your candidates during one-on-ones because, after all, these are the people who may soon help make or break the business you put your heart into creating.

Unfortunately, though, this fear can lead to snap decisions. "The biggest mistake a small business owner can make is to hire someone to just make the interview process go away," says Roberta Chinsky Matuson, founder and president of Human Resource Solutions, an HR consultancy in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The interview process needs to be a thoughtful one, where you know the dos and the don'ts before sitting down at the conference table. My advice is this: before interviewing your next candidate, read 5 Interview Questions Every Small Business Owner Should Ask, and then heed these common mistakes:

Getting too personal

Everyone knows it's illegal to inquire about a person's age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender, race, children, disability and pregnancy status, but what are some off-limit questions that aren't so obvious?

"It's illegal to ask about someone's country of origin or ethnicity, but is really easy to do so—for example, you may be making small talk with me and ask the origin of my last name or how I learned to speak Spanish—those are off-limit questions," says Chinsky Matuson.

She recommends carrying a script to make sure your conversation doesn't veer off course.

Acting too aggressive

Interviews shouldn't mimic military tribunals. The trial-by-fire method—where you ask question after question until your candidate is sweating through their suit jacket—doesn't always work and you will likely be on the receiving end of generic, canned answers.

"The best way to get to know a candidate is to let them feel comfortable, so be conversational, not judgmental or sarcastic. If you put someone at ease, they will tell you more information than you want to know," says Chinsky Matuson.

How do you put someone at ease?

Start the interview with a brief overview of how things will go, she says. Tell them how long the meeting will take and its general structure—that way, the candidate will know what to expect.

Next, start with safe chitchat. Says Chinsky Matuson, "Maybe something like, 'Did you have any problems finding us today?'"

From there, probe into answers with requests for elaboration—for example: 'Oh really?' 'Could you tell me more?' and 'How did that come about?' This will make the candidate feel valued, listened to—and, ultimately, more comfortable.

Not selling the job

Problem: regardless of the health of the economy, rock star employees have their pick of jobs. Solution: get into sales mode, suggests Krista Neher, founder of Boot Camp Digital, a social media marketing company in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"Talk with them about the good aspects of working at your company vs. a competitor," she offers. "Also, ask them about their goals and objectives and tell them how you will help to create an experience that will meet those needs. Remember that people are motivated by other things than money; it is important to appeal your company and position to the entire person."

Talking too much

Although it is important to sell your candidate on the job, try not to take up all the air in the room. Candidates need time to shine when answering questions.

"Behavior-based interview questions are essential for learning the most about a job applicant; such as, 'Tell me about times when you went above and beyond, and what were the results?" suggests Neher.

During the interview process at Boot Camp Digital, she makes sure to gently ask candidates to come up with ideas on the spot. "I want to see that they are resourceful; how will they figure out how to do something," she says.


Interviewing can be a little like dating. You have a bad date and tell them you'll call…but never have the intention of doing so. In an interview setting, do the candidate a favor and tell them the truth.

"Simply tell them, 'If we are interested in pursuing your candidacy, you will hear from us in two weeks,'" advises Chinsky Matuson.

Lying isn't limited to words only; it translates into action as well. Case and point: You are 10 minutes into the interview and you already know this is not the candidate for the job. Instead of talking to them for 50 more minutes while mentally reciting your to-do list, Chinsky Matuson suggests nicely showing them the door and agreeing to stay in touch.

Thanks to Katie Morell / Open Forum / American Express Company

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