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9 Top Interview Questions to Ask When Hiring Employees for Your Small Business

by Daisy McCarty

As a small business owner, you know that every employee counts. Your employees aren’t only the ambassadors of your brand, but also the hands that help build your company’s success. And the interview is your opportunity to get the information you need to decide if a potential job candidate should become a part of your team.

Before hiring someone, you need to find out if this person can help grow your business or if they’ll hold you back from reaching your goals. But you need to know the best interview questions to ask.

Here are nine of the top must-ask interview questions as identified in this discussion on the Staples Succeed: Small Business Network on LinkedIn:

1. Why do you want to work here?

This favorite standby provides insight into whether a job candidate is really interested in your business and the position you are interviewing for — or just any job a candidate can get. Use this must-ask interview question to find out if the candidate has researched your organization’s purpose and direction. If this person hasn’t, you can bet that they’re just looking for a paycheck and nothing more.

2. Can you describe yourself in six adjectives?

Business coach and Succeed community member Virginia Nicols likes to ask this question, because “the first three always come easy. The next three are tougher. It shows you how self-aware and self-confident the candidate is.” If the candidate struggles with this question and cannot produce six adjectives, follow up with, “How do others describe you?” to help flesh out the response.

3. What can you tell me about your last project you were excited to work on?

Ask this top interview question to help separate the pretenders from the professionals. If the candidate was heavily involved in the project, he will be very detailed in his response. Was the project successful? You’ll know if their face lights up when they describe it. It’s nearly impossible to fabricate project details, so if they weren’t as intimately involved as they say they were, it’ll be easy for you to tell.

4. What do you like least about your current position?

This question, provided by marketing strategist Scott Michelson in the community discussion, gauges an interviewee’s honesty and professionalism. People who can’t or won’t describe at least one thing they dislike about a job are being dishonest. Everyone has something that they wish was different at work. The candidate should be able to discuss this frankly and professionally without blurting out a dramatic, angry or petty response.

5. How would you increase your value to the company over time?

Adam Smith, a commercial appraiser and member of the Staples Succeed Network, openly admits that employees are an investment. They need to act like it. “Employees who wish to advance are very valuable. If they understand how to increase their value to the company through pursuing education, offering ideas, volunteering for additional tasks, volunteering for management of extracurricular work activities, committees, etc., I am willing to invest in training an employee (even knowing they hope to move on in a short time), as long as I get good value from them during their tenure.”

6. Can you tell me about a time you received constructive feedback?

Business advisor and community member Rebecca Jorgensen wants to know how the candidate reacts and responds to criticism. If they blamed others, got their feelings hurt or ignored feedback, you can expect more of the same if you hire them. If they thoughtfully considered the feedback and made an effort to improve, then you can expect them to do it again.

7. What is your favorite book?

This top interview question, or a similar unexpected query, can bump interviewees out of their scripted responses. Yoga instructor Kumari de Silva shared on the thread that she likes this off-kilter approach, because job candidates can’t study in advance to provide a “right” answer. They just have to be themselves. Watch out for candidates who can’t tell you why they love the book — it indicates that they’re just telling you what they think you want to hear.

8. What do you do in your spare time?

One of the best interview questions will prompt finding out what people do off the job. It helps you get a feel for everything they bring to the table on the job.  You could learn if they’re team players or independent workers, and whether or not they have leadership qualities.

9. If money was not a factor, what would you be doing?

Eileen Hill, CPA and community member, says her favorite question gets at the core of a job candidate’s hopes and dreams. You don’t want to hire someone whose heart is elsewhere. “I had one individual who said, ‘Not accounting! I'd be teaching English as a second language in China!’ I said, ‘What's stopping you?’ He paused, thought for a moment and said, ‘Nothing! That's what I'm going to do!’ As I walked him to door I said, ‘Obviously, I'm not hiring you.’ He said, ‘Yes, and I thank you for that!’”

Final Interview Tips:

  • Always make sure the questions you ask are legal and appropriate. For example, you don’t want to ask anything related to identifying potential candidates as being in a protected class, such as race, gender, nationality, religion, military status and age. Also, stay away from asking if the candidates have children or if they have ever been arrested (you can ask if they have been convicted of a crime only). When in doubt, always consult your attorney.
  • Be prepared with your own answer in case the job candidate turns it around and asks you the same one.
  • Leave space for silence. You’d be surprised at how much people will talk if you give them a chance.

Daisy McCarty is a professional writer who covers a broad range of topics, including business, IT, health and human resources. Daisy is based in the Dallas area and can be contacted via her company’s Facebook page.

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