Craft Venture: interviewing for success

Welcome back to Craft Venture!  Im Brenda from Phydeaux Designs, talking with you about how to hire super star employees for your small business.  Last week, we talked about how to screen resumes.  This week I’m going to briefly talk about actually talking with applicants. And will leave you two of my most valuable resources for interviewing!

I’ve just returned home from several days in San Diego – not on vacation! I was actually working for a friend and Etsy seller, who has been learning first hand the importance of hiring help for busy crunch times!

Luckily, she knows that I would show up, put my head down, and get to work.  The interview process went something like this.  “Please, oh please, would you come down for a visit and help get this huge order out?”  “Seriously?  Sure!”  “Yay!”

But what if we didn’t know each other?  What if she didn’t already know and trust my work ethic?  Would that have been a successful interview process?

Well … maybe.

But … probably not.

And yet … many, many hiring supervisors interview in just that way.

Most of us set up the interviewee with the answers we want.  “You can work 8 to 5 every day, right?” (Better: “tell me what prevents you from working 8 to 5 every day.”)

Most of us answer the interviewee’s questions before we ask our own, particularly the famous “tell me what you’re looking for in a candidate,” which is followed by how that person meets every qualification.

Most of us ask someone what they would do in a particular situation, rather than what they have done (behavioral interviewing).

Most of us ask how applicants handle easy situations, rather than how they resolved challenges and obstacles (motivational interviewing).

Some of us ask illegal questions!  “Do you have children that you have to drop off at or pick up from school” versus “is there anything that prevents you from working 8 to 5 every day.”  (Don’t ask questions, ever, about children, family, religion, personal activities, sexual orientation, age and if the interviewee spills the beans about any of the preceding, your safest response is, “It’s actually not legal for us to talk about that – let’s move on to something else.”)

Interviewing is actually a lot of fun, but takes a little planning and practice.  And phone screens are just mini interviews.  You want to be the driver for both.  You’re not just asking questions and madly writing answers.  You want to appear to be very comfortable (even if you don’t feel that way).  You want the applicant to loosen up enough to give you honest answers (versus memorized responses).  You need to pay attention to what your applicant says verbally … and silently.  Won’t make eye contact when you ask a particular question?  Red flag!  Dig into that one.

You do want to ask your applicants the same questions, so that you’re able to compare their responses.  With work and practice, you’ll develop your own interview “script,” using your voice and style.  However, here’s a basic outline you can follow (and adjust to your particular needs)!

1.  Greet your applicants by name, hand extended (always, always shake hands in greeting and closing).  Offer water or beverage (there’s nothing worse than a coughing attack mid interview).

2.  Invite them to have a seat (I like to sit at a round table).  Sit across from them, and do so in a way that is a little laid back and invites confidences (I lean back a little, using open body language).

3.  Small talk for a minute or two, “So you found me OK?  Didn’t get lost along the way?”  This is a great time to watch how your applicants compose and prepare themselves as they gear up for the interview.

4.  Let them know how your process will work.  “I’ll briefly tell you how this will work.  I have a few questions to ask you – when I do, just take your time to talk about each question.  I’ll be taking notes and may ask a follow up question or two.  I want to hear your questions too.  Do you have questions you want to ask right now?”

5.  You’ll immediately know someone’s not a good fit if they kick things off asking  “what’s in it for me” questions (e.g., salary, benefits).  This will be a short interview for them.  Ask just a couple of questions, thank them, let them go.

6.  If someone asks leading questions (“what exactly are you looking for in a candidate”), turn it back on them.  “What do you think a candidate needs to succeed in this job?”

7.  Your own first question should be something fun, but enlightening.  I often try to find out what gets people excited about work.  “Tell me about your absolute dream job – what is that you would love to do above all else if you didn’t have to worry about education, experience, or other obstacles.  There’s no right or wrong answer – I’m genuinely interested in your honest answer.”  If someone is being honest, they’ll feel more positive and energized, their eyes will come to life, and you’ll see a little more of the real person.

8.  Ask a couple of questions about the skills needed for the job.  Do so in a way that is both behavioral and motivational.  “Tell me about the last software program that you needed to learn – how did you go about doing so?  What was the most challenging for you?  How did you deal with that challenge?”  “Tell me about the biggest customer service challenge you’ve ever faced.  How did you, personally, resolve it?  What did you learn from the experience?”  Note that these are multipart questions.  You want the applicant to do all the talking.  You want to do all the listening:  what’s being said, how it’s being said, what wasn’t said, and what’s being avoided.

9.  You will run into a “I’m really struggling with this” answer.  Although you’ll you want to fill in the silence … don’t. If it’s becomes very uncomfortable for you, here’s what you say to force yourself to put the silence on the applicant:  “It’s okay, take your time.”  Then sit back.  They’ll break, usually giving you a crucial piece of information.  Trust me on this – this is the most valuable skill I’m passing on to you!

10.  As you’re making notes, star areas where the applicant’s body language raised red flags, then ask a follow up question to dig in a little more.  “Tell me more about how your ceramic professor’s reaction to the kiln explosion – I’m sure that was difficult for you – what do you think you learned from it?”

11.  When you finish with your questions, open the floor for additional questions.

12.  If an applicant doesn’t have a single question … not good.  A self motivated super star writes up questions the night before the interview!

13.  Thank them for coming, let them know what the post interview process is (“I have several interviews this and next week, but will follow up by phone or email not earlier than the end of next week”), stand up and shake hands again, make sure they can find their way out, and YAY, the interview portion is done.

14.  Sit down for a few minutes to immediately summarize the interview.  Read through your notes.  Add more notes about your overall impression.  Additional questions you should have asked?  What did you love?  Big “no?”  Make a few notes about why.

15.  And  prepare yourself for the next interview.

Interviewing is part science, part art.  Just remember that’s you’re in control, avoid illegal questions, and most important:  try to have some fun!

That wasn’t very brief after all!  Please let me know what else you were hoping to learn – I’ll answer your comments all week long!

As promised, here are my two very favorite resources! After putting these excellent books into practice, my recruitment process completely changed, resulting in much improved hires.

Don’t Hire Anyone Without Me! A Revolutionary Approach to Interviewing and Hiring the Best

Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People, Revised and Updated Edition


Image Credit: Over Coffee by Lanulop

3 comments | Click here to reply

Great advice, thank you.

jennifer lorton

I love tip no. 3 Brenda. It really can tell you a lot about a person, without them even realizing that you are “sizing them up” so to speak. And no. 12 is a great tip for applicants…one that I am sure many of us don’t think much about. Asking questions lets you interviewer know that you are interested.


Thank you, nice post! Exactly the info I needed to get.

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