For small business owners, hiring new staff involves some extremely tough decisions. Can you afford the payroll increase? If you don't invest in a larger staff, will growth stall? How many employees are enough for your business? And even if you sort out all of these complex issues, the most difficult question of all remains: how do you find the right person for the job?
There are two core, interrelated issues involved in hiring. First, you need to identify your business's needs. Second, you need to develop a strategy for finding the right candidate. The first issue may sound like a no-brainer. You've already asked yourself the questions above, and you've already decided that you need someone, so now it's just a matter of finding the right person, right?
Not exactly. One of the most common mistakes made in job interviews - by both interviewers and interviewees - is that they don't spend enough time talking about the actual job. People naturally tend to stick with what they know. For this reason, many managers and business owners fill up an interview with unnecessary and often longwinded expositions on the core philosophy and overall strategy of their company. This may be important and fascinating stuff, but it can be condensed into a minute or two. You don't want to talk about the company; you want to talk about the job.
That's why it is so important to precisely identify exactly what you need your new hire to do, before you even consider posting an ad in the newspaper, browsing Monster.com, or otherwise looking for candidates. Talk to department managers or staff members (depending on the size and structure of your business) about what they think the new hire ought to do. Develop a day-to-day profile of the precise responsibilities and duties you would expect the new person to perform. It helps to think of your business as having a problem, and the new hire as being the answer to the problem. What exactly is the problem? What kind of a solution are you looking for?
And once you have this profile, don't be afraid to share the most important details of the job and your expectations with the candidates when you invite them to the interview. The most forward-thinking businesses - small and large - are increasingly ditching the old list of "ten most-asked interview questions." Who cares where the candidate sees himself in five years? It is a rare interviewee who tells you anything other than what he thinks you want to hear when asked such questions. It is far better to forthrightly present the candidates with the nature of your business problem from the outset, and build the interview around letting them give you their ideas for how they will be the solution you are looking for. Thoughtfully develop a clear list of job-specific questions before the interview begins. This will give you a much better idea of the interviewee's ability to think analytically, to solve problems logically, and to present his ideas clearly. For most jobs, such skills come in far handier than the ability to dream up a nice-sounding five-year plan.
None of this is to say that the candidate's goals and experience don't matter. Of course they do. It's just that these always need to be interpreted within the context of the job you are trying to fill. Again, knowing precisely what you need will allow both you and the interviewee to understand whether or not his experience fits your needs.
Also, don't put too much stock in references. Everyone can find at least a couple of people willing to say something nice about them, even if it's only a sympathy reference from a former boss who had to fire an incompetent but otherwise likeable employee.
Which brings us to personality. Personality is important, but try not to be overly swayed by someone you like. After all, the traits that make someone likeable in a 45-minute interview are not always the traits that make him likeable after 45 days on the job. How does the candidate behave when you seem unconvinced by his answers? Does he get defensive or does he patiently try to restate his answer in a manner that will be more persuasive? Such interviewing techniques may reveal a lot about how the interviewee interacts with other people and how he deals with stress. No need to get too creative or confrontational here - unless you're interviewing for the CIA, you probably don't need someone who answers flawlessly and without showing any signs of nervousness. But have a bit of back-and-forth to give the candidate a chance to show his ability to interact with other people and to be as flexible as the situation demands. Candidates who are not easily frustrated and who are able to adapt are obviously easier for the rest of your staff to get along with and are more likely to do a good job generally.
There is nothing like a fail-safe method for finding the right person for the job. Even so, if you put a bit of thought into developing a smart hiring strategy, you will greatly increase your chances of making a choice that you can live with.