Hiring is one of the most important and critical tasks for any small business owner. After all, your business is only as good as your people.
But how do you know who the good people are? And how do you determine which candidates will perform to your expectations? Anyone can put on a good show for a few hours during an interview. What you want are people who will still be good in a few months.
Nothing is certain, of course, but the five questions below will help you see deeper into the candidate's mind and make the decision that is best for your business.
1. Give an example of a time when you had to make a quick decision
Small businesses are, by definition, small. That means that everyone has to share the responsibility. You need employees who can take initiative when necessary and make a decision when it needs to be made. This question forces candidates to demonstrate that they have had to deal with these make-a-call-and-make-it-now circumstances.
2. Give an example of a time when you exceeded expectations
This question gives the candidate a chance to brag about their accomplishments, but the real value can be found in analyzing their approach and thought processes.
Some candidates exceed expectations because little is expected of them in the first place. Others exceed expectations because they understand the root causes of a problem and the nature of the circumstances...and then they take action based on those understandings.
You'll know if you’ve found the latter based on how the candidate describes the problems faced and their approach to the situation.
3. Convince me that you can adapt to a wide range of people, situations and environments
The goal of this question is two-fold.
First, employees that can adapt to a variety of circumstances are crucial in a small business environment. At some point, it's likely that they will be asked to do something that is outside their normal job description. Employees have to be OK with that and capable of handling such a change.
Additionally, you are asking them to convince you of something. This will give you an insight into how persuasive the candidate can be. Persuasion is critical in small business. In many situations, you are competing against businesses with more money, more resources, and more contacts. If you can't be persuasive, then you will lose.
4. What have you done that demonstrates initiative and willingness to work?
In all likelihood, your employees will be trained on-the-job. It is important to hire individuals that take action and aren't afraid to get into the thick of things. There are few rotational leadership programs or well-organized training courses in small business. Employees need to be ready to jump in and willing to work through the sticking points when they come along.
Moreover, running a successful small business is all about trust. You need employees that you can depend on and believe in, even when you aren't around. If you fill your office with individuals that are self-motivated and take action, then you can be sure that business is moving forward.
5. Why should we hire you?
In a small business environment, candidates will have to prove themselves over and over again. Give them a chance to prove themselves right away.
This question is the perfect way to open things up and allow the candidate to show you what they bring to the table. It's also an opportunity for them to display talents that you might not have thought to ask about during the interview.
Sometimes the most compelling qualities are hidden within our stories. A good hiring manager can pull those stories out as the conversation progresses and this question helps to accomplish that.
James Clear is an award-winning writer on business strategy and entrepreneurship and has delivered speeches in the United States, the UK, and Switzerland.
A version of this article was originally published on September 5, 2011.