What to remember when interviewing candidates for your business

When it comes to taking on staff, there are some key considerations for a small business owner to make, from how a candidate's skills stack up to whether they would fit with the company culture. Here, we look at what to bear in mind.

Taking on staff and interviewing candidates for the first time is a significant milestone for a small business owner. Having set up your company and achieved sales in the early stages, it may be time to take on a salesperson or administrator to cope with increasing demand. But how do you ensure you employ the person who will give you the best chance of growing your company?

It’s essential to make the right hire, and first impressions are important in assessing the qualities of your prospective employee. A new survey by William May has revealed the things we notice about another person when meeting them for the first time. More than one in three (35 per cent) first spot another person’s facial expressions, whereas 27 per cent of people say it is the way they are dressed.

Body language comes in a close third with 26.7 per cent of the vote, and a person’s tone of voice comes in last with 10 per cent of people selecting this feature.

It is important to think about how you as an employer are coming across as well as focusing on your candidate. Portia Hickey of Communication Labs explains, ‘While there are basic behaviours that help us make a good impression, such as smiling and steady eye contact, there is a lot more to first impressions. Our brain is bombarded with so much information all the time that shortcuts in our thinking are required.

‘This means that subtle things such as how frequently we smile will cue people’s brains to stereotype us and make certain assumptions about us. So it is important to know what type of impression you want to make so that you are sending the right signals to the other person’s brain.’

The interview process

Narelle Morrison, COO at communications company Babel says, for her company, recruiting new employees involves an initial phone interview and then subsequent Skype, face-to-face interviews and practical assessments depending on the role in question.

‘This procedure is not only about gaining insight into whether the candidate has the suitable skills for the job. For the candidate, it’s also an introduction to the company, our values and area of work. After all, it is as much about them wanting to work with us as it is us wanting to work with them,’ she says.

Hiring isn’t a decision the company takes lightly, and the company likes to get people of all levels involved in the process at some stage. ‘Although academics, previous work experience and transferrable skills are important factors to consider when hiring new team members, Babel is a small agency and a tight-knit community, therefore personality is equally as important.’

Interviewing candidates and the search for the ideal employee can sometimes feel like finding a new family member, says Morrison. Do we share similar interests, values and opinions? If we don’t, can we get on as people outside the working environment? Will they embrace our culture and competitive ping-pong playing? ‘By getting different feedback from various team members on a candidate’s temperament, interests and work ethic from the early stages, we can ensure that we’re investing in the right people, and the right people are investing in us,’ she adds.

Why it’s so important for a small company to get recruiting right

Julia Furley, barrister at JFH Law, says that interviewing candidates in small businesses can be much more complex than in large organisations. ‘It is expensive to advertise, and time consuming to go through the selection and interview process so it is extremely important to get it right the first time round,’ she says.

Furley says her law firm looks for candidates who have an excellent technical knowledge of the law, are confident and assured in their presentation, but will also fit in well with the dynamics of the existing team. ‘As such we undertake a two stage process; the first stage is a more formal interview involving a general discussion about their background and qualifications followed by a legal problem/test.

‘We only give candidates 15 minutes to consider the legal problem, so it requires some agile thinking on their behalf and calm, analytical approach.’

Once she has been able to sort through the candidates who have the necessary legal skills, it’s time move to the second interview stage. ‘This is a much more informal chat, normally over a cup of coffee, to determine whether they will be a good fit with our team. This gives the candidate a chance to find out more about the ethos of the company and what opportunities there are for them within it.’

As a small business owner, the pressure on your shoulders to find the right person can feel considerable. But by keeping in mind whether candidates fit the bill according to their skillset, their fit with the company culture, and their body language and communication skills, you have a great chance of making the hire that can boost your business fortunes.

Further reading on interviewing candidates and taking on staff

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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