5 Interview Questions Small Businesses Should Ask Candidates Before Hiring Them

April 7, 2016

Hiring for a small business is a different experience than hiring for a large company. Roles are generally less defined in a small business and just about every position involves meaningful interaction with customers.

For those reasons and more, the questions you need to ask a candidate before hiring them to join your small business are different than the ones you’d need to ask if you were hiring for a large company. And the stakes are higher as well, as a single hire in a small business has far more impact on a company than a single hire in a large business.

With that in mind, here are the five interview questions a small business should ask a candidate before hiring them.

1. Why do you love this industry?

A larger company can hire someone who isn’t crazy passionate about the industry they work in and it can still work out for both parties. While it isn’t ideal, if the employee is good at what they do and is professional, both sides can still benefit.

For a small company, that’s simply not the case. Often, working for a smaller company means using your personal contacts, taking on multiple hats and a higher sense of ownership. If a person doesn’t have a passion for the industry they are working in, it isn’t going to work.

This interview question is just part of discovering if the person is truly passionate about the role. They also should have a track record of working in or showing interest in that industry, even if they are a relatively inexperienced candidate and have been doing things on their own time for little or no pay.

2. How will you provide excellent experiences to our customers?

There are a lot of roles in a large company that have no interaction or very limited interaction with the company’s customers. For a smaller company, regardless of what a person is hired to do, they’ll likely have to do some customer service.

Additionally, for a smaller company, customer experience is paramount, because often their primary form of marketing is word-of-mouth. So, a person should be ready and willing to provide great service to their customers, regardless of the role.

3. When’s the last time you were solely responsible for the success or failure of a project?

Working for a larger company, often accountability – and blame ­– is hard to pin on one person. Most projects are multifaceted and most decisions are made via committee.

For a smaller company, the opposite is true. Generally, a person will be assigned a project, and will be directly responsible for its success or failure. It isn’t to say they won’t get help, but there’s a higher sense of ownership.

This question shall help uncover what type of person the candidate is – someone who runs toward accountability and leadership, or someone who runs away from it. The hope is the candidate has several examples to pick from, and takes full responsibility for any failures associated with those projects.

4. Tell me about the last time you had to learn a new skill to complete a project.

One of the biggest differences between working for a large company and working for a small company is that, in a small company, jobs are a lot less specialized. For a large company, a person generally has one major task or one major responsibility they have to get done.

For a smaller company, a single employee can be responsible for all of marketing, along with helping out the sales team and (as mentioned in the second question) some customer service. And strategies can change overnight at a small business, so even the same role can suddenly have much different tasks associated with it.

Therefore, you need to look for agile minds that are able to take on a range of challenges, instead of the comfort of doing a similar task everyday. And someone with an agile mind should have examples of times they learned new skills, quickly, to get things done.

5. Take the person out to lunch, after the interview, to see if you could see working with this person every day.

Running a small business can be stressful, as you are trying to make the company successful, but have a limited amount of resources to do so. Additionally, if you run a small business, it tends to constantly be on your mind.

Therefore, you need people you work with who you can get along with. Whoever you hire is about to become one of your partners, tackling a great professional challenge together.

If you can’t get along with the person professionally, it isn’t going to work.

So take a candidate out to lunch after the interview, and see if the person seems like someone you can build a strong working relationship with. Hopefully the answer is yes, but if is no, it is probably better for both sides to go separate ways.

*Image from Death to the Stock Photo

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