Many people, especially women, start businesses because they want to be their own boss. In fact, this was the No. 1 reason cited by MasterCard in a 2006 Woman in Small Business survey. Sure, the hours are long and the ups and downs of growing a business can remind us of childhood roller-coaster rides, but as entrepreneurs we know this is one of the many trade-offs we make when we embrace doing work we love.
However, as our businesses grow and we think about adding to our team, many of us struggle with the transition from having a boss to being a boss. Hiring staff of any kind, from full-time employees to part-time or contract workers, is an incredible investment. Interviewing, selecting a candidate, training and integrating someone into the company culture can be a time-intensive process, so we want to be sure that we make smart choices.
If you're new to the process, you may be wondering how to make such crucial decisions with only one or two interviews, perhaps totaling two hours.
Well, there's more to interviewing than just the interview. You have more data at your fingertips than you know--it's just a matter of properly analyzing it. Consider the following:
- First impressions: You can learn a lot from a first impression, which is often created before a prospective hire walks through the door. Think about your initial communications. Did you ask for specific information as part of an application? If you asked for a writing sample or to be contacted at a certain e-mail address and the candidate didn't follow instructions, the writing may be on the wall. She may be the smartest person out there, but if she doesn't follow your simple instructions (or is too careless to read them closely), keep looking.
- Evaluating "personal brand": Top career experts urge candidates to develop a strong personal brand as they embark upon a job search. Maintaining online profiles is one key component of this process, so take the opportunity to see how candidates are "marketing" themselves on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Have they taken the time to create a full and professional online profile? Do they present a consistent message about their background and accomplishments? A quick online search could yield tons of useful information, so take the time to do it.
Even if you do a search and find little online information (such as professional profiles), you've still learned something important--that a candidate has not adopted online networking as part of her job search and may not be social media savvy. Depending on how important social media is to your open position, the absence of online information allows you to make important inferences.
- Passion for your product or industry: During your interview, you'll likely ask a candidate direct questions about her familiarity and experience with the function you're hiring for and her familiarity with your industry. But there's no better way to validate answers than to look for a demonstrated pattern of interest in your space. For example, if you're hiring someone to do social media, one way to evaluate whether a candidate is truly interested in and comfortable with the medium is to see how "connected" she is in various social networks. You can gauge how much time someone spends doing social media outside of her professional work and if she is truly invested in the work.
Beyond social media, you can still look for telltale signs of passion. Are you in the fashion space? How did the candidate dress for the interview? Does she have a sense of style that shows she reads fashion magazines regularly? Perhaps you have a food business--did the candidate's eyes light up in describing her favorite meal? True excitement for your business and the position will shine through regardless of whether your data points are direct or indirect.
- Conduct a test: Ask a candidate to think about how she would handle a certain task--how much time it would take, what steps she would take to complete the project and what the challenges would be along the way. Or, depending on the position, it may make sense to have the candidate actually complete a mini-project so that you can see her work product and process real-time. In doing this exercise, you'll be able to evaluate how familiar she truly is with the subject matter (Hint: If you're told she needs 20 hours for research, chances are the candidate has never seen a business challenge like the one you're presenting), her analytical skills and her willingness to look at a business problem from many different angles. You'll also be able to evaluate work style and whether the finished product is a good fit for you and your company.
- References: This is a tried-and-true method of evaluating candidates, and it should not be overlooked. There's an impulse, once you've found someone you like, just to make the hire. But ask the candidate for a list of references. Talking to employers the person may have worked for in the past can uncover some truths, and you should be armed with all the facts before hiring. Aside from questions on trustworthiness, promptness and talent, a great question to ask is whether the previous employer has any reservations about the candidate or reasons why you shouldn't hire her. And if you're comfortable with the candidate's worst traits, then perhaps the hire is right for you.
- Ask your colleagues: If you're hiring in an area where you lack expertise, having a trusted colleague, advisor or even a friend conduct another interview can be really helpful. Your colleague may be able to ask industry- or task-specific questions you wouldn't have thought of, and can offer additional insight into the quality of the candidate.
Human capital is one of the most valuable assets of a business. Bringing someone onto your team is an investment, and it's important to analyze as much data as possible in making your hiring decision.
Cari Sommer and Lauren Porat are the founders of UrbanInterns.com, a national marketplace that connects small-business owners with people looking for part-time jobs and internships, locally and virtually.