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Good Questions

Does interviewing job candidates make you nervous? Try these tricks of the trade.

Nobody's been trained to interview job candidates. That's why most managers do it poorly," says Ethan Winning, a human resources consultant in Walnut Creek, California.

Sound familiar? Floundering through job interviews is the norm among many entrepreneurs, but it's no way to grow a business. Every bad hire costs you time and money. Make enough good hires, on the other hand, and you'll find your business expanding fast.

Step one in better interviewing is to make fewer mistakes. What errors do entrepreneurs commonly make in job interviews? There's no shortage of examples, say the experts:

Talking too much. "Many interviewers talk so much, applicants cannot tell about themselves," says N. Elizabeth Fried, a Dublin, Ohio, executive search consultant and author of Sex, Laws & Stereotypes (Intermediaries Press).

How much of the time should the candidate be talking? About 75 percent is the yardstick recommended by most experts, who caution that the norm is the exact opposite-"Far too many entrepreneurs dominate the interview," says Winning.

Giving away the answers. Winning recalls a manager who invited him to sit in while the manager interviewed applicants for a secretary position. To each candidate, the manager said, "We're looking to pay $1,800 per month for this position. How much salary do you want?" Each candidate in turn looked thoughtful, then said, "About $1,800."

"He just didn't understand that he was feeding them the answers," says Winning. This occurs frequently in job interviews, and on more than money matters, too. Tell applicants knowledge of Quattro Pro is essential, then ask if they know Quattro, and don't be surprised if everyone claims they can make that spreadsheet program sing.

Not taking notes. Research emphatically shows that applicants who come in for interviews near the end of the process are much more likely to be hired. Why? Bosses have simply forgotten about the earlier candidates. The only way you'll accurately remember every applicant is if you take detailed notes during every session.

Not using written questions. Another big mistake made by interviewers: "They get off track," says Winning. This can mean that when a 30-minute interview closes, you've learned a lot about the candidate's high school soccer career . . . but nothing pertinent to the job at hand. Write out questions beforehand, and stick to them, even if that championship soccer game sounds fascinating.

Relying on superficialities. Plenty of research shows tall, good-looking candidates get more job offers than less physically attractive applicants. Are they necessarily better workers? Of course not. "If you want to hire good employees," urges Winning, "you've got to look past physical features and make the hiring decision [based] on qualities that really matter for the job."


Robert McGarvey writes on business psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or ideas, e-mail rjmcgarvey@cis.compuserve.com.

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This article was originally published in the January 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Good Questions.

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