Now Hiring

Finding Candidates & The Interview

Medley put an ad in The Indianapolis Star and found three job candidates. He recalls the interview he had over lunch with his first hire, Mike Bankert, who, five years later, is still with the company and now on salary. "I played up the company like I knew it was going to grow," says Medley. "I gave him my vision, and I think he believed it."

If you're going with an ad, be logical in deciding where to place it-whether you decide to post it on or in your local newspaper. "Pretend that you're looking for this job, and then select [your placement] that way," suggests Arlene Vernon, owner of HRx, a human resources consulting firm in Eden Prairie, a suburb of Minneapolis. She's been helping small businesses with their human resources needs for more than 25 years, and she's often found good employees for her clients through the newspaper classifieds.

But if you don't have to hire somebody this minute, she recommends trying to find an employee through word-of-mouth. "Go to industry meetings," she suggests. "Hopefully, you're already doing that anyway, and as you're talking to people one-on-one, mention that you're looking for somebody to hire. Ask 'Who do you know that would be interested in a start-up?'"

Mentioning that you're a start-up is important, says Vernon, because certain personalities work well with the unpredictable nature of a new business, while others don't.

The Interview
Questions, ask many questions. Ask them of yourself, and ask them of your potential hires.

You need to know exactly who you want to help you grow your business. What you don't need is to hire somebody just like you, says Bruno, whose agency assists in recruiting secretarial, administrative and human resource professionals. "You want their strengths to complement your weaknesses," she says.

But that's the easy part, according to Bruno, who insists that you investigate prospects' references . "Reference-checking is an art," she says. "And it has to be, because in this day and age, sometimes a person's entire resume is a fantasy." There is one crucial question you must ask every reference, and if you phrase it in just the right way, it's difficult for that person to give a vague answer. It's simply "Is this person eligible for rehire?" "If the answer is yes," says Bruno, "you've got a good person. If it's no, then no."

There are three basic guidelines you should stick to in a job interview, says Vernon:

  • Keep it legal. Because of federal guidelines and laws that vary from state to state, you can get sued if you ask questions that have nothing to do with the job, says Vernon. Stay away from topics such as your potential employee's religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, whether he or she is married and whether he or she wants children. "Just keep it focused on the job," says Vernon, "and you'll be fine."
  • Be honest. For obvious reasons. "Even be blatantly honest," says Vernon. "If there are difficult parts of the job, let them know upfront."
  • Ask tough questions. "Ask them to show you how they would do something," says Vernon. "If you need an administrative assistant, tell them to turn on the computer and get into Word and write you a letter." Or give them real-life examples of challenges they may face working for you and listen to how they think they'd handle the situation, suggests Vernon.

And how do you explain to your first employee that you're hiring him or her to do the tasks that you'd rather not do? "It's all how you frame it," observes Beth Ellenby, owner of Rest of Your Life Productions, a Norwalk, Connecticut, coaching firm for individuals and corporations. Ellenby's business has been running entrepreneurship coaching groups for women in New York City for the past two years. "For some people, the grunt work is doing the accounting. But for [other] people, there's nothing more fun than getting a big box of papers and sorting through them. For some people, they dread making cold calls. Others say 'Let me at it.'"

And Ellenby adds that it's impossible to get rid of all the grunt. "When you're only two people, you're both going to have to do things you don't love doing."

Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the November 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Now Hiring.

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