If you're the owner of an absentee business, you'll likely be at your business very few hours each week. And if you have a retail or food business, the hours you're open may far outstrip the hours it's possible for you to be on location. Or, you may just be too busy with top-level priorities to be able to closely manage your lower-level employees.

In any of those cases--and likely a dozen more--it's time for you to hire a manager. This will take time and effort, and your main consideration will be finding a manager you can trust.

You're looking for a combination of characteristics in the manager you select: an experienced, mature person who is also very dynamic, forceful and able to do the job for you. Ideally, you'd like to hire dedicated and honest management as well. This is why you need to apply strong tests of character and ability to your search for the right person. In order to do this, the first thing you have to do is determine what it is that your business requires and what is really important. Write down what it takes to do the day-to-day management. Also, look ahead a few years and see if the requirements for your manager are going to change. If you can anticipate that, add those requirements to the description of the person you're looking for now.

Put your management requirements in list form and make several copies. You can use the written list of characteristics for each of the candidates you interview. Next to the list of characteristics, rank how the person appears to you on scale of 1 to 10 and add a few words of explanation to help you compare your candidates later.

Based on your list of manager characteristics, prepare a classified job ad that stresses the positive side of your business. You might think if you mention a few negatives you'll screen out people who'd be bothered by those things. But in this earliest phase, use the ad to attract, not screen people out. You can screen and qualify candidates for the job in an initial interview or telephone-screening interview.

Where should you place your ad? Don't confine advertising for something so important to the classified section of your major local newspaper or general job websites--though these mediums should employed as well. Industry-specific trade journals and websites may also have a classified section. You can also even try headhunters.

Typically, advertising can be run inexpensively in trade journals and their websites. Further, because you're advertising in a trade journal, you're more likely to appeal to a qualified, "prescreened" group. You might find someone who's already in your business and isn't actively looking for a job, but is just casually flipping through the trade journal and comes across your ad. You might not have found this industry vet if you'd depended merely on general-market classified ads.

Interviewing Managerial Candidates
All too often, novice interviews don't have a good technique for probing the "inner being" of the managerial candidate in the employment interview. If you're going to select a manager whose decisions and day-to-day performance seriously affect your company, it's best for you to get into that person's head and see what makes them tick, then intelligently select or reject him or her for the job.

Assuming you've written an enthusiastic ad, you'll be getting calls from a number of qualified manager prospects. Some will send you resume, which is one form of prescreening. Many absentee owners believe it's better to have only a phone number contact in their ad because they don't like to deal with resumes' initially. They prefer to screen candidates over the phone and save themselves a lot of in-person interview time.

To screen callers, draw up one-page form for each caller. Put a space at the top for the person's name and contact information, leave a couple of inches for a section titled "work history," another two-inch space for education, and if you have a key skill requirement, such as sales or technical experience, leave a couple on inches for that section. Have the person who's screening your calls fill in this information, including salary history, so you can screen out people who don't meet the minimum requirements for the job.

A more popular screening choice nowadays is no phone calls at all. Instead, have people e-mail or fax their resume to your office. You can have your screener sort through the resumes to find those individuals most suited to the position, and call candidates to ask additional questions if necessary. This screening process is very popular with those who advertise online for positions.

Pick the top 10 people out of the candidate list, and set up an interview with each of them. Resumes shouldn't be used as the sole indicator of a good employee, but a way to check the person's references. If you screen based on resumes, what you may be doing is selecting good resume writers, not necessarily the best-qualified people. If you do it the other way around and ask for a resume last, you may get a good manager who just isn't a good resume' writer.

Each applicant should be required to complete a detailed application form and give references. If you're serious about the candidate after you've conducted the interview, check those references carefully to determine just what type of person you're dealing with.

The Interview Process

When interviewing, have the application in front of you and be certain sufficient time is allotted so neither you nor the interviewee is rushed, and no important information is missed. Put the interviewee at ease. Most people looking for a job are, to some extent, nervous during an employment interview, and there are ways of limiting their discomfort. When the interviewee first enters the office, say something like "Make yourself comfortable" or "May I get you a cup of coffee?" Be pleasant and courteous, but avoid too much small talk; it wastes time and can create an atmosphere that works against serious discussion. It can also help break the ice if you do the talking first. Explain what the job is, and describe the company--its business, history and where it's going. Being enthusiastic about your own business is important if you expect your employees to have enthusiasm for it as well.

During the interview, direct the discussion into various channels to find out a much as possible about the person. (But avoid questions about race, children, religion and other potential discrimination landmines.) If not already known, discuss past wages or salaries and expected compensation. Keep salaries in line with the competition--or better, if this can be justified.

If at any point you receive an answer that indicates this is definitely not the person you want to hire, terminate the interview as quickly as possible. You don't have to make a scene, and indeed, it would be bad for you to do so. But you need to have to nerve to say, "Thank you. That's all I have for today. We'll let you know when we make a decision." In this regard, if you do say you'll get back to someone, make sure you do. You can write a two-line letter, and make it as brief as: "This is to inform you that the position of manager for XYZ company has been filled. Thank you for your time and interest in the position."

If you are interested, go ahead and tell that person so. Ask them to think about the job and, if they're interested, to give you a call. Afterwards, study their resume, and if there are any questions or inconsistencies in the resume or references, or if something seems wholly out of line, clarify those issues when they call back about the job.

Never forget that hiring a manager is a much more serious matter than hiring a clerk or a receptionist. This is why on an initial interview you should ask penetrating, specific questions. You should ask questions you need answers to in your own business to see whether what you've learned about your field is consistent with the knowledge the candidate claims to have. Think of some situations that may arise over the next five to six months and ask the candidate very specific questions about how they would take care of that problem. You'll gain a lot of insight about your own business, and rate the candidates at the same time.

Excerpted from The Small Business Encyclopedia