Here's How to Interview Employees, and Find the Perfect Fit

Stop focusing on a potential employee's resume and achievements.
Here's How to Interview Employees, and Find the Perfect Fit
Image credit: Ivan Canu

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Founder of Pen Name Consulting
4 min read

This story appears in the May 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Editor's note: Have a question about running your ? Email, and our columnist, Pen Name Consulting founder and  best-selling author Adam Bornstein, may answer it in an upcoming issue of

Q: I run a small business and need to hire in order for us to grow. What’s the best approach for bringing on the right people? -- Shane, Toronto

A: Shane, the strength of your team is the strength of your business. But the opposite is also true -- hiring the wrong people can pull down your operation and cost you money. When I was in the corporate world, I tried to buy an all-star team. I focused mostly on résumés and achievements. It didn’t work out too well. Later, when I started my own business, I couldn’t afford to buy that kind of team. That forced me to focus on the bigger, tougher question: What actually makes a good employee

Related: How to Hire Like a Pro

Uncovering the answer made me better at finding the right talent. I learned that, though prior job titles are indicative, great hiring is really about identifying passion. It may seem like you can only learn about someone over time, but I found that asking better, more specific questions during the interviewing process can reveal a lot. 

That means no more “Why should we hire you?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Instead, get a little more personal. You already know the hole you want a candidate to fill in your company. To gain insight, ask how you will fill a void in their life. Did they previously have a bad manager or hit a growth ceiling at their last job? Can this be addressed in your company?

You also need to ensure that a potential employee sees value in being part of your team. Here, what they tell you (“I love your company!”) is less important than what they ask. Invested employees will want to know what success will look like in their position, what you want them to add to the business. They’re interested in growth and future opportunity. If your potential hire appears introverted, flip the question. Ask for specific examples of what inspired them to apply.

Related: What Bad Managers, Good Managers and Great Managers Do

This line of inquiry will help you gauge how well the candidate understands your company and their potential role in it. You can also throw a curveball to test them. Dev Basu, founder of PoweredbySearch, Toronto’s fastest-growing agency (936 percent growth in five years!), likes asking, “How would you beat us if you were a competitor?”

You also want to assess key qualities like the ability to respond to criticism, speed of work and style. For these, I recommend creating a test prior to the process -- something that requires the candidate to share their opinions or expertise -- and request a quick turnaround. Does the applicant ask for more time or miss a deadline? Those are red flags. Then, during the interview, criticize or disagree with some of their answers and see how they react. This will be an important test of how you’ll be able to work together, as conflict and disagreement are inevitable in any workplace. 

Finally, when you’re ready to make an offer, be prepared to think beyond salary. You may need to sweeten an offer with nonmonetary perks, like ample vacation or the ability to work from home sometimes. “The best employees aren’t just looking for more pay,” says Basu. “They are looking for a sense of belonging and purpose.” When they find that, it makes them happy. And when they’re happy, they tend to stick around.

Adam Bornstein is the founder of Pen Name Consulting, a marketing and branding agency; a New York Times best-selling author; and the creator of the two12 event.

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