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Avoid These Interview Mistakes Employees can make or break your success as a small business owner. Here's how to make better hires.

By Jane Porter Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of the trickiest tasks you'll have as a small business owner is hiring employees. The interview process might seem straightforward enough, but business owners often slip up when talking to candidates.

"Hiring people is the most important thing you can do by and large as far as negatively affecting your business," says Bill Driscoll, New England district president for Robert Half International, a specialized global staffing firm.

Related: How to Give New Hires a Great Start

That means it's critical to prepare before interviewing for a job opening. Here are four common mistakes first-time business owners make when talking to job candidates – and how to fix them.

Mistake No. 1: You get too personal.
When it comes to questions you want to avoid during a job interview, anything that could be perceived as possibly discriminatory ought to be at the top of your list, according to Driscoll. While it's important to understand where a person is coming from, you never want to ask a job candidate's age, nationality, religion, or marital status, for example. Those questions can be perceived as discriminatory and put your business at risk, he says.

And while it might seem obvious not to ask an interviewee's nationality, for example, some entrepreneurs don't realize questions that may come up in small talk can also be dangerous, says Vickie Causa, CEO of CausaAssociates, LLC, a New York-based HR consulting firm. For example, avoid asking seemingly innocuous questions like whether or not a candidate has kids or what organizations they belong to.

Of course you'll want to know if there's anything stopping potential employees from coming into the office when you need them, but phrase those questions carefully. Rather than asking if someone has young kids or observes any holidays, ask if there are any restrictions that would stop that person from working on the weekends, Causa says. "You can find anything out about someone if you ask the question the right way," she says.

Related: Four Ways to Foster Fairness in the Workplace

Mistake No. 2: You ask canned questions.
While it's important to avoid asking pointed questions about a candidate's personal background, staying too general is also a bad move, says Driscoll. "Lots of people can do great for fifteen minutes to an hour in an interview, particularly if you're asking general interview questions," he says.

Sticking to behavioral questions will help you get more candid and useful answers, says J.T. O'Donnell, founder of the career advice blog, Rather than asking interviewees to tell you about themselves, for example, she suggests asking about their greatest personal achievement and how they accomplished it. You can learn a lot about candidates' work ethic and level of commitment by focusing on their experiences rather than their family or the organizations they belong to, she says.

Related Video: How to Find Dedicated Employees

Mistake No. 3: You gloss over the demands of the job.
Many small business owners are afraid to tell job candidates about the long work hours required, afraid that might scare them away. "It's amazing how many entrepreneurs don't want to be honest about how much they are expecting of their employees," O'Donnell says.

Being open about how often new hires will need to be in the office is a detail every small business owner should make clear from the onset. If work hours seem too unreasonable to discuss, you probably need to reevaluate your expectations, she says. But not being forthright about the commitment is a big mistake, she says.

Related: Do Your Employees Feel Overworked?

Mistake No. 4: You're too open with rejected candidates.
Once you've interviewed and turned a handful of people down for a position, chances are someone will call up asking why they didn't get the job. Often small business owners want to be helpful by offering constrictive criticism, but O'Donnell advises against it. Instead tell rejected candidates you found someone who was a better fit and leave it at that.

"When you decide to pass on people, a good number of them are going to be convinced it was some sort of discrimination," says O'Donnell. "They're just going to read between the lines and you don't want that."

Overall, the interview process is an opportunity for you to really get to know prospective employees and determine if they're a fit for your company. Remember to always be frank about your expectations and the company culture. "You can't afford to make a mistake in a hire," says Causa. "There's a lot of information you want to get about somebody but you have to be careful how you ask the questions."

Jane Porter

Writer and editor

Jane Porter is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. You can find more of her work at

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