Interviewing 101

As a growing business, one of the most important things you do each day is identify people who will help you take your business where you want it to go. Recruiting in this job market is challenging and applicants have many options.  Learning as much as you can about their background, skills and experience while providing them an opportunity to find out about you and your business may be a tall agenda for an interview.  There are a few tips you can use to make the most of the time you spend with each candidate so you know if they are right for your business.

interviewing 101

Basic Structure of a 1 hour interview:

How Long? What are you doing?
What’s the goal?


5 minutes Introductions Small talk, make the candidate feel welcome
5 minutes Describe the position and it’s role in the company Applicant has a clear understanding of what they are interviewing for
10 minutes Get an overview of the background of the person you’re interviewing Ask the candidate to provide you a brief overview of their career – – focus specifically on the companies and/or positions that have the most similarity to the role or organization that you are interviewing for.
25 minutes Is this the right person for you? Based on the information you learned above, ask specific, open-ended questions that look for examples of the type of experience,
behavior, skills, etc. that you are looking for (see below for examples)
10 minutes Find out what they want to know and sell the candidate on your opportunity Leave time for closing the candidates – – they’ll want to ask you questions about the job, the business, expectations, etc.   This is your opportunity to sell the candidate on how great this job is for them, if you are interested in pursuing them for the role
5 minutes Closure and next steps Put closure on this phase of the interview – either let them know that they will be considered and what the next steps are (further interviews, references, etc.) or let them know when they should expect to hear back from you regarding their status.


A few notes about the type of questions to ask:

The concept of “behavioral” or “experienced based” interviewing is that past performance is best predictor of future performance. In other words, if a candidate can describe to you, in detail, how they solved a particular problem or developed a product or dealt with a difficult employee issue, you have a better understanding of how they will perform in a similar situation in your organization.

Asking questions that have a yes/no answer won’t get you the kind of specific details you’ll need to make good decisions. Be sure to look at the whole picture. No candidate is good at everything, but it’s important to know where their strengths and development opportunities are so you get a balanced perspective on what they will be capable of.

What kind of questions can you ask when you don’t know where to start??

  1. What was the most challenging role in your career and why?
  2. What job do you feel is the most similar to the one at our company and why?
  3. What did you learn in that position that will help you be successful here?
  4. One of the challenges our business faces today (or expects to face) is XXXX.   Have you dealt with a similar situation in the past? How did you resolve it? What specific actions did you take?
  5. Tell me about your specific experience working with XXXX (whatever systems, tools, technology, etc. that is important to your business or this job).

Are you asking them to manage people?

  1. Give me an example of a situation where you managed a large, diverse team.   What did you do to make sure the team worked well together?
  2. Give me an example of a difficult employee situation- – perhaps one where you had to discipline and/or terminate someone’s employment.   How did you handle the situation and what was the outcome?
  3. The workload for our business can be overwhelming at times. Provide me an example of how you kept your team motivated during a “crunch time”.
  4. What do you look for when you make hiring decisions for positions that report to you

Are they going to fit in well with your business culture?

  1. Describe the culture of the organization(s) in your previous jobs. What did you like the most/least about them?
  2. What is most important to you about the company you join and/or the person that you report to?
  3. How do you communicate most effectively to your peers/clients/team?   How do you want to be communicated with?

What can’t you ask? Those questions that can get you in trouble!

It varies slightly by state, county or city, but generally, anything that would require your applicant to reveal or provide information about:

Age, race, color, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, political affiliation, religion, handicap or disability, veteran status, etc.

If the applicant offers up this information – – i.e., my wife works for another company in this area OR Does this job require working on Sundays? My family attends religious services that day…..

Answer the question or acknowledge the comment, but move on to another, safer subject.

You’ll stay safe if you keep your questions focused on:

  • The content of the job
  • Their performance, experience, skills, etc. at other jobs
  • Their availability for the hours/shift/etc.
  • Their ability to perform the work with or without accommodation for a disability
  • Their requirements for a job (compensation, benefits, etc.)

Some Facts and Figures on Retention:

We all have enough challenges recruiting in such a difficult employment market – – it’s hard to find good people for new opportunities at your business, let alone having to fill positions opened up by those individuals that left for “greener pastures”.   Retention has become a key focus for many businesses.

Dr John Sullivan is a well-known HR “guru”, international speaker, author, professor and advisor to Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley firms.   Fast Company magazine even called him “the Michael Jordan of hiring”! He is currently the Chief Talent Officer at Agilent Technologies (the spinoff of Hewlett Packard) in Santa Clara, California. When asked recently what some of the costs associated with losing people are, John quoted some truly significant expenses that may surprise many managers:

  • The cost of losing one average software engineer in Silicon Valley ranges between $200k – $250k
  • The factors considered were many, but they included:
  • Cost to identify, hire, orient and train the replacement
  • Cost of lost “intellectual capital”, experience and knowledge
  • Cost to the business of not having someone in the role during the time to recruit
  • Cost of having other associates take time away to train the replacement
  • The dollar impact of losing one mid-level software engineering team leader — the highest example — to be over $29 million.

So why do they leave in the first place and what can you do about it? Most people jump immediately to pay and/or other compensation like benefits or stock. In actuality, pay only becomes a big issue if the person is significantly under the market for the skills and experience they have. For most people, it’s pretty far down the list.   According to Sullivan’s research, the prime retention tools that make the most difference are:

  1. having a great manager
  2. working on challenging projects
  3. learning and growing at the bleeding edge of knowledge (AKA working on “cool stuff”)
  4. being rewarded and recognized for their work
  5. 2-way communication (AKA people listen to issues and feedback AND keep them in the loop on what is going on in the business)
  6. degree of control, autonomy and ownership over their job (whether type of projects, when they come in, how they dress, or the way in which they get things done)