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Effective Interviewing Tips and Tricks to Find the Ideal Employee

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Hiring great employees for your small business can be tricky if you don’t have effective interviewing skills and practices. You don’t want to make a mistake in your hiring decisions which could negatively impact your company in a costly way.  

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), businesses that do not have a standardized hiring process are five times more likely to make a bad hiring decision.  

What makes for a great employee? You are looking for someone who has the right skill set, attitude, and manner that fits with your business and employees. It may be easy to find someone with the hard skills you need (e.g., a construction worker’s ability to build a road or a house) because you can teach those skills. 

It is not always easy to find an employee with the soft skills that are needed.

Look for the Right Soft Skills to Match Your Business Needs

According to the Oxford Dictionary, soft skills are defined as personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. 

According to new LinkedIn research, the top soft skills needed are creativity, persuasion (communication), collaboration (teamwork), adaptability, and emotional intelligence. 

People can practice and research online common interview questions long before they come to your interview. An effective approach to hiring great people or A-players is by perfecting your interview questions and job interview process to screen for those top-notch employees.

Finding Your A-Players

What is an A-player? A-players are top performing employees. 

They are the ones who you get excited about while interviewing. They also are the ones who say what they can do and do it. These people drive profitability and growth and always deliver on their commitments. They are role models of your company’s core values as well. 

So how do you find these A-players? That can be difficult without the right systems in place. You should also ensure you are building a solid and consistent recruiting plan for your business. Furthermore, you should research and implement the best plan for your business and determine what works best for you and your budget.

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Develop a Recruiting Plan

One part of your recruiting plan is determining what questions to ask your potential applicants. Here are some good phone interview questions that you should ask every candidate you interview, according to Geoff Smart and Randy Street, authors of Who: The A Method for Hiring:

  • What are your career goals?
  • What are you really good at professionally?
  • We conduct a background check and speak to former employers. Who were your last five bosses and how will they rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them?
  • What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?

When you ask someone what their weaknesses are, you shouldn’t allow them to use a strength as a weakness. For example, “Well, I am overly organized and sometimes that puts a strain on my team members.” If they use a strength, tell them that sounds like a strength. 

The authors suggest that you ask follow-up questions that start with “What”, “How”, and “Tell me more”. 

For your on-site interview questions, you should begin by picking out the soft skills you want for each position. Once you know what qualities you require, you should develop those questions for each soft skill. Your interviews should be conversational, relaxing, but also you should dig deep to discover their true character and get answers. It is important to not give information or answers but really listen to your applicants.

Four Interview Questions to Ask

Brendan Reid, SVP of Marketing at Ceridian, who wrote 4 Interview Questions to See the Truth in Every Candidate, suggests that instead of using the interview questions you can look up online, you should ask these four types of questions: A Story question, The Decision Making question, The Mindset question, and The Empathy question.

Some examples are:

  • Tell me the story of your career. Also, tell me the story of what inspired you to become a manager.
  • Tell me what made you fall in love with it. Tell me a story of how it tested you and rewarded you.
  • Can you tell me about the moment when you decided that leaving your last employer was the right path for you? What were the pros and cons?
  • Put me inside your head at the moment when you heard your company was shutting down? How did that feel? How did the people around you feel?
  • You stated you were promoted to this management position from within. How did other members of your team feel about that? Also, how did the other members that applied for that position feel?

By asking these types of questions, you are trying to learn who they really are. Also, the answers can’t be rehearsed. You want to know how they feel about things and on the empathy question, you want to know that they have empathy for those who didn’t get the job or for those who may be a little jealous. A-players don’t want to hurt other people as well.

Soft Skill Questions

You should also find some questions that are really important to you regarding the top soft skills you want in an employee. For example, if you want the top soft skills mentioned earlier, you could ask:

Persuasion (Communication)

Can you describe a time when you had a great idea and had to sell it to other members of your team or upper management? Can you walk me through that communication and how did you sell it to them? We all have at least one person who may not like our ideas, how did you sway them into agreeing to your idea? 


Tell us about some projects you’ve been working on. How would your creativity add value to our company? Where do you feel the most creative, and what environment lowers your productivity?

Collaboration (Teamwork)

Tell us about a time you worked on a team. What type of project was it? What strategies would you use to motivate your team? Have you ever found it difficult to work with other team members? How did they react when you spoke to them about the issues?


Tell us about the hardest changes in your career path. How did you overcome your difficulties?

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has become a top quality needed for small businesses and leadership. Your employees should be able to recognize and manage their behavior and emotions. 

Tell me about a time someone criticized your work. How did you respond and what did you learn? Have you ever had to resolve a dispute between two employees? Can you give an example of how you handled a customer complaint?

The STAR Approach

The key to interviewing is not just about asking the questions. As previously stated, it is important to dig deep and find out the true character of the individual. When interviewing, you may want to use the STAR approach when listening to answers. We suggest you write the letters STAR down vertically on paper, listen to the answers they give you, and put those beside each letter to capture everything to review later. 

They should tell you the Situation or Task in which they are giving you an example, the Action they took, and the Result of that action. You will find many applicants won’t give you the A or R until you push them for more information. Also, remember to not feel frustrated if they are not giving you answers or examples when you nudge them further. If they can’t provide details and answers, they are not your person to hire. A-players have answers.

Questions Not to Ask

When interviewing, it is important to also know what questions not to ask. It is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

Some interview questions you cannot ask:

  • Do you have children or have plans to have children?
  • Are you married?
  • Are you a U.S. Citizen?
  • How long have you lived here?
  • What religious holidays do you observe?
  • How old are you?
  • How many sick days did you take last year?
  • Have you ever been arrested?
  • Are you a member of the National Guard or Reserves?

Instead of some of these, you can ask such questions like:

  • Are you authorized to work in the U.S?
  • Are you able to work with our required schedule?
  • How many days of work did you miss last year?
  • Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
  • Do you have any upcoming events that would require extensive time away from work?
  • Are you available to work overtime or travel if needed?

If you are unsure whether a question is legal or not, you are safer to not ask the question until you can do more research. Furthermore, review your city and state laws regarding questions you may not ask as well. For example, some cities and states ban employers from asking job candidates about their salary history in interviews.

Recruiting can be difficult if you don’t have a structured plan in place. Take some time and develop a process that works best for your small business. If you do that, you may find yourself with a team of A-Players. 


Author: Kimberley Kay Travis

Kim Travis has over 20 years of experience in business, human resource management, and leadership roles. She has specialized knowledge in employment law, employee relations, recruiting, management consulting, small business growth, leadership development, workplace safety and health programs, and writing business content.