Finding the perfect employee for your small business can be tricky. You don’t want to make a mistake in your hiring decisions which could negatively impact your company in a costly way. According to a CareerBuilder survey, over 60% of employers have said their businesses have been affected by a bad hire and cost them at least $25,000, with some costing them over $50,000.
What makes for a perfect employee? You are looking for someone that has the right skillset, 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 test those skills. It is not always easy to find an employee with the soft skills that are needed.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, soft skills are defined as personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. An analysis of 2.3 million LinkedIn Users showed nearly 58% of users that had advertised they had great communication skills on their LinkedIn profiles were hired in less than a year. The reason? Most employers want great communicators. Communication is an example of a soft skill.
Why are soft skills so hard to interview for? Because people can practice and research online common interview questions long before they come to your interview. An effective approach to hiring those perfect employees 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? According to CollegeRecruiter.com, A-players are those who are amazing at what they do, they create value for others, and they always deliver, at work and at home. These are the top performers, the ones who you get excited about while interviewing, the ones who say what they can do and actually do it. They are the ones who other top performers love and low performers don’t want around. They are the cream of the crop.
So how do you find these A-players? Well, that can be difficult without the right systems in place. If you are just interviewing people and not building a solid recruiting system for your business, you may have a tough time finding those A-players. You need to research the best plan for your business and implement what works best for you and your budget.
Questions to Ask
One part of your recruiting plan is by figuring out 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?
- What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
- Who were your last five bosses and how will they rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them?
The key is to get as much information from them and not give them answers or information. When you get to the question about what they aren’t good at professionally, don’t allow them to use a strength as a weakness like, “Well, I am overly organized and sometimes that puts a strain on my team members.” If they use a strength, call them out on it and 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 the last question on the phone screen, tell them that you will be doing a background check and talking to some of their former employers.
For your on-site interview questions, you should begin by picking out the key qualities you seek for the soft skills wanted for each position. Once you know what qualities you require, you should develop those questions for each soft skill. The problem with generic or behavioral based interview questions is that they can be researched online. If you use those questions, you should make sure you really dig deep with the candidate to get answers. It’s not that you want to trick a candidate, it’s that you want the unrehearsed version of who they are in the workplace.
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. 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.
- 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? How did the other members that applied for that position feel?
By asking these types of questions, you are trying to get in their head and in their heart. 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.
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 communication, teamwork, organization, and critical thinking, here are some suggested questions:
- 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 me about a time you worked on a team. We’ve all had those members that either didn’t do their share, were unproductive, or negative. Walk me through how you worked with them by pretending I am that person. How did they react when you confronted them about their behavior?
- Tell me about a time you had multiple responsibilities going on at the same time. How did you determine your priorities and what work needed to be done first? Did you discuss your plan with your manager?
- Can you tell me a problem you had in your career and walk me through the process of how you solved it?
Finding out a Candidate’s True Character
Important: 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 should 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, don’t 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?
- Are you available to work overtime or travel if needed?
- 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?
If you unsure whether a question is legal or not, you are safer to not to ask the question until you can do more research. Review your city and state laws regarding questions you may not ask on an interview. For example, New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Massachusetts are just some of the cities and states that bans 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 as your employees.
Author: Kimberley Kay Travis
Kim Travis, co-owner of Travis and Adams Consulting Group, has over 20 years’ experience in human resources and leadership roles.
She has specialized knowledge in employment law, employee relations, recruiting, management consulting, leadership development, manufacturing safety programs, and writing business articles and blogs.