5 Interview Tips for Small Businesses

Anyone who is part of a small business knows that you often have to wear many different hats on a day-to-day basis. When it comes to hiring, you may have limited time and resources, but hiring is just one of those things you have to do to keep the business running.

Hiring can be extremely time-consuming and a little bit overwhelming, especially considering the fact that you’re often competing with larger companies for the same great candidates. The decision about who to hire is particularly high stakes for small businesses, who may be only hiring one or two people in a given year.

The interview represents your opportunity to learn more about each candidate and to evaluate whether or not to make an offer. To make the most of the interview process, you need to gather as much useful information about your candidates as possible while simultaneously selling your company to the candidate. Here are a couple of interview tips that small businesses can use to maximize the interview stage:

1. Ask focused interview questions

The most critical part of the interview process is the choice of questions. While you’ll likely include many of the most traditional interview questions to build a foundation (“Tell me about yourself?”; “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”), you may also benefit from asking questions that are relevant to small businesses. A few examples include:

Why are you looking for a new position? This question helps you gauge what it is the candidate disliked about their previous position, and what they might prefer about working for your company. This information can help you evaluate how the candidate might fare within a small company environment, especially if their reasons for leaving align with benefits that your organization could confer, like a more close-knit work environment or a faster moving decision cycle.

Describe an interpersonal conflict you’ve had in the past, either with a manager, colleague or customer, and explain how you resolved it. This question can be helpful to assess a candidate’s culture fit within your organization, as well as some of their soft skills. Small organizations often involve more face-to-face interactions, with teamwork and collaboration being a common part of a workday. The ideal candidate should be able to deal with conflict and reflect on how to successfully navigate that conflict in a work environment.

Tell me about a time when you had to perform a task outside of your comfort zone. While it’s possible that the candidate’s role will be strictly defined, a lot of small businesses require employees to be a little more flexible with the types of responsibilities they take on. This lack of structure can be really freeing for some candidates or a little overwhelming for others. This question can help you assess where your candidate fits on the spectrum.

(Want more ideas for interview questions? Check out these creative interview questions)

2. Invest in a structured interview process

Structured interviews are significantly more predictive of job performance than unstructured interviews, which is why it’s beneficial for small businesses to look into creating a standardized set of interview questions to ask all of the candidates for a given role. Structured interviews are so much better at identifying a candidate’s true capabilities because they give each and every candidate the same opportunity shine. Traditional unstructured interviews, on the other hand, can be prone to bias because these types of conversations can lead employers to select candidates with which they have the most in common, but who are not necessarily the best fit for the role.

When you standardize the interview process with the same set of questions, it’s also a lot easier to compare candidates with each other, so that you can make a quicker decision about who might be the right person for the job.

3. Invite team members to interview the candidate

Many small businesses involve close-knit teams that have to collaborate with each other on a daily basis. The ideal candidate is someone who can seamlessly fit into this environment and work with that team. In order to evaluate culture fit, you can invite some of those core team members to interview your candidates, either in a panel interview or individually for 10-15 minutes. By getting more team members to weigh in on the candidates, you can aggregate opinions to come to a more balanced decision, and you’re more likely to choose someone who is going to work well with the team from the start. Just be sure not to weight any single team member’s opinion too strongly or to allow unconscious bias to creep into the situation.

4. Respond quickly to your top candidates

When you move too slowly in the hiring process, you risk losing some of your best candidates. Remember, you’re competing with companies of all sizes who are also trying to win over the same talent. That’s why it’s so critical to move quickly when you suspect you’ve found a great candidate. This applies both before and after the interview. When you read a really stellar resume or cover letter, reach out to the candidate ASAP to set up an interview. And after the interview, make sure to follow up with them quickly, either with an offer or with more information about how long the process will take.

5. Sell your company to the candidate

We’re in a candidate’s market, with more job openings than people to fill them. Employers are feeling the crunch, and many are even experiencing candidates “ghosting” on the interview process.

Companies need a way to stand out in a candidate’s market, and small businesses shouldn’t be afraid to lean into some of the advantages that working for a small company confers to their employees; things like teamwork, camaraderie, flexibility, the ability to work on a variety of projects, closer working relationships with the leadership team, and a feeling that your work is more directly tied to the overall success of the business. While not all of these apply to every small business, they hopefully trigger thoughts about the unique benefits your small business offers when compared to a larger company.

If you’re in high growth mode, the opportunities for career development are another big selling point, and are something that millennial job seekers particularly seek out in their next job opportunities.

Ultimately, the interview process is your chance to sell your company to each candidate. Interviews are a great opportunity to get to know your candidates on a deeper level and for both sides to decide if the match is a good one.