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Updated: April 24, 2024

The best way to interview candidates for your business

Published By:

Erin Ellison

More from our experts

According to a 2017 study by CareerBuilder, companies lose close to $15,000 on every bad hiring decision, and nearly 75 percent of companies say they’ve hired the wrong person at one time or another. So, you’re not alone if you’re feeling the pressure to find the right candidate to add to your growing small business. No matter what side of the table you’re sitting on, the interview process can be daunting, but so is losing money on choosing the wrong person.


We’ve compiled a few best practices for interviewing prospective employees for your small business and writing an offer letter they can’t refuse once you’ve found the candidate you’re looking for.

Interview do’s and don’ts

Reduce your pool of candidates: You probably can’t afford to spend days and weeks in interviews with dozens of candidates, so take time to make sure that the candidates you bring in to interview are the best available for the position. Start by carefully reviewing resumes and applications — and enlist managers or peers to offer feedback on the candidates they see as a good fit. Folks in the trenches everyday will have valuable insights to share.


Narrow it down to three to seven resumes and consider starting with phone interviews to pre-screen candidates — especially for any role that is customer-facing.


Take time to prepare: Spend some time before the interview re-reading resumes and researching the candidates to learn more about them. Taking the time to study the candidate, just as they should be doing for your company, will help you ask better questions. Also, look at their social profiles including LinkedIn. That selfie on their feed from Lake Michigan or Machu Picchu might be the perfect conversation starter — or it might help you screen someone out if you see something inappropriate.


Your preparation should also include sending a message to the candidate to let them know you’re as excited to be growing your team as they are to be joining it. According to Jeff Haden at, “The employer-employee relationship truly is a relationship — and that relationship starts with the interview (if not before).” Not to mention, the personal connection you establish and maintain with your team plays a huge role in employee satisfaction.


Ask follow-up questions: To help avoid a hiring miss, interviewing should be a mutual selection process. The best interviews are conversations where both parties are engaging equally. After you ask a question, build off of their response. What was their biggest challenge in their last role and how did they overcome it? How did they get such great results last quarter, and can they help your team do the same? And the biggie: why they are looking to move on from their current job? Their answers can tell you a lot about whether they are a good fit for the job. Since managers can spend up to 17% of their time supervising poorly performing employee, it’s worth asking detailed questions about performance and results.


Ask for solutions: Skip asking “what’s your biggest weakness”Rather, explain a real problem that your team struggles with, and ask how the candidate would handle it. If they’re interviewing for a management role, ask how they would coach their team through a tough time or how they celebrate successes. It’s more effective to understand how someone would deal with real-life situations your company is facing, rather than getting an answer that may not be relevant to the job at all.


It also helps the candidate put themselves in the shoes of someone at your company. If the challenges your job opening presents aren’t the ones your prospect wants to tackle, it’s good for both of you to figure that out early.


Involve others in the process: Even if you are the decision-maker that gets the final say in who gets hired, you should also take your current team’s opinions into consideration. While it’s possible to overwhelm the candidate by involving too many members of your company in the interview, you can strike the right balance by allowing two or three staffers to meet them and provide insight — including their manager if it won’t be you. These should be current members of your staff who will work with the new employee on a regular basis. It’s also important to see their dynamic and make sure the candidate gets along well with others.


Even if these peers may not be able to gauge the aptitude of your candidate, they’ll be able to give an opinion on whether or not they think your prospect would fit well with the team — and it shows your existing team that you value their input.

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Preparation leads to success

Be smart about asking questions: Under the US Equal Employment Opportunity Act, questions relating to age, race, nationality, sexuality, family and living situation, as well as religious background are no-go — and could potentially lead to charges of discrimination. However, it’s understood that there are some jobs with certain requirements. If this is the case, it’s ok to ask things like “Are you above the age of 18?” or “Are you able to legally work in the US?” In other words, phrase the question in a way that pertains to the eligibility of the job, or the candidate’s ability to successfully perform the job duties given the information provided in the description.


Be honest about your expectations: It’s likely that the candidate will ask you questions about the company culture, your expectations of them, or how their performance will be evaluated. It’s very important to answer these honestly from the get-go. Nobody likes surprises when it comes time for a job review or performance evaluation. Also, if the company might need the candidate to work extra hours from time to time, travel frequently, or have availability on weekends or holidays, make sure you mention that in the interview process so everyone is on the same page.


Always describe the next steps: At the end of the interview, talk about what candidates can expect next in the interview process. Let them know if you’ll want to speak to their references or require a certification verification or test project. Give candidates a general timeline of when they should expect to hear from you next. Remember that 23% of candidates said they lose interest in a job if they don’t hear anything from you after a week. If you don’t feel that the candidate will be a good fit for your company, you should still follow-up and let them know you have decided to go in a different direction.


When you ask the right interview questions, you should have all the fundamentals you need to grow your team in the right way. Congrats in advance for building an awesome company!

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Erin Ellison is the former Content Marketing Manager for OnPay. She has more than 15 years of writing experience, is a former small business owner, and has managed payroll, scheduling, and HR for more than 75 employees. She lives and works in Atlanta.