Posted: Tue 17th Dec 2019
Job interviews are a nerve-wracking experience, regardless of which side of the table you're on.
For a small business hiring their first employee, there's added pressure. Your first employee has the power to shape your culture, future hires and the type of business you become.
So, how do you find the right person when you only have a handful of interviews at your disposal? We spoke to Enterprise Nation members about how to prepare and get the most from your interviews.
Choose the right number of people to interview
Arranging too few interviews can limit your options, whereas too many can give you choice paralysis. Delia Porter, Enterprise Nation adviser and founder of Business Clan, recommended choosing three to five people to interview but explains that it can vary if the candidates are similar.
"A lot of it depends on the calibre of the people. If they're very comparable, you probably need to bring in quite a few. Sometimes you can't see the difference on paper," she said.
Delia points out that telephone interviews can be a good way to make an initial assessment of candidates. They are quick, convenient and can separate multiple candidates with the same background or skills.
Phone interviews are also useful if you're hiring for a position that relies on personality and telephone manner, like a sales job.
Plan out questions in advance
Planning your questions well in advance can help to keep your interview on track. Enterprise Nation adviser and Bespoke HR founder Alison King suggests referring back to the job description and advert when you're prepping for an interview.
"Make sure that you are screening for the skills or competencies you requested. It's important to always refer back to these and that everything aligns with the job spec itself in order to make the right hire," she said.
Questions that test a candidate's competency are often the best way to get insight into how they will approach the job role. Remember to use these questions to look for additional capabilities they will need to work at a small business, like flexibility or good communication.
"We generally recommend competency-based interview questions when recruiting. It helps to remove any bias, conscious or subconscious, and it's also been shown that using examples from a candidate's past behaviour in situations can help to predict their future behaviour in the workplace" Alison said.
As Alison explains, these competency-based questions should elicit responses that fit into the STAR technique:
Situation: Candidates describe the context of the example
Task: Candidates identify what needed to be done to resolve the issue
Action: Who did the task and took the action? It can be interesting to establish if this was the candidate or another member of the team.
Result: What happened at the end of the example? Was the issue resolved?
This technique can provide additional context and structure for your interview notes.
Practice your interview
If you've never interviewed someone before, Delia advises getting some practice in advance.
"You might want to practice asking questions to friends and family or go to a professional for advice. Either way, running through your list of questions will help you to judge how long each interview will take," she said.
By having a good estimate of how long the interview will take, you can make sure you don't run out of time or leave other candidates waiting.
It can also be useful to think about any questions the interviewee could have for you and how you will answer them. For example, candidates might want to know more about the business's background or specific requirements of the role.
Practice answering these questions to ensure your answers are concise and you don't go into too much unnecessary detail. You might want to jot down three or four bullet points that are valuable for the candidate to know.
As Alison explains, interviews are a two-way process. Practicing with someone beforehand helps to check how you're coming across.
"You want to make a good impression. The candidate is also at the interview to see if they want to work with you!" she said.
Take steps to reduce interview nerves
Interview nerves can be hard to overcome. It's especially difficult when you sense that a candidate has potential but they aren't expressing themselves well.
Alison spends some time beforehand thinking about where she's going to meet the interviewee and where they might have to wait. She'll also let them know if there's any specific directions or parking instructions they might need to know about: "If they get lost or have to wait around, it will only add to the nerves," she added.
If a candidate is visually nervous and you think that the interview could be tough as a result, try to take a step back.
"It's a good idea to offer them a cup of tea or coffee and have a general chat. If you have a casual chat, you can put them at ease and then slide into the interview without the formality," Alison said.
"Remember that interviews don't always have to be formal with a candidate sitting opposite you at a desk. If it feels easier to go to a coffee shop or move somewhere less daunting, then do it."
Follow your instinct
To give your business the best chance of success, it's vital to make sure your first employee has the skills and personality you're looking for.
Hiring can be an expensive and time-consuming process, so don't be tempted to hire someone if they aren't the right fit. Take your time and find someone who is excited about becoming part of the business you are building.
"If you have other team members, you'll consider personality and how a candidate will perform with the wider team," Alison said. "But for small businesses and start-ups, it's essential to consider whether their personality will be a match for your own and your business ethos."
Want to know more about preparing for your first hiring interviews?
Enterprise Nation members can request a free taster session from Delia Porter or Alison King through the Services part of their profiles. If you're not a member yet, you can find out more about signing up here.
Alison King also offers outsourced HR support if you need help with your recruitment process.
Learn more about hiring your first employee: