How to prepare to interview your first staff member

How to prepare to interview your first staff member

Posted: Mon 19th Dec 2022

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, recommends 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."

Delia points out that telephone interviews can be a good way to initially assess candidates. They are quick, convenient and can separate a number of different candidates who have 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 beforehand can help 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're screening for the skills or competencies you requested. It's important to always refer back to these and ensure that everything aligns with the job spec itself in order to make the right hire."

Questions that test a candidate's competency are often the best way to get insight into how they'll approach the job role. Remember to use these questions to look for additional capabilities they'll need to work at a small business, like flexibility or good communication.

Alison adds:

"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."

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.

Practise your interview

If you've never interviewed someone before, Delia advises doing some practice in advance.

"You might want to practise 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."

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'll answer them. For example, candidates might want to know more about the business's background or specific requirements of the role.

Practise answering these questions to make sure 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. Practising 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!"

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 says.

If a candidate is visually nervous and you think that the interview could be tough as a result, try to take a step back.

Alison explains:

"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.

"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're building.

Alison says:

"If you have other team members, you'll consider personality and how a candidate will perform with the wider team.

"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."

Relevant resources

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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