Much has been written about how ineffectual job interviews can be for employers who are looking to hire. Critics often point to the lack of forethought that goes into the questions, as well as too much focus on the candidate’s physical appearance and too much reliance on the interviewer’s gut feeling about a candidate.

I agree. When poorly constructed and conducted, traditional job interviews can certainly be ineffectual for employers and can end up contributing to the wrong person being hired. That said, when constructed correctly, job interviews can be a critical tool in selecting the right candidate for your job. Here are the five most important tips for conducting an effective interview:

1 Prepare in advance. Long before you are face-to-face with a candidate, you must have a clear vision for what the job requires and what skills, abilities and behaviors are needed for the role. Clearly outline those factors, and craft interview questions that will be most effective in assessing whether your candidate is right for the position. Make sure you know exactly what information and feedback you need to get out of an interview before ever going into one.

2 Structure your panel interview. All job interviews should be conducted by a team of at least three interviewers. Panel interviews are critical because all panelists can witness the candidates’ responses to questions asked. And when one interviewer is asking questions, the others can observe the candidates’ body language, tone and, of course, response.

If each interviewer knows his or her role and has the questions prepared in advance, each will be able to be much more present during the interview. Finally, each interviewer should have a specific area of inquiry and set of questions, and should ask the same questions of each candidate so that all facets of the job are covered and the panel can truly compare candidates based on their having answered the same questions.

And make sure everyone is well aware of the questions that are prohibited by law to ask during a job interview. If you’re unsure, google “Prohibited Interview Questions.”

3 Use behavioral interview questions. Research shows that the most effective way to structure a question is to ask it in the form of a past experience. For example, start each question with, “Tell me about a time when you had to…” or “Describe for me a situation when you had to …” As in most things, the best predictor of how someone will behave in the future is how they behaved in the past. And try to avoid questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”

4 Remember the “Rule of Thirds.” It states that one third of your hiring decision should be based on the experience and demonstrable skills that the candidate brings to the table, one third should be based on how the candidate presents himself or herself during the interview process, and one third should come from the results of a behavioral assessment test. I strongly recommend behavioral testing of all candidates because most employees fail in their jobs not because of aptitude, but because of their attitude. Testing gives you additional objective data with which to assess your candidate.

5 Selecting the best candidate. As your panel of interviewers reviews and debriefs their thoughts about the candidates interviewed, be mindful to stick to job-related considerations. Did the candidate answer the questions sufficiently? Was the candidate clear and articulate, and present himself or herself well?

Avoid areas of bias that can sway the hiring decision, such as the candidate’s interests, hobbies, network of friends, cultural background or other non-job related issues. Be sure to check with the candidate’s references and to ask behavioral questions of the references, specifically if there are any areas of concern or lingering doubts that you have about the candidate.

And, most importantly, even if you are pressed for time or are anxious to fill the position, do not hire a candidate unless you are absolutely certain that he or she will be a great hire. If, after the interview process, you are stuck choosing among a pool of mediocre candidates, start over. If you’re in doubt, it’s almost always best to move on.

Job interviews are tricky. They are the part of the hiring process where there is the most legal risk (again, review those prohibited interview questions), and where you are the most likely to wander off track into areas that will not aid you in making an effective hiring decision. With a solid interview process and a well-prepared panel of interviewers, you will certainly be better able to identify and hire the candidate best suited for your job.


Q&A With Claudia St. John
Send your human resources-related questions for Claudia St. John to Select questions will be answered in future issues.

Q At what point does a small company need a dedicated HR person? Right now, our payroll person is handling HR issues. She does an okay job but I wonder if we are missing something.

A Many small companies that cannot afford a dedicated human resources professional divvy up HR duties among other administrative staff. It is not uncommon to have an administrator, finance or payroll person handle the critical needs such as making sure people get paid and participate in benefit enrollment. Unfortunately, given the myriad federal laws that apply to even the smallest companies, everyone needs experienced HR support from time to time.

The rule of thumb in the HR industry is once you hit 50 employees, you probably need an HR professional, and you generally need a professional for every 150 employees (so you would need two HR professionals if you have 300 employees). If you think your payroll person is doing a good job, maybe what you need is just a quick audit of your HR functions to make sure everything is going well. She will probably learn a lot and you will have the peace of mind to know that your HR ducks are all in a row.

Q We often supplement our work staff with student interns, particularly during rush periods and over the summer months. Do I have to pay them?

A The U.S. Department of Labor has clearly stated that, unless the intern is getting the same or similar education as he or she would get in the classroom, the intern is entitled to pay and no less than minimum wage. Many employers believe that the “real-world experience” interns receive makes it a sufficient learning experience. However, unless you have structured a bona fide educational program, you should be paying your interns minimum wage or more.

[Find the minimum wage in your state by visiting and searching for “state minimum wage chart.”]


Four Recruiting Tips For Small-Business Owners 
By Scott Wintrip

As a small business owner, you’re beyond busy—and that isn’t likely to change. One moment, you’re trying to close that new piece of business. The next, you’re playing service rep and solving a customer problem or running to the bank to sign loan documents. Add to these roles more selling, more service and more managing, and you have a typical day. Suddenly your best team member gives notice. As busy as you are, how will you find time to recruit, interview, hire and train a replacement?

Small-business owners compete with one another for quality employees. The internet has leveled the playing field, and now your company and all others—big and small—can reach out to top talent. This is straining an already tapped-out talent pool and has left many small-business owners searching far and wide for talented and resourceful job candidates.

Here are four steps to increase efficiency when hiring for your business. 

1 Leverage the most productive streams of talent. Asking for referrals and networking with other business people has long been a highly effective way to locate talent. In fact, business owners who carve out time each week for networking and referral generation discover a secret: The labor pool isn’t as tapped out as they originally thought. They simply weren’t taking a disciplined approach to recruiting.

2 Actively share the talent you discover with other business owners. Keep in mind that you’re not going to be able to hire every great candidate you meet. Sometimes you find a talented candidate who just isn’t the right fit for your company, or you don’t have an opening. When this happens, consider sharing information on the candidate with other business owners in your industry or community to help them solve their own hiring challenges. It’s likely they will reciprocate. Business owners who share talent with at least eight or more businesses report greater success in hiring faster and making better hires.

3 Conduct hands-on interviews. The standard approach to hiring is to conduct interviews where candidates talk about work. Not only is this a huge drain on time, it’s also an inaccurate way to assess whether a candidate fits your job. That’s why many small business owners have turned to doing hands-on interviews. In a hands-on interview, you experience the candidate doing sample work. If it’s for a sales role, the candidate joins you on a sales call. If you’re hiring for a customer service role, get the candidate to help solve a customer’s problem. By watching the candidate in action, you save time while also making a more accurate assessment of whether someone is a good fit.

4 Line up key people before you need them. Some roles are more vital than others, and when these roles are left unfilled, they can harm your business. Plus, the extra work usually falls on your already overflowing plate. Instead of waiting until an employee in an essential job quits or gives notice to start recruiting, do yourself a favor and recruit ahead of time. Dedicating 30 minutes to recruiting each week pays off by creating a pipeline of potential talent that you can tap into the moment that vital job becomes open.

Hiring expert and business consultant Scott Wintrip is author of High Velocity Hiring: How to Hire Top Talent in an Instant.