Building the right team – interview secrets

There comes a time in most business owners lives when they will need to hire some staff, or contract with a freelancer to support their business in some way. Taking on the right people to fulfil the right roles is crucial and once you have clearly identified the gap you are trying to fill (role, skillset, hours etc.), you will need to interview a shortlist of candidates.

The same process should be used for selecting your accountant, business coach, copywriter, PR person or Financial Adviser as although not directly employed by your business – they need to be the right people for the job, who share your vision and be someone that you can get on well with.

Step 1 – create a shortlist of 4-6 people

For a vacant position within your business you are likely to advertise and ask candidates to send / email in a cv or complete an application form. If you are choosing an accountant or other professional to partner with you may ask friends or other business owners who they would recommend. Set a deadline for applications and at this point look through the people that have come in.

Read through each and look to see who has relevant experience and skills, what their work history is like and what they may bring to your business.

Check them out on social media / google them – does it tell you anything more?

Does someone intrigue you and make you want to know more about them? This may be the case even if they don’t have relevant experience – trust your instincts.

Separate into a yes / definite no / maybe pile.

Email the definite no’s and explain that they have not been successful this time. This prevents you getting side-tracked and allows you to focus on the ones that remain.

Try to get down to no more than 4-6 that look suitable (or at least possible) and invite them for interview.


Step 2 – book the interviews

I would suggest blocking out time in your diary on 2 days for interviews and offering the applicants a choice of day to book in on.  So your email may say something like:

Dear Jane,

Thank you for your application for (position). We would like to invite you for interview and have spaces on Monday or Thursday next week – please let us know which would be more suitable.

When you receive responses – book them in at suitable times, allowing for space between to write notes and prepare for the next one. Personally, I would book at 90 minute intervals for an interview that should last no more than 1 hour. If possible block them together 2 or 3 on each day – don’t see everyone on the same day, or you’ll never remember who was who!


Step 3 – Interview questions

The questions themselves are not the most important part of the interview – if they were you could simply email them out with the cv request. The questions are there so that you can find out more about the applicant and they can find out more about you, and you can them see if you are a good fit for each other.

Make them a cup of tea and have a chat to them like they were a prospective new client.

Listen to what they say, and how they say it. Are they confident or shy, do they seem like someone who would be a good addition to your team, are you going to enjoy working with them? Write some notes or key words, so that when they have left you can make more comprehensive notes about them.

Questions you may like to include:

What do you know about our company and what we do? – a strong applicant will have done some basic research, even if just checking out your Facebook profile and should have some concept of the business they are applying to join. This allows you then to elaborate and create conversation about your business and the role they are applying for and see whether this sparks interest from them and prompts any more questions.

Why have you applied for this job? – It may not be obvious from the cv or work history what they will bring to the role, or why they need / want to stop doing what they are currently doing. Look for people who want to actively be part of your venture, rather than those just looking for something better than they have now.

You are also likely to ask about why they feel well suited to it, skills they bring, notice period at current position, availability / start date (plus hours per week if not full-time) – but these are more ‘hard facts’ – information for the file, rather than giving you any feel for the person sat in front of you.

What do you like to do in your spare time? –  this is a good way to put a nervous applicant at ease – talking about the things they enjoy should be easy for most people and can tell you a lot about what motivates them and the type of life they lead. It may also indicate whether they prefer doing things on their own or as part of a team – everyone says in an interview they can do both, but most people have a preference for one over the other.

To a great extent, you are looking for someone who is motivated and enthusiastic and shares the vision and ethos of your business. Someone that will fit into your team and that you will enjoy working with. The right person can be trained with the skills and technical knowledge needed much more easily than trying to change the attitude of someone who has the qualifications and work history but simply does not fit well with your team.

Ask them if they have any questions for you – depending on how deep a conversation you have had, you may have covered all they need to know at this stage.

Let the candidates know when they are likely to hear from you. This should be after you have interviewed all the candidates, as your strongest candidate may be the last one you see!


Step 4 – review your notes

Once you have seen all the candidates you may be lucky and have one that stands out head and shoulders above the rest, and it is obvious who you should take on.

You may have no suitable candidates and need to re-advertise and start the process again – don’t take on someone just to fill a vacancy!

or you may have eliminated some as not being right for your team, and be left with more than one suitable candidate and need to weigh up the pros and cons of those remaining.  At this point think further about the role and the strengths each applicant brings, and any potential negatives. If possible ask the advice of someone you trust, preferably someone who runs a successful business or has corporate experience of hiring employees. If the role involves a lot of telephone calls to clients, would one of your applicants be better at that than the other? Is there another way to differentiate?

If you are left with two really strong candidates, is there a way you could take both? If not, you may have to toss a coin!


Finally –

Let the successful person know as soon as possible, preferably by phone followed up by an email. If they accept – hooray! If not, you may have to start the process again (unless you had a second choice / close runner up).

You may want to attach a draft version of their contract and suggest a start date, or may wish to apply for references first. It depends on your business model. If you need help with employment contracts you should consult a professional to help you.

Let un-successful applicants know in a timely fashion – there is no need to go into detail as to why, unless they ask for feedback. Some people like to call, others send this out by email – but please make it nice, concise and send each an email with their name on – not some joint ‘send to all option’


“A Company’s employees are its greatest asset and your people are your product”  – Sir Richard Branson

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