Biz Features

7 Quick & Dirty Job Interview Tips For Entrepreneurs

by . April 13th, 2012


Plus Other Stuff All Interviewers Probably Should Know About

It seems obvious that some employees are just overall a better investment. We’ve all heard the line “Employees are your greatest asset” so many times, it makes some of us want to throw up.

“WRONG!”says a recent Harvard Business Review study, somewhat less hurtfully than we would do it.

Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Zatanna, and Black Canary as The Runaways. Had this on file and figured might as well use it.
As it turns out, your employees by themselves are not your greatest asset.

It’s good to know small businesses have it easier when it comes to making conscious decisions to change their culture and core values- hopefully in ways that help your employees function better as a team.

It’s statistically improbable for any new venture to have an all-star team. But one area where we do have a lot of control however, is making sure that each new hire is a good fit. This is where crafting good interview questions come in.

And if you have a small business, read up- because if even one bad hire ends up dragging you down…

Seven (count ’em) Handy Job Interview Ideas for Newbie Entrepreneurs:

7.) Avoid cliché questions

I’ll let this panel from the ever-delightful The Oatmeal explain:

Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years - The Oatmeal
Click here for the rest of the panels

If you give them stock questions, then expect dishonest stock answers.

6.) … Then again, cliché questions have their place.

If the interviewee is barely able to hide their contempt for the question, you might not want to hire them for a position where they will have to constantly meet clients. If they display a superior attitude to this sort of thing, you might want to take note.

Even “Where do you see yourself in five years” works in the right context. Some of the questions on the Oatmeal post can actually be pretty useful. It’s mindless application of these questions that makes them crappy.

5.) Always hit them with something they won’t expect.

The most obvious benefit of queries from left-field is you won’t have to ask that dumb “How well do you respond to pressure” question for the ten-billionth time. You can actually see right then and there how the interviewees respond.

You can also craft questions that you feel only people of a certain mindset would understand (i.e. “If Star Trek transporters were real, would you use them?” would likely appeal to engineers more than it would to salespeople or accountants).

This is about the only thing CRTs are good for, these days
Don’t hire anyone who doesn’t get this. Seriously. Don’t do it.
These questions are the types that show you how well someone thinks on their feet- and you’re usually better off with someone who can think over someone who just blindly follows instructions.

For small businesses and new enterprises, the impact of fresh perspectives goes a long way. Plus, they help establish your brand identity, even with candidates who don’t get accepted. They are a way to understand relevant interests and when crafted and used correctly, they can reveal how candidates deal with work.

And here are a few interesting but useful interview requests and questions people around our office have heard (or used).

Tell me a joke.”

-You don’t need to be a psychologist to see how both the type of humor and the delivery offer insights into a candidate’s personality. Don’t be too harsh, though. Most people suck at telling jokes anyway.

If you could invite five people to dinner, living or dead, historical or fictional- who would they be?”

-From how they respond you can gain a few clues about their personality. Were they confused? Dismissive? Uppity? Amused? Their specific answers can also give you insights on the sort of ideas that matter to the candidate, as well as what makes them different. That is, if you understand what the heck their choices mean.

Germans ensued.
They seem cool, but I don’t know what to think either. (Source:
“If you could be the first person to land on Mars, would you take the chance? What if you only had a 5% chance of making it back to Earth in one piece?”

-These kinds of questions gauge on how willing a candidate is to take risks and make mistakes and how much they value honor and prestige.

“If you could be #1 employee but have everyone dislike you or be #15 and have all your coworkers like you, which would you choose?”

-Helps you gauge both ambition, priorities, and logic. Note that there’s no mention of the company size.

Explain (x technical topic) in two sentences.”

-Helps you find how effectively a candidate can communicate complex ideas. Essential for technical fields. If you’ve ever had to find a decent front-end programmer, you know how easy it is find people with technical knowledge but no people skills. Maybe it’s a nerd thing.

I've had this for a year now. No idea where I got it.
Astrophysicist Cat illustrates why the Mission to Mars question is stupid
Seemingly impossible problem/hypothetical situations where there is imperfect knowledge.

Examples include:

  • How many planes are over North Korea now
  • How many piano tuners are there in LA?
  • Would Rambo make a good refrigerator salesman?” and
  • Give me five uses for a broken Game Boy.These help you spot creativity and the ability to make reasonable guesses and estimates as well as calculations.

4.) Know what’s out of bounds 

Some questions may be illegal, or “iffy” in your jurisdiction. In California for instance, good interviewers will avoid asking questions such as “Where are you from?”, “How old are you?”,”Do you live alone?” as these can fuel claims that you passed over employees on the basis of a characteristic that by law, you have no right to discriminate them for.

Other topics you should avoid:

Previous drug use. You shouldn’t ask about this, but requiring a drug test is perfectly acceptable.

Religion/Politics. Some interviewers try to frame this in a cute way (“Will I see you at church?”). Don’t. It might be relevant in a few cases, though- for instance, if you work in the food industry, it’s arguably fair to ask if they have restrictions on products they will regularly be in contact with.

Questions over the boundaries of good taste. A colleague recalls an imbecile telling her “If you’re a performer, then show me your panties.”

A more detailed guide on illegal questions and alternatives.

3.) How applicants respond leading up to the interview matters

If the candidates repeatedly fail to show proper etiquette when timely responses are needed, ask questions that you’ve already addressed very clearly, or are just plain wasting your time, watch out- you just might have a jackass on your hands.

Tech support guys have it the worst.

Stupid Questions: THEY EXIST!
  Vic, our HR guy says “What really annoys me is when you send applicants an e-mail and a text message about when you will call back and they simply ignore the call. It’s not like it’s impossible for them to tell me that I got them at a bad time – most simply never bother to respond.

Another thing that gets to me is when you send them an e-mail with a map and specific directions and they call me late at night asking me for the address. What do you think that says about their tact, or their ability to take the initiative? How will that affect customer service down the line?”

2.) If in doubt, choose cultural fit over technical aptitude.

You can’t get the best possible team performance if you have a bunch of talented people who don’t – or can’t- work well with each other. An emphasis on company culture is something that sets apart giants like Google, Apple, Samsung, Coca-Cola, and Virgin.

Before you start hiring, it’s best you already have a vision of what you want for your enterprise. And you must be willing to hire and fire people based on that vision. Legendary Zappos CEO Tony Hseish says “”If you get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like great customer service or building a brand will just happen naturally.”

Somewhat long, but totally worth it.

1.) The quality of the interviewer makes a difference!

If you’re not handling interviews yourself, make sure the interviewer isn’t the gullible type and represents your company well. After all, a week in, applicants will have tried to feed them enough BS to fertilize Iowa.

Not the gullible type

HR Cat’s got it covered.
  A bad interviewer could also very easily ruin a budding enterprise’s rep -after all, they are often the first official point of contact applicants have with your business. If the interview is done well, even rejected applicants will have something good to say about you.

And oh. Business cards. Having them will always make you look a little more legitimate, and it’s much easier to pass them around – possibly to other qualified candidates -than to fumble over a smart phone. If you don’t have them, you blew it.
Any suggestions? Want to call us out for something we said? Drop us a line and tell us what you think!


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.