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SBC Team

Tell Me About Yourself

Posted by SBC Team Feb 19, 2009
Great interview questions that get to the heart of a job candidate's capabilities


By Reed Richardson


Be prepared
You would never run right from a conference call into a job interview if you were trying to get hired, so you shouldn't engage in the same, careless behavior if you're going to be the one doing the hiring. Instead, spend at least 15 to 30 minutes before an interview going over a job candidate's resume so you can prepare some intelligent questions specific to their background and experience. After all, if you're really interested in hiring this person, you don't want them walking away from the interview thinking that you and your company are so disorganized that they don't take hiring employees seriously. Dianna Podmoroff, author of 501+ Great Interview Questions for Employers, notes that she has seen many of the same small business owners who agonize for weeks over the purchase of a new server or whether or not to switch cell phone plans turn around and spend almost no time at all preparing to interview an employee they might end up paying $50,000 a year.



Set an agenda and follow through
To make the job interview run smoothly, stay within the applicant's time limits, and don't get sidetracked. Mary Massad, managing director of recruiting services at Administaff, says it's imperative to set an agenda at the start of an interview. Doing this builds rapport with candidates and immediately makes them more comfortable because they have more of an idea of what to expect, she explains. This, in turn, means a candidate's answers will be more relaxed and truthful. Massad counsels to take a personable, but professional approach to the interview. "You can make a little small talk," she says, "but then it's important to dive right in."


Match candidate to boss
Interviews conducted by the human resources department-if your small business is large or lucky enough to have one-should be thought of as screening interviews only, says John Kador, author of The Manager's Book of Questions: 1001 Great Interview Questions for Hiring the Best Person. In other words, HR can weed out questionable candidates early on, but they should rarely, if ever, be used to make a final hiring decision. That should only happen after the potential employee has had an in-depth interview with the actual supervisor or boss that he or she would be working with. "Any company that doesn't conduct job interviews with managers or supervisors is making a huge mistake," he explains. "That's the only real way to figure out if a candidate is a good fit."


Conversations, not clichés
"Use questions that prompt conversations," explains Kador. "Try to keep candidates off of the canned, formulaic quotes or answers." To do this, avoid using old-fashioned questions like "What is your greatest weakness?" or "What would your former boss say about you?" Instead, Kador recommends employers have the interviewees describe themselves using one-syllable words and then give a reason or example that supports that word. Or, Podmoroff suggests eliciting real-life situations from the interviewee's past and how he or she handled them. "The best indicator of future performance is past performance," she explains. "So rather than asking a job candidate about what they would do, ask them what they did do."


The devil really is in the details
To better make sense of a candidate's answers and get sufficient information to make a hiring decision, Administaff's Massad says it's a good idea to employ the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) or SHARE (Situation, Hindrance, Actions, Result, Evaluation) formats when taking notes. "What we get in many instances from candidates are great sounding answers, but, in fact, they are really vague about their specific role or the outcome," explains Massad. Consequently, she says it's important as an interviewer to set a goal of always getting as specific an answer as possible, so you can determine if that given example or referenced skill set would be transferable to your organization.


Look for job fit and culture fit
This is essential, notes Administaff's Massad. "Most companies use job openings as the beginning and end of their search," she says. But smarter companies also ensure that the decisions made when filling staff positions also adhere to a larger vision of what the business is all about. As a result, interviewers should not only be thinking about whether a particular job candidate can handle the job but whether or not he or she would be happy and satisfied while doing it. "You screen for aptitude," she says, "but interview for fit."


Let the interviewee ask some questions, too
A promising candidate should have things they are looking to find out, things that likely won't be found on your web site or in your corporate literature. Specific questions about the co-workers and supervisors related to the position or current and upcoming projects as well as broader, long-term growth inquiries are signs that a candidate has done their homework and is legitimately interested in joining your team, says Massad. By the same token, she says that interviewees that display a more self-centered focus and only ask questions about pay, benefits, and vacation time may be telling you just as much about themselves as their earlier answers.


Employer Interview Resources
-Sample job interview questions for employers
-10 common job interviewer mistakes
SBC Team

Get Out of the Office

Posted by SBC Team Feb 10, 2009

Providing your employees with a reliable social support system is a key way to ensuring they stay happy and productive



By Max Berry


The link between work stress and serious depression should be a concern for every small business owner, but the way to keep your employees happy and productive may be simpler than you think. A 2007 study conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center-and subsequently published in the American Journal of Public Health-found that, while five percent of those surveyed had struggled with serious depression, employees who felt socially supported at work were far less likely to be afflicted. Scheduling some social time for you and your coworkers away from the office is an excellent way to keep your own support system strong.


No Job is ‘Just a Job'
"Our work defines who we are. It defines you in a way you don't realize," says Dr. Emma Robertson-Blackmore, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester and one of the leaders of the medical center's study. With so much of a person's life spent at work, the dangers of feeling isolated or unsupported at the office are very real. Employees who are unhappy in their lives are going to be unhappy in their work. That equates to unproductive time at the office and an increased number of sick days, both of which spell bad news for office morale and a company's bottom line.



Employers are often leery of encouraging office fraternization, fearing it could become a distraction. However, an office friendship is far less treacherous a distraction than isolation or unhappiness. As Robertson-Blackmore puts it, "Having someone to blow off steam with is an instant pick-me-up."


And, while the office may not be the ideal place for blowing off steam, Robertson-Blackmore contends that, wherever the steam is released, being able to release it with coworkers is important. "If you tell a spouse or family member about something you're going through at work, obviously they'll listen to you," she says. "But they're not in your work environment. Your coworkers get where you're coming from."


Oh, The Places You Could Go
To both encourage personal bonds between coworkers and perhaps pave the way for more socializing outside the office, consider taking your team on regular field trips. Where you go will depend on who's going with you, but here are a few ideas.


The company picnic is a tradition for a reason. A picnic is informal and may make for a good first outing, since no one will be intimidated or inhibited by the surroundings. This goes doubly for employees' family members who, presumably, will be meeting for the first time. Picnics can also be potluck, which makes for an inexpensive day.


A formal sit-down dinner at a nice restaurant may be appropriate once coworkers have already had a chance to bond and are comfortable enough with one another to enjoy the more upscale environs. A nice dinner is also a good way to celebrate an achievement at work. Plus, employees with families may appreciate the chance to have a kid-free night out.


If you are looking to include the kids, an amusement park is a viable option. Many offer discount packages for large groups or corporate events. Note, however, that roller coasters and water rides aren't everybody's speed. Gauge your staff's enthusiasm before booking the group package.


A ball game is the perfect idea for the sports fans on your staff, and even the non-sports fans will likely be interested in taking in the atmosphere. Many companies also take part in office sports leagues. This can be excellent team-building for the right group, but a word of caution: Many of your employees aren't athletic, and many others may possess a heartier competitive streak than their coworkers. Both scenarios can lead to more division than unity amongst your staff. Tread carefully.


If you're looking to bring some culture into the equation, consider a concert or a play. Many people don't make time for cultural events on their own, and would appreciate the thought. This is another good option for a first foray into extra-office socializing since it eliminates the need for small talk at the start of the evening and gives coworkers an instant conversation starter once the show is over.


A Supportive Home
Still, for any of these activities to be successful, social support must begin inside the office. Robertson-Blackmore advocates open channels of communication between coworkers and, perhaps even more importantly, employees and managers. "It comes back to a supervisor, someone invested in what you do," she says. "Being aware of an employee's needs can make such a difference."


The workplace need not turn into an arena for venting personal problems, but the knowledge that a certain degree of moral support exists is important, as is making the conscious effort to foster that support. "The facts of a workplace play a role in the health and wellbeing of employees," says Robertson-Blackmore. "A supervisor or manager has to make the work environment as supportive as possible so that their staff will be as productive as possible."

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