The Most Common Questions About Hiring Answered

Michael Essany Headshot by Michael Essany on May 16, 2013
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Few business-related responsibilities are as daunting or stressful as hiring employees.

Perhaps you’ve conducted interviews before, but the stakes are higher when you’re hiring for your own company, says Alison Salisbury, founder of Fiscally Fit, which provides money-management services to retirees, busy professionals, and other small businesses.

At the recent Hire Smart Small Business Event hosted by Intuit and LinkedIn, Salisbury shared her experience in learning which critical questions to ask and how to evaluate job candidates during interviews.

“It’s important to hire for attitude,” she says. “You can teach anyone to use an Excel spreadsheet. You cannot teach people skills. You either have [them] or you don’t. There are some attributes you cannot teach.”

Last year, when Fiscally Fit developed the need for a money manager to meet with clients in their homes, Salisbury began searching for an employee with the right personality and impeccable integrity, as well as the technical skills required to do the job.

She published ads in regional media for a “daily money manager” and solicited candidates who were warm, friendly, trustworthy, patient, nonjudgmental, people-oriented, and comfortable with computers.

With the assistance of a job coach, Salisbury set up an innovative hiring process that she calls “self-selective.” The ads, for example, featured a phone number that provided callers with a pre-recorded message from Salisbury. In it, she asked them to leave a voice mail that answered these three questions:

  • What are your three strongest attributes?
  • Why are you suited to this position?
  • What is your biggest success?

“Every person who called this number listened to the message and then hung up — every single one,” Salisbury recalls. “Some of them would call back and answer the questions.”

Not surprisingly, plenty of applicants didn’t follow her instructions at all. Instead, they looked up the company and submitted a traditional resume or reached out by phone or email.

“Some of those people were probably very highly qualified,” Salisbury says. “But, to be fair to me and fair to the process, I asked them by email to please follow the directions. None of them did. So we had quite a few people fall off the list. Then, those people [who] followed the directions and went through the next couple of steps were invited to a group interview. And this is where it got really fun … and interesting.”

Salisbury and her job coach invited a handful of candidates to a meeting in which they were asked open-ended, fact-based questions. “All of these questions were designed to let us get to know these people as people [through] how would they respond in certain, specific situations,” she explains.

Her questions (and requests) included:

  • What sort of jobs and companies have you been applying for and why?
  • At the end of your career, what do you want to have achieved in your life?
  • Tell me about one mistake you made in your career.
  • Based on what you’ve heard today, what do you think this job is all about?
  • What do you do when a co-worker or colleague wants to chat when there’s work to be done?
  • Tell me about a time when a customer or co-worker got mad at you.
  • Tell me about the toughest decision you had to make in the past six months.
  • Tell me about a time when you knew you were right, but you still had to follow directions or guidelines.
  • Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.

“During this process, I had an opportunity to explain to the candidates my vision for the business,” Salisbury says. “I could engage with them visually to see if they were able to buy into the goals and visions I had for growing my business. I could tell by the way people were responding who could buy into what I wanted — and that was a huge indicator of who was a strong candidate.”

Salisbury believes this process allowed her to find an excellent employee who has since flourished at Fiscally Fit.

“So, what have I learned?” she asks. “Hire for attitude. When my coach first described this hiring process to me, I was very skeptical.” But by being open to trying something new when screening and interviewing candidates, Salisbury says she was able to find a quality employee in short order.

“I am on the verge of starting this process all over and hiring again,” she adds. “My dream is coming true. When you’re open to new ideas, working with other professionals, and taking suggestions, you just never know where it’s going to lead you.”

These are just a few of the tips shared by experts at the Hire Smart event. Want more? Login here to get free access to all of the resources from the conference, including exclusive video of all the seminars at the event.

Michael Essany Headshot

Michael Essany is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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