What is the hardest thing about being a small business owner?

For many, the answer is hiring. In fact, according to the nonprofit association SCORE, 42 percent of small business owners in 2015 said their biggest challenge was hiring new employees.

The problem isn’t a lack of talented or experienced people. There are a lot of great candidates out there and many ways to find them. The issue is that most employers do not know what to do with those qualified applicants.

Let’s walk through a typical hiring scenario that many employers face:

You spend a lot of money and time recruiting and interviewing for an open position. Your first instinct is to hire anyone with a pulse because work is piling up and things are not getting done. However, you also know that hiring the wrong person will be a temporary fix to a permanent problem. So, you patiently interview and “feel out” many qualified applicants.

(By the way, when I say “interview,” I mean it the way most people think of it: waiting until 10 minutes before meeting a candidate before searching for a list of “good” questions to ask and printing out their resume as they walk through the door.)

During the craziness of the interview process, you encounter the perfect applicant. They meet all of the qualifications you need (and more), they are within range of the starting salary, and they are professional and pleasant.

You hit the jackpot on this one! You feel so accomplished because you have the bestest new employee ever! You got so lucky!

The first day rolls around, and the employee shows up to work ready to go. They go through the traditional office walkthrough, exchange some small talk, and joke about not being able to remember everyone’s names or learning who makes the best food when the company holds potlucks. Then they make their way to their desk. You help them understand procedures and start handing over some work. This should be a smooth transition.

Except that it isn’t. It’s actually nothing like what you expected at all. The employee takes a little longer than you thought to get work done, and that work seems to be completed by an amateur. After a few weeks of the same results, you pull the employee into your office. After a long discussion, you find out the truth: The person has no idea what they are doing and thought they could catch on before anyone noticed. They fudged their knowledge base and were hoping to get a second chance.

That is a pretty typical example of how applicants can game the system and trick you into thinking they are better than they really are. Are applicants evil? Absolutely not. In most cases, they are simply desperate to work and will tell you anything to get the job.

Does this scenario sound familiar? It happens much more than you might think. So, how can you avoid it and hiring the right person every time?

Well, you can’t. But you can minimize the number of times you have to hire for a position. This may not seem like much, but it’s actually huge. It is frustrating and costly to hire for the same position over and over again because people leave as soon as they are placed.

To help you make better decisions about whom to hire, I offer six things to look out for when interviewing potential employees.

phoneKeep in mind that hiring is both an art and a science. It is an art because it is always changing and a science because, when done properly, you can predict someone’s success within your organization.

With the right hiring process for your company in place, you can minimize the chances of hiring an employee who turns out not to be a good fit.

Warning Signs

1. Something Doesn’t Seem Right

As you talk with the candidate, things just don’t seem to add up. Their stories don’t match up to their resume. They are hesitant to say things and keep stopping themselves mid-sentence or rephrasing things.

Maybe their body language doesn’t match their speech. Maybe they say that they like working with people, but they are sitting in a closed position with their arms and legs crossed in the chair farthest away from you. People who are good at developing relationships are inviting and comfortable when getting to know you.

If they talk about enthusiasm but then mention they hit the snooze button for an hour before waking up, that’s contradictory information. Or maybe they talk about the importance of time but show up late to an interview.

These are all examples of hearing one thing but seeing another. If you are uneasy about a person and you can’t quite put your finger on it, this is probably why.

2. They Tell You Too Much

Let’s say you ask the question “Why do you want to leave your current employer?” The candidate answers you by talking about some skeletons that should remain in the closet.

There is nothing wrong with someone being comfortable with you, but it is another thing altogether to talk in an unprofessional manner. This is an opportunity to find out how they speak. Do they use positive, uplifting words, or do they say negative, biting things?

Someone who talks more about others than themselves is more likely to be the victim in most situations, will badmouth anyone when the opportunity arises, and will gossip frequently. Unless you want to the drama, do not hire someone who talks too much.

3. They Say All the Right Things

This may seem out of place on a list of warning signs. I mean, who doesn’t want the perfect employee?

When you have a hard time finding a flaw in a candidate, that usually means their answers are over-rehearsed. Some candidates spend a lot of money on interview coaching and know the right thing to say for any question that comes their way.

InterviewerIt is hard to figure out these folks because you don’t know what is true and what is rehearsed. When in doubt, try asking an off-the-wall question like “What kind of food do you like?” or “What is your favorite sports team?” If the candidate has been giving you predetermined answers up to this point, these types of questions can get them to drop their guard and give you a much clearer picture of who they really are.

4. They Complain About Interviewing

Some people have an issue with interviewing. I have met some of them – and I always give them an “express” interview put them at the very bottom of the pile for consideration.

Sometimes it only takes one interview to know you’ve found the right one. Other times, it may take a few. Whatever the case, you determine how many interviews it will take to make a wise decision. It is not uncommon to first hold a phone interview to talk about all of the technical information and then hold an in-person interview to chat more in depth. As long as you are serious about the candidate and not stringing them along, you do not need to apologize for numerous interviews.

Either way, the candidate should not complain about having to interview. Whether it’s the first or the fourth interview, they should have the same energy as they should be enthusiastic, not whiny.

5. They Say No a Lot 

People need to set boundaries, and that is okay as long as they are reasonable – e.g., “I won’t answer emails after I leave the office.” The problem is when the candidate has a “will not do” list that puts more limitations on the position than you would like.

You can sometimes reach a compromise with these candidates, but it’s not necessarily guaranteed. Maybe working weekends is not feasible, but they can work later or come in earlier during the week. That is a compromise you should consider – unless weekends are required for the position. Then don’t bother.

6. Their Answers Are Vague and Generic

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Q: Why do you want to work here?

A: It seems like a good company where I can advance and grow.

Q: Why should we hire you?

A: I am more than able to do the job and will be an asset to the company.

If you get the generic “team player, detail-oriented, self-starter” answer at any point, you’re getting a “bucket” answer. It’s like asking someone who is obviously having a hard time how they are doing and being told “I’m fine.” It is an answer, but it doesn’t say much.

If a candidate cannot think of good responses to these types of questions, then you may not want to move forward with them.

When you ask the right questions and learn what to look out for during interviews, you can find better employees – and you’ll end up replacing people a lot less often.

Jen Swenson comes from a world filled with human resources, overanalyzing, and most importantly, recruiting and onboarding. With almost 20 years of experience, she helps small and growing businesses create and implement their own hiring practices. 

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