How to: Interview Candidates for a Position that You Don't Understand             

by Michelle Keefe | August 26, 2020

If you are running a small business chances are you are often required to do things well out of your wheelhouse.  For businesses that are growing rapidly, bringing in new talent  is an exciting period of growth but also means that these initial hires will need someone to interview them. With no Human Resources Department or hiring managers, that someone is you. This can make the already tedious hiring process more challenging.  If you are an engineer by trade it is very hard to know how to hire a marketing manager. Making a mistake by hiring the wrong person can set you back time and create a major headache.  How do you interview for a role that is completely foreign to you? How do you know if the person is the best fit your organization? Try to head off any missteps by knowing how to ask the right questions. Don’t rush this. You owe it to yourself and your business to dedicate serious preparation time for hiring. Here are some tips on prepping yourself so you bring the best candidate to the role: Get in the Trenches The best (and sometimes worst) part about running a smaller company is that you often wear all the hats.  Before you outsource a job to someone else try jumping into the role for yourself. Learn the ins & outs by immersion and you find out quickly what kind of person you need. Do Your Research Find out the different areas of expertise for this type of role. Read job descriptions in this field. What are the titles that people are using and the responsibilities associated with them? What level of skills and experience do you need? What are the wages associated with this role? What is your budget? Identify Your Needs & Goals What are you hoping to accomplish by bringing in this new person? As a business owner you have your wish list of who you want to hire when it’s possible. List out every task, objective, and goal that you need or want completed. Prioritize Your Wish List When you prioritize the above list you will start to see the type of person you need to hire first. For example, you may know you need a marketing person but that’s a broad field.  Do you need an SEO expert, a web content writer, or a social media manager? There are many different aspects of marketing and candidates will have their specific niche.  If you want one person to fit many roles then you need to prioritize the wish list and see which candidates can fulfill the highest priority and then learn the other skills on the job. Seek Input You need advice from experts. With a better sense of who you need on your team you can now receive counsel on the qualities of a great candidate. Ask a fellow business owner who has interviewed for different roles or an HR person who has to interview many types of professionals. Reach out to a former colleague who is an expert in that field. Most importantly ask your current team what they want out of a new hire. Prepare Interview Questions After you have interviewed your colleagues, use their feedback to prepare a list of questions.  Be ready with at least 10 solid field specific inquiries. Give the candidaet the opportunity to offer their insight and expertise by providing them with a real work project. If the person is in a leadership role, ask them to prepare a short presentation on their strategic plan for the position. You are not only assessing their specific skills but also want to get to know how this person works with a team, handles challenges, and responds to feedback. Ask questions to elicit responses that reflect how they think. Take them around the office and introduce them to potential coworkers. Observe how they interact with different people, the questions they ask, and whether they exhibit a genuine interest in the company. Remember it’s not just about skills and experience (although they are very important), you also want to prepare questions that determine how they will fit your company culture. Get to know them and trust your instincts. Be Candid It is ok to be transparent and tell them that you are not in expert in this field.  However, make sure you maintain control of the interview and truly get the most information and greatest sense of this persons skills and experience. Maybe you don’t have all the right jargon down but you know your goals and what needs to get accomplished. Lay out those expectations. Get Creative If your budget does not allow for the level of expertise you want, consider hiring a contractor for less hours per week.  Avoid the common small/young business mistake of hiring cheaper workers and hoping for the best results. If you just need someone to execute on a task then a less experienced individual may fit the bill and your budget. However if you need someone to create the department you need a candidate with a proven track record of success. There are a lot of potential hires out there who would be interested in building that aspect of a business part time as the company grows making it a full time role. Being resource-constrained does not mean you have to sacrifice quality.  You’re an entrepreneur – no one thinks out of the box like you! Avoid an awkward conversation of small talk and turn it into an impressive, thorough interview. The bottom line - no one knows your business’s needs like you do so you can feel good about staying confident and in control.  When in doubt -  reach out to the pros to help you find the best candidates.