Three Interviewing Secrets HR Won’t Tell You

Hilary Faverman, Director, Marketing and Community Management

So, you’ve determined that you need assistance or support. Now what?

You’ve never interviewed anyone in your life. Selecting a caterer for your wedding 10 years ago doesn’t exactly qualify you to decide on an assistant. How does one go about determining who is the right fit for you, your needs, your business, your style, your voice, your tasks?

You are busy. So busy, in fact, that you are often attempting (badly) to multi-task and feel that you’re drowning. You are overwhelmed with all that needs to be done. You realize that you need help managing the bits and pieces that, while not the core of your business, need to be taken care of or you will have no business to speak of.

First, slow down. Hiring the wrong type of support because you were too distracted to interview or train properly will set you back many hours, resources and potentially cause a lot of tears (ok, let’s not get dramatic, but the wrong choice can be expensive and wasteful).

1. Identify (precisely) the role you’re hiring for.  

Think Jane and Michael Banks. Sure, they’re a bit cheeky, but they know exactly what they want and have spelled it out, from daily responsibilities to personality. Now, compare that to their father’s advertisement in the paper, and you have two juxtaposed job descriptions, illustrated well by the long line of traditional (yet scary) nannies at the door vs. Mary Poppins.

Determine exactly what you are expecting to receive from your support person. Do you want this person to be an administrative resource, a marketing resource, a graphics resource, or a techie? Do you need this person to design a website for you, or manage a social media program? Do you require familiarity with a certain CRM or project management software? Looking for someone “who can do everything” will backfire. Support people have strengths and weaknesses, just like you. Some are strong in content creation, but will fail miserably liaising with clients. Some are WordPress experts but cannot format a spreadsheet to save their lives.

Determine what skills are required, and what might be categorized as “a nice bonus”. How involved do you want this person in your business? By this, I mean – do you want him or her to react to tasks that you list and spell out (check my email twice daily and respond to routine inquires with these templates I’ve devised) or do you want a brainstorming partner who brings ideas to the table?  Determining whether you’re seeking a proactive resource or a reactive resource is priority number one. Before you even launch your research on who might be the best fit for you – or which firm might provide the best resource for you – be certain about exactly what you’re seeking.

2. Know thyself.

Are you a joker? Do you have ADD? Will you require your assistant to manage you and make sure you stay on task? Do you delegate well? Will you require consistent response within 2 hours, 6 hours, or 24 hours? Would you rather give direction on the phone or via email? Do you want to get personally acquainted with your assistant, or are you more comfortable with a certain professional distance and formality? Are you casual and relaxed, or do you have a tendency to speak tersely when under pressure – do you need someone with a thick skin? Since you already know that everyone you’re interviewing is technically qualified for the job (or you wouldn’t be speaking with the candidate at all, right?) you are on that call to judge personality and culture fit.

Look inward first. Examine yourself and your style. Is it important that the person supporting you can laugh with you, or will small talk make you uncomfortable? Do you come from a certain background or culture that you want your assistant to be able to relate to?  For example, I used to work with someone with whom I made a Goonies reference (the Truffle Shuffle) and when she said “Huh?” I almost collapsed, I felt so old. The experience made me clam up, and I was less comfortable with my employee than I would have liked. This is a person with whom you are going to be interacting regularly – make sure you’re interviewing for style as well as technical qualifications.

3. Go with your gut

I’ve been in recruiting for 15 years, and I love it. In what other field do they actually pay you to be judgemental?! One of the most important things I’ve learned is to trust my gut. The candidate looks perfect on paper, and we had a productive conversation, but something isn’t sitting right. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up for some reason – something I cannot identify. Everything looks right, but I’ll pass, thanks.

About two years ago, I interviewed a candidate exactly like this – great background, great education, responsive, talented. We got off the phone and I kept shaking my head; I could not identify the problem, but there was one – of that I was confident. A few days later, I sent her a “thanks but no thanks” letter, and within five minutes, she responded caustically, accusing me (quite colorfully) of passing up the best thing that’s ever happened to my firm, promising me that I’d regret my decision and demanding an explanation.  Confirmation that I had trusted my gut correctly – wahoo!

If something doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. Trust yourself – this is (hopefully) going to be a long term partnership – be confident and comfortable with your decision.

Selecting the right resource to support you in the biggest adventure of your life is worth investing your time, effort and energy. Be smart and proactive about it – it’s worth your time.

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