“How Can I Conduct a Foolproof Job Interview?”

Recruiting and retaining top talent is one of the most challenging parts of running a business. A candidate who looks good on paper may crack under the pressure of a fast-paced, deadline-oriented job. Or perhaps that person’s personality just doesn’t mesh well with the culture of your organization. It’s important to flush out potential issues during the interview process, to avoid the costly mistake of hiring the wrong person. A bad hire costs an employer 30%, on average, of that person’s first-year potential earnings, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics; in fact, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh once estimated that his past recruitment mistakes have cost the e-commerce company more than $100 million.

So, how do you make the most of a job interview? First, you have to come prepared, experts say. “It sounds obvious, but read the résumé,” says Bruce Hurwitz, an executive recruiter, career and business counselor with Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. A close examination of a candidate’s credentials includes some Internet sleuthing, using Google searches to confirm facts on the résumé whenever possible, and scouring social media sites for questionable behavior and inconsistencies. Employers also should have a clear sense of the position being filled. That means having a detailed, written job description on hand. “Know what you are looking for and how flexible you will be,” says Laura MacLeod, a New York-based professional trainer and consultant. “Determine which parts of the job you can adapt and which parts are set in stone.”

Once the interview has begun, be up front with the candidate about what the job entails, detailing challenges like late hours and short deadlines, in addition to the company’s perks. Rather than winging it, it’s a good idea to have a standard set of interview questions that every candidate is asked, says Michael Neuendorff, a California-based sales trainer and executive coach. “This way, every candidate is treated equally, and sketchy questions are avoided,” he adds. Don’t just structure your questions based on the job description and the candidate’s on-paper qualifications; ask targeted behavioral questions designed to draw out personality and gauge how the candidate would act in various situations. “It’s harder than it sounds,” says Bobbi Bailey, senior vice president at Oklahoma City-based staffing agency Principal Technologies. “Asking the same type of question a few different ways is helpful.”

Pay attention to candidates’ body language and tone, as much as to the content of their responses. Red flags to watch out for include candidates who arrive late, act overly nervous, avoid eye contact, don’t smile or have no questions of their own. “If the candidate only asks about hours and pay, they may not have the passion you need to get the job done,” says Liz D’Aloia, founder of mobile recruiting software company HR Virtuoso. “Remember, you can provide technical training, but you can’t train passion.”

If there’s time, hold several interviews with top applicants. Allowing other staff members a chance to ask questions can reveal insights you might have otherwise missed, as well as pinpoint personality clashes with your team. Though it’s tempting to hire as quickly as possible to mitigate productivity loss, don’t be too hasty. A survey from the National Business Research Institute found that 43% of bad hires stemmed from a desire to fill a position quickly. Creating a thorough and thoughtful candidate vetting process will save you headaches – and money – down the line.  – Theresa Hegel

That's the Question

Are you stumped when it comes to interview questions? Try some of these tactics to gain valuable insight into the personality and work ethic of job candidates.

1. “Tell me about a mistake you made in your last job and how you handled it.” This type of question lets you know whether a candidate is capable of shouldering the blame and how well they respond to stress and potential setbacks.

2. “Why do you want to work for us?” This question will help you quickly determine whether the candidate has done any homework on your company and if they have the requisite passion and enthusiasm to thrive.

3. “How would your former co-workers describe you?” This forces the candidate to look at themselves through a different lens and provide insight into their interpersonal skills.

4. “What would you do if you woke up and found an elephant in your backyard?” Throwing in a weird and seemingly ridiculous question will give you a sense of an applicant’s creativity and ability to think on their feet – or at least that’s what Melissa Gordon, project manager at advertising agency Moxie, told a columnist at Inc.

5. “What’s the most unusual apparel order you secured?” Target behavioral questions to the job in to ensure the candidate has the necessary skills, says Liz D’Aloia of HR Virtuoso. You want to get a sense of their abilities without allowing them to simply restate what’s already listed on their résumé. –TH