107: How To Interview Like A Pro – Part 1

Prepare so you don’t screw up the interview and scare away a great employee.
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Prepare so you don’t screw up the interview and scare away a great employee.

Practice makes perfect, right?

So how are you supposed to become an expert interviewer? It’s not like you’re hiring someone every day, or week, or even month for that matter.

It’s hard to become a professional interviewer when you don’t have the opportunity to practice interviewing regularly.

If you have an HR Manager, they might be really good at interviewing, but this is your employee, so you need to do the interview. It’s ok to have them in the room with you, but you need to run the show.

There are two phases to the interview. The first phase is preparation and the second phase is the actual interview.


The most important one is preparation.

Benjamin Franklin said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

If you don’t prepare you’re going to screw up the interview and you might scare away a great employee. They aren’t the only one being interviewed. Great employees want to work for great employers, and if they don’t like what they see in you, they’ll turn down your job offer.

I’ve conducted a lot of interviews over the past 20 years and I’ll admit, I’m not very good at it. The area where I need to make the most improvement is with my questions, which happens to be a big part of the preparation.

Clear understanding:

To prepare for an interview you need to make sure you have a clear understanding of the position. You need to have a copy of the job description, the job posting, and any communications between the applicant and whomever was doing the screening. You want to make sure there aren’t any discrepancies between the description and the posting because if there are, you’ll want to be sure and address those proactively at the beginning of the interview.

The next thing you need to do is throughly read the application or resume, and any cover letter. Pay close attention to every detail, like how well it’s written, is there anything that smells funny? Are there any missing or odd details in the work history. You’ll get a lot of great ides for probing questions from a painstaking review.

For example, if the job description requires a working knowledge of scissor lifts and the application or resume doesn’t show any signs of having worked in an environment where they would have obtained that knowledge, you’ll want to add that question to your list. We’ll talk about getting all your questions written down in Part 2.

Search social media:

Next, research the applicant using social media. But, be careful! You could create liability for yourself if you learn information that identities them as someone in a protected group. Some experts suggest you wait until after the interview to do this, but not me. There can be valuable information on social media pages that you may lawfully consider and that info is more useful before the interview.

You just need to understand what you can’t use as part of your hiring decision. I’ll tell you what those are but if you don’t think you can handle it, or you just don’t want to deal with it, then have your HR manager do it; and report the relevant findings to you. If you don’t have an HR manager, you can outsource it to an HR provider.

So here are some things you might learn from your social media search that you MAY use.

You might see they like to post questionable pictures of themselves showing poor judgment.

You might see posts demonstrating a tendency for violence, or maybe they go off on racist rants.

You could learn that they miss a lot of work due to vehicle issues, child care issues or maybe they party too hard and drink too much on weeknights.

Unless your findings overwhelmingly point to a no decision, take what you see with a grain of salt and be prepared to learn more during the interview. My wife uses my Facebook account… she says doesn’t post, but you can what I’m saying.

What you should ignore:

Now here’s a list of the things you might learn during your search that you can’t use as part of your hiring decision.

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Salary history – Let’s say you’re an employer in California and for some strange reason you learn through social media that the applicant makes $65k in their current position. With the expansion of the California Fair Pay Act (that took effect on January 1, 2017), you can’t use past salary history to justifying an otherwise unlawful difference in pay. So if you already have someone working in the position you’re hiring for, you don’t want to be using past salary history to determine what you’re going to pay them. You’re better off not even worrying about it. And, if you listened to Tuesday’s episode about Puerto Rico’s new equal pay law, you’d know that you can’t ask about salary history at all in Puerto Rico or in the City of Philadelphia, or in the state of Massachusetts.
  • Disability – you can’t ask about disabilities but you can ask about their abilities … as they relate to the position. Let’ say you see a post with a picture of the applicant using a walking cane (as opposed to a candy cane), and the job requires extensive standing time and a lot of walking and lifting. You can’t ask….Do you have a disability which would interfere with your ability to perform the job?
  • Criminal history – in ban the box states you can’t ask about criminal history during the interview or any time before an offer is made. Remember from episode 70 back in September 2016 I told you that 24 states and several cities and counties have adopted a ban the box law for private employers. I’m not sure if there have been more since then but I wouldn’t be surprised.

So, let me say this again, you need to be particularly careful not to expand your interview questions beyond the legal interview limits.

Please be sure to document your findings… the good and the bad. Print the web pages or take screen shots. And be consistent in how you apply this practice… and all policies and procedures.

Don’t ever ask an applicant or an employee for access to their social media accounts… I shouldn’t have to even say that. You can get into trouble by the federal Stored Communications Act.

Isn’t that crazy? It’s crazy to me that government has taken on the role of co-owner in your business. But the worst kind of co-owner. He takes no risk and doesn’t do a dang thing except create rules. And then he punishes you when you don’t follow them.

It’s your business and if you want to run it like some ignorant bumpkin then you should have that right. Good luck succeeding, but that isn’t anyone else’s problem. If you’re a jerk, only other jerks will work for you and you’ll have jerk customers.

Likewise, individuals should take responsibility for themselves and not subjugate their freedoms to a nanny state in return for protections, and the granting of unnatural rights.

You knew I wasn’t going to let you go without a rant, right?

In Part 2 we’ll get into interview questions and conduct.

About the author, Thomas

I have 20 of years insurance industry experience in C-level management, focusing on all aspects of workers compensation, risk management, loss control, employee benefits, HR, payroll and professional employer organization (“PEO”) operations. Currently, I am the owner and CEO of Humanly HR, and founder and host of SmallBiz Brainiac; a podcast providing employer intelligence to small business owners.

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