Interviewing for your First Employee: A Guide

—You have worked hard.  You had a brilliant idea, wrote a proposal, networked with investors, secured funding, promoted your business, and now your start-up needs to grow.  You need to hire someone to handle your more complex finances, someone to manage your supply chain, or someone to handle your back-office work.  Whatever your need there is someone out there.  However, you want to make sure you get the right fit.  The right person, who shares your values and the understands the mission you are on.  Someone committed to your success.  That is where interviewing comes into play.  We know that this is a daunting task, so, we thought we would help you out with a guide to interviewing your first employee.

I used to work in Human Resources in a large organization.  We recruited thousands of people a year.  Everything from PhD research physicists and physicians to clerical and cleaning staff.  We had to assure the fit for the organization and the individual team.  This is difficult to do without properly performing an interview process.

Step 1: The Posting

The interview process starts with the posting.  This is where you your ideal candidate’s profile.  This covers everything from education and experience to individual attributes.

Postings are also a way to attract the ideal candidate to you.  A well-crafted posting will have the right individuals select themselves into your recruitment process.

For candidates wanting to work with you this is the first step in them interviewing you.  Yes, this process works both ways.  This is your first opportunity to sell yourself and your business to the right candidates.

Postings should include your expectations for education and experience, e.g. do you require someone a university degree in finance?  Do they need experience working in the financial sector?  How much?  What type of finance – corporate, banking, NGO, charitable?

They should also include the skills and abilities you need.  Deciding this is not as easy as the more objective education and experience.  Will your new employee be supervised directly?  If you answered no then you need someone who can work well on their own.  A motivated self-starter.  Do you need someone to sell your product?  Then you need someone who can manage customers and has good communication skills.

Step 2: Crafting your Interview Questions

This is not as difficult as it sounds.  I promise.  You need to achieve balance between a technical skills test and fit.

Some questions will have to be about their technical competence.  These are questions like: “How would you create a taxonomy to identify key customer trends in unstructured data?”  You are the best person to determine these questions as this is your area of expertise.  And you also know the answers.

The questions concerning fit are another issue entirely.  Gone are the days of “if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?”  Besides the ridiculous answers that you get about being an oak with strong roots and branches to shelter everything from passing storms it tells you nothing about the candidate sitting in front of you.

A former director of mine once said “the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”.  This means that you need to ask behavioural questions about what they have done as opposed to hypothetical questions.

Hypothetical behavioural questions can be turned easily into ideal questions:


Current Question: What would you do if you had a conflict with a customer?

Better Question: Tell me about a time that you were in a conflict situation with a customer.  What did you do?  What would you do differently?  What did you learn from the experience?

The “better question” is much more elucidating.  This gives you greater insight into the candidate’s behaviours and thought processes.

Always remember to write your ideal answers down.  You will need them to make a grading rubric so that you can compare the answers that candidates give you to the ideal and score their responses.

Step 3: The Interview

Today is the day.  You have looked through hundreds of applications.  You selected the best five and they are all coming in today.  You made your interview question sheets with your answer rubric so that you can record everything as the interview progresses.

All you need to do is start the interview.

The first step in this case is to put the candidate at ease.  They are nervous.  You are going to throw a lot of questions at them about their technical expertise and their personality.  They have been practicing and they want to get it right.  You just need to start with “hello, and how are you?”  or give them a few minutes to centre themselves in their physical and headspace by describing a bit about yourself, your company, and your vision for the future.  Then dive into the questions.

While the candidate is answering, take notes.  Lots of notes.  Ask questions to clarify anything you do not understand.  This is important as it shows the candidate that you value them and are listening.

When you are finished with your questions it is always a good idea to ask if they have any questions.  They are interviewing you too.  This gives the candidate an opportunity to find out a little more about who you are and what you are offering.  This is also a great opportunity to assess them.  The questions asked also give insight into character.   If one asks about dress code that could be someone who wants to comply with rules.  If one asks about what type of manager you are the information being sought is your management and delegation style.

Final Thoughts

Just follow this simple process and you will soon be looking at how to on-board your first employee. Congratulations!

Jennifer Cornick Freelance journalist and blogger for various publications in Vienna. When I am not writing, I can generally be found with a book (or anything with words on it - even cereal boxes). Photo Credit: Aneta Pawlik

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