In a small business, there’s little room for mistakes. You’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into your company so it’s no surprise you’re wary about who you pick to represent your business. And you should be—every interaction a client has with your company can change his or her perspective about you, so it’s essential you hire smartly.
And while you’re probably looking out for every little mistake a candidate may make, there are some major flubs you should avoid as the hiring manager, too. You want to attract and entice the right people who can do the job and do it well—especially at small businesses, where the impact of each hire is enormous.
The cost of a bad hire can be upwards of 30% of that employee's first year salary. To avoid hiring (or attracting) the wrong candidates, avoid these big no-nos before you send out that offer letter.
1. Writing an unclear job description
The job description that you post on your business website and on platforms like Indeed or LinkedIn is more than just a distress beacon letting the world know you need help. If done correctly, it’s how you attract qualified and passionate applicants while simultaneously weeding out poor fits.
A good job description should be clear and concise, describing not just the role in question but the company’s mission and values. Failing to outline all the responsibilities and qualifications of the role, as well as the personality fit expected for a new employee, can result in a lot of time wasted sifting through bad resumes or, worse, sitting through pointless interviews.
2. Not Creating a uniform process
There’s only one way to ensure you’re comparing apples to apples when interviewing candidates, and that’s by creating a uniform process for all applicants.
You should expect everyone to follow the same formula for applying—submit the same documents by the same deadline; answer the same questions in the same (or similar) setting; and so on. Skipping steps or jumping around may create unfair advantages that affect your decision-making.
3. Conducting unstructured interviews
Part of creating a uniform process is conducting each interview in a structured way that you can repeat with any candidate. While an unstructured interview may feel more natural and can function as a way to show off the more familial feel of a small business like yours, it also lacks standardization and introduces the possibility of interviewer biases or impressions into the process.
4. Asking irrelevant questions in the interview
“Weird” interview questions have become the stuff of legend—tech companies that ask you for your theme song, or how you might survive a plane crash.
While these questions are fun, the companies that ask them either have a specific reason for doing so (trying to determine critical thinking skills, for example), or are frankly wasting time. Unless you have a reason for asking a candidate what items they’d bring with them to a desert island, you’re only confounding the process. This isn’t the place to show off your creativity, but to assess a potential employee’s fit.
5. Failing to follow up with references
Checking references takes time. These are hours that you might feel could be better spent on any other task, especially if the candidate you just interviewed seems to check all the boxes.
Unfortunately, if you found out that your candidate didn’t tell the truth about their background or previous work experiences, it wouldn’t be the first time (81% of people supposedly lie during job interviews).
Follow up on the references provided by the candidate, and if you aren’t able to get in touch or aren’t satisfied with what you were given, ask for more. Use the opportunity to ask references a little about the candidate as an employee and their ability to fit into your small company.
6. Forgetting that you are also being interviewed
An interview is not a one-sided affair. As much as you are interviewing your candidates for a position, they are interviewing you and your company to see if you are a good choice for them. Showing up late, acting distracted or unprepared, and being overly stern, impolite, or unprofessional will scare off qualified applicants.
Additionally, every interaction (even if it’s not with a client) is a reflection of your business, so it’s important to put your best face forward.
7. Ignoring the candidate’s cultural fit
A candidate who looks great on paper may seem like the right choice, but your business isn’t conducted only on paper. Assessing someone’s personality, attitude, and how they interact with people they meet in the office is fair game and will tell you as much about how successful they’ll be in the role as their written qualifications. You can also provide tools to train an employee in a skill or knowledge gap, but you can’t change a bad culture fit.
8. Choosing the best candidate rather than the right candidate
If you interview 10 people, don’t just pick the one you liked the best—especially if that person didn't blow you away either. Taking your time to find the right hire may mean rewriting your job description and setting up a new crop of candidates. Waiting an extra few weeks is better than selecting someone you don’t think is really the correct choice—only to be proven right when they flame out soon after onboarding.
9. Leaving potential hires in the dark for too long
Transparency and communication are hugely important when interviewing candidates. If you find people who might be the right fit but want to wait a little longer to review their references, conduct other interviews, or consult with your team, that’s fine—just be sure to let those people know they’re still in the running. Nothing hurts more than finally settling on the right person, only to find they’ve taken another offer while you were too busy to respond to their follow-up emails.
***As you can see, common hiring process mistakes can come as early as when you’re deciding what to put in the job description, and as late as when you make an offer. Be diligent in your process and you’ll make successful hires a lot more often than unsuccessful ones.