The Most Common Questions About Hiring Answered

Few business-related responsibilities are as daunting or stressful as hiring employees.

Perhaps you’ve conducted interviews before, but the stakes are higher when you’re hiring for your own company, says Alison Salisbury, founder of Fiscally Fit, which provides money-management services to retirees, busy professionals, and other small businesses.

At the recent Hire Smart Small Business Event hosted by Intuit and LinkedIn, Salisbury shared her experience in learning which critical questions to ask and how to evaluate job candidates during interviews.

“It’s important to hire for attitude,” she says. “You can teach anyone to use an Excel spreadsheet. You cannot teach people skills. You either have [them] or you don’t. There are some attributes you cannot teach.”

Last year, when Fiscally Fit developed the need for a money manager to meet with clients in their homes, Salisbury began searching for an employee with the right personality and impeccable integrity, as well as the technical skills required to do the job.

She published ads in regional media for a “daily money manager” and solicited candidates who were warm, friendly, trustworthy, patient, nonjudgmental, people-oriented, and comfortable with computers.

With the assistance of a job coach, Salisbury set up an innovative hiring process that she calls “self-selective.” The ads, for example, featured a phone number that provided callers with a pre-recorded message from Salisbury. In it, she asked them to leave a voice mail that answered these three questions:

  • What are your three strongest attributes?
  • Why are you suited to this position?
  • What is your biggest success?

“Every person who called this number listened to the message and then hung up — every single one,” Salisbury recalls. “Some of them would call back and answer the questions.”

Not surprisingly, plenty of applicants didn’t follow her instructions at all. Instead, they looked up the company and submitted a traditional resume or reached out by phone or email.

“Some of those people were probably very highly qualified,” Salisbury says. “But, to be fair to me and fair to the process, I asked them by email to please follow the directions. None of them did. So we had quite a few people fall off the list. Then, those people [who] followed the directions and went through the next couple of steps were invited to a group interview. And this is where it got really fun … and interesting.”

Salisbury and her job coach invited a handful of candidates to a meeting in which they were asked open-ended, fact-based questions. “All of these questions were designed to let us get to know these people as people [through] how would they respond in certain, specific situations,” she explains.

Her questions (and requests) included:

  • What sort of jobs and companies have you been applying for and why?
  • At the end of your career, what do you want to have achieved in your life?
  • Tell me about one mistake you made in your career.
  • Based on what you’ve heard today, what do you think this job is all about?
  • What do you do when a co-worker or colleague wants to chat when there’s work to be done?
  • Tell me about a time when a customer or co-worker got mad at you.
  • Tell me about the toughest decision you had to make in the past six months.
  • Tell me about a time when you knew you were right, but you still had to follow directions or guidelines.
  • Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.

“During this process, I had an opportunity to explain to the candidates my vision for the business,” Salisbury says. “I could engage with them visually to see if they were able to buy into the goals and visions I had for growing my business. I could tell by the way people were responding who could buy into what I wanted — and that was a huge indicator of who was a strong candidate.”

Salisbury believes this process allowed her to find an excellent employee who has since flourished at Fiscally Fit.

“So, what have I learned?” she asks. “Hire for attitude. When my coach first described this hiring process to me, I was very skeptical.” But by being open to trying something new when screening and interviewing candidates, Salisbury says she was able to find a quality employee in short order.

“I am on the verge of starting this process all over and hiring again,” she adds. “My dream is coming true. When you’re open to new ideas, working with other professionals, and taking suggestions, you just never know where it’s going to lead you.”

These are just a few of the tips shared by experts at the Hire Smart event. Want more? Login here to get free access to all of the resources from the conference, including exclusive video of all the seminars at the event.

About Michael Essany

Michael Essany is a former E! Entertainment Television host and nationally published author who was recognized by A&E Biography in 2005 as "One of America's Most Remarkable People." Michael currently serves as Vice President of Indiana Grain Company, LLC.
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14 comments
Lisa bld
Lisa bld

These are some pretty good, detailed questions. I have the obligatory "tell me about yourself". 

Rose Evelyn McPherson
Rose Evelyn McPherson

Can you leave the cell phone in your pocket or purse while you are on my time clock? Can you stay off facebook while on my time? If not then I have no job opening for you. Sorry but this is a major problem.

John Fredrick
John Fredrick

Are they just looking for a paycheck? or are they looking for a job and will actually do work?

Baystate Consulting
Baystate Consulting

Regardless of whom you are hiring (a receptionist or a CFO) it is key to find people that are committed to helping you make the business successful not someone that is looking to just come in and do the time. Often times it is all the little things that we do that makes a business successful!

David Spigelman
David Spigelman

I would agree that there are some things that can't be taught. But there are definitely people skills that CAN. Books like How To Win Friends And Influence People, or Emotional Intelligence 2.0, can help... a lot! But they're different than job skills, and people have to WANT to learn them.

Latincam Productions
Latincam Productions

Attitude is important but real, skilled ability to get the job done is even more important. I'd rather work with a talented jerk...to a point...than a nice incompetent any day. The fact is you can not teach everyone how to do any job. Some jobs, yes. But not all.

Gail Barabe Houston
Gail Barabe Houston

Agreed...the folks with a great attitude are typically the folks willing to try new things and innovate!