What You Should and Shouldn't Ask Job Candidates

by John McAlister

What questions should you ask job applicants? What questions shouldn't you ask? Here is a quick guide to help you ask the right questions and select the best candidate for the job. 

interview
Image source: Photospin.com

One of the hidden bear traps in running your own company is the occasional need to hire someone to help. Being your own boss sounds great in infomercials but also it means you’re the one who hires and fires when your business begins to bulge out of your extra bedroom and your garage looks like a warehouse.

Large companies have human resource specialists and lawyers to keep things running within the law; you, on the other hand, have to do it all yourself. You’re the hiring authority, the policymaker and the rule-setter. And it’s unlikely that you have the time or luxury to attend the dozens of seminars held for professional HR types to help them keep abreast of ever-changing regulations.

It’s not uncommon for many small businesses and home offices to initially expand with employees the owner knows through friends or family. Sometimes it works, oftentimes it doesn’t.

When you’re finally ready to start looking for that “real” employee, someone who doesn’t call you Uncle Phil or Aunt Lil, there are some rules of the road to follow. Actually, there are countless rules and regulations companies by law must follow – in fact, it’s likely the complications and frustrations of big business that led you to start your own company and become your own boss in the first place.

This article is aimed at the small business owner who stares at the stack of receivables, orders and message slips and just knows there aren’t enough hours in a day to get the job done. It’s time to get some help.

Hiring a good employee is a matter of finding things out about the person that will help you make the right decision, getting the right fit for your job.

The bottom line to any hire is whether or not the person will make you money or save you money.

And before you ask the first question, don’t be afraid to mentally grade the applicant on his or her appearance, timeliness in arriving for the interview and demeanor toward you and the job you’re offering. Only you can determine if the applicant meets these subjective qualities.

Related Product: How To Find And Hire The Right Employees

While it’s important for you to ask the right questions to determine an applicant’s ability to do the job for you, don’t forget that applicants have rights protected by federal and state laws. To be on the safe side of hiring, and protecting your small business from unnecessary headaches and possible litigation, avoid the following topics during your interviews:

  • Race, ethnicity;
  • Nationality (you may request proof of eligibility to work in the US, however);
  • Disability (you may ask about absences in the past year, CURRENT use of illegal drugs);
  • Gender, marital status, familial status, pregnancy, or number of children;
  • Age or date of birth;
  • Religion;
  • Military status, discharge or future commitments;
  • Arrest and criminal record (unless relevant to the job);
  • Non-work activities such as smoking or drinking;
  • Sexual orientation or participation in organizations.

To help you determine the objective qualifications of a person, try asking the following questions. They aren’t in any order of importance and feel free to modify them to meet your company’s goals. They are good questions to ask and will help you make an educated hiring decision and gain some insight into the applicant’s past performance and suitability for your company.

  • Why did you leave your last employer?
  • What did you like/dislike about your last job?
  • What was the best/worst part of your last job?
  • What did you like/dislike about your last employer?
  • Have you worked in this kind of environment before and did you like or dislike it?
  • What are your long-term goals?
  • What computer/accounting/tracking applications are you familiar with? Which one would you say you’re good at?
  • How comfortable with computers are you?
  • Have you done this kind of work before? Where did you do this kind of work and how did you do?
  • What will your last employer say about your job performance?
  • Who at your last work will be a good reference? Who would not give you a good reference? Can you explain?
  • May I contact your references?
  • Do you have any written performance evaluations you can show me?
  • How would you describe your job performance?
  • Did you have any problems at your last job you’d care to share?
  • How did you get along with your fellow employees?
  • How would you describe your work ethics/habits?
  • Are you willing to take a drug test in order to be considered for this job?
  • Can you work weekends or special hours if necessary?
  • We have company vehicles you may be required to drive; will I find anything in your Department of Motor Vehicles driving record that will keep our company from getting an insurance rider on you?
  • Is there anything in the job description that you have questions about?
  • When can you start, and what notice can you give your employer?

Hiring the right applicant for your small company is a big challenge and will test your skills and patience. But once you've found and hired the right people, you'll wonder how you ever functioned without them.

Need more help recruiting and hiring the right employees for your business? Get the Business Know-How® guide to hiring employees.

© 2013 Attard Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be reprinted or reused without permission.

John McAlister has four decades of experience in newsrooms as a reporter and editor. His consulting efforts have included developing crisis management solutions for distressed clients as well as overseeing media programs and operations for seven Rose Bowl parades and games. John now works from his home office in Big Bear, Calif., where he is active locally in orchestrating various elements of the area’s annual MS Walk and summer festival.
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