11 Aug The Only Three Questions To Ask When Hiring
“I am about to start a new business and hire my first employees. I am not very experienced in this, as I’m more on the technical side, but what are the generic questions that make sense to ask the candidates in order to get down to the point as fast as possible and filter more serious candidates out of the pile? I am overwhelmed with the number of applicants as I am open to having someone working remotely, and now suddenly so many people have applied.”
This is just one of the many messages I receive in my inbox, email@example.com. Mattias is asking a very good question here, plus he has hit the nail with the future of remote working. If you open the walls of your physical office and move your company to a virtual space, at least for a fraction of your team members, suddenly you can draw a much larger pool of talent and can also save a lot on salaries for certain positions.
I agree with Mattias, for some positions we receive up to 1,000 applicants in a week’s time too. So what is the best way to filter those candidates if you cannot afford a full HR department working for you yet?
What has worked for me in the past is having your job posting explain the position and skills required, as well-defined as possible, including the salary range. It helps get more qualified leads, but unfortunately, you will still get lots of applicants who are hardly suited for the position. When sifting through the applications, check their last three job positions and how often they have been changed. Note their current title. I am constantly receiving applications from graphic designers when advertising any marketing job. And it also happens the other way round — when advertising for a graphic designer position, I get CVs from marketers.
The next step would be to come up with the first introduction email where once again, you iterate on the key elements needed for this position and ask candidates if they possess these skills. You should also mention what is the title of the position, salary expectations, and other important highlights, and ask them 3–4 questions about themselves — what is important for you they have. Maybe it’s being able to speak a specific language natively, or video-editing skills, and again, ask them about their salary expectations.
If you receive a response that you would consider as appropriate, ask them if they would be open for a small paid task, something that you might be able to recycle in your own workflow down the road. For instance, write, proof-read, or translate content for a copywriter, or create a short animation video for a graphic designer with a script.
If the task is completed to its perfection and within a short time, you’ve killed two birds with one stone — you know the person is good at what they do, they work fast, and you get something you can re-use.
Next comes a personal interview via video-call. Phone calls are not as good as you can’t see the body language of the applicant, which can tell you a lot about them. The goal of the interview is not to talk but to listen. All you need to ask is 3–4 questions. I change questions from time to time, but here is my current set of simple but very revealing questions for someone who can listen in between the lines:
1. Ask them what caught their attention in the job posting, as advertised
Here you learn how much homework they actually did about your company and about you. You might be thinking, of course, they did, but still, I’ve had cases sometimes when they didn’t know the position they were having an interview for, didn’t check the website of my company, and not even mention the public information available about me personally. This why it’s important not to jump immediately in a call with them but let them filter themselves out through your first intro email and through the task challenge, they might realize that this job or company is not what they are looking for, and the same applies to you. You’ve saved time for both you and the applicant for an unnecessary video call.
2. Ask what their plan is for the next 2–3 years, listen very carefully, and take notes
Maybe they want to work for a larger company in the future and just can’t find something suitable at the moment, so your company is pretty much the last resort. Or maybe they want to work in a different field and in a different position but it doesn’t come across like that from their current CV. What can also happen is that they actually don’t want to find a job at all, but rather, are bored and are looking for something to do, or they want to save up to go off to live in Goa and drum all day on a beach.
3. And once again, ask what their salary expectations are
You wouldn’t believe how surprising answers can be at this stage to this question which you have already touched upon in the job posting and in your intro email. The purpose of asking this question for the third time is to avoid the situation where you’ve found the perfect candidate and they want to work for you, but as soon as you make the official job offer, suddenly they get back to you with a counteroffer which is rather uncomfortable and also could be unrealistic.
If there are any red flags while they answer these questions and in general in the conversation, and you intuitively feel something is not exactly right but you can’t really place it at the moment — usually these signs show to be true down the road. There have been many times where I ignored my intuition, being driven by the need of having someone to start working immediately. But then I learned that there will always be another candidate coming who is much better suited for this position, and it’s the exact match for both you and the applicant — to enter this new working relationship in a satisfying and fruitful manner.