Interview Tips

By Attorney Nancy Greene

A business can’t grow beyond a certain point unless it hires employees. Employees are also generally a company’s greatest expense, between salary, benefits and training time. There’s a saying that you should be slow to hire and quick to fire, but companies waste a lot of time and money hiring the wrong people, and then having to restart the process.

How do you minimize the risk of needing to quickly fire a new hire?

Conduct an excellent interview.

I recommend a simple approach to prepare for the interview, and get the answers you really need.

Here are some tips:

  • Write the job description for the position before you place your employment advertisement to obtain applications from qualified prospects and bring clarity to the interviewing process.
    • How can you hire the perfect employee if you don’t know what that person looks like before you start your search? The answer is, you can’t.
    • Creating a “needs” list helps you clarify if for this hire you really need a bookkeeper, social media guru OR a sales expert.
    • Set out the 5-8 critical skills and personality traits the candidate must have to fit the position and company culture.
      • Companies are increasingly concerned with “fit.”  What’s your company culture? What does it take to “fit”? That’s not to say you want all employees to be clones of each other but if punctuality is a core value, then your new hire needs to also be punctual otherwise workplace friction will occur.
  • Ask behavior-related interview questions that tie into the job’s functions and skill set needed to see how the potential employee handle the tasks they’d be assigned.
    • Does your new employee need to follow an existing standard operating procedure rather than recreate the wheel? You probably want to check to make sure she has the skill set to follow rather than create.  If you ask “can you follow an SOP?” you’ll almost always get a “yes” regardless of the personality-type. It’s not that the candidate is lying but he may think he can actually follow the plan. By asking a behavior-related question like “tell me about a time when you had a procedure to follow and didn’t. What happened? How did your approach compare to the one laid out?” you’ll see how the person is most likely to react to the situation,which is a better indicator of future conduct.
  • If there are required skills, test for them.
    • You know what skills the position needs. After all, you set them out in the job description. Trust but verify when the candidate says she has them.
    • Your customer sales agent needs to know how to handle an unhappy customer.  Have candidates write an apology letter to a fictional customer where the company’s service fell short or the product wasn’t perfect. Having the person show his skills is a great indication of how he’ll perform in the long run.
  • If the interviewee does not have the 5-8 job critical skills and personality traits then end the interview and do not hire that individual.
    • Sometimes we hire because we like a candidate. “You love Dr. Who, too? Awesome! You’re hired.” can be a mistake if the person also doesn’t have the skills you need. Having a skills and traits checklist helps prevent you from hiring in the honeymoon phase.
    • A caveat, if the candidate fits the criteria except for one skill  and no one else is better suited for the position, it might be worth taking a risk on this person. However, if you do, make the position conditional on the candidate acquiring the needed level of proficiency within a set time. If he doesn’t learn how to use your internal database within the three months you gave him, then end his employment.  I know this is hard because by then you probably like the new hire as well, but the best interests of the company must come first and if the employee knows he has to learn the skill and doesn’t then you’ve given him more than a fair chance to keep the job.
  • Actually check the person’s references before hiring.
    • Reference checking is time consuming. The candidate passed every test  you put in front of him and you liked him. So, why do you need to check his references? He’s perfect after all. Ahm, because no one is perfect. You won’t know from the interview that he lost his last job because he tried to run over the company’s president with a pickup truck, (No joke. One client had to fire an employee for this), unless you call those references. While the other company may not tell you that’s why he was fired most companies will tell you if the employee is not eligible for rehire. If that’s the case you need a long discussion with your potential new employee to find out why.
    • “But I’m hiring a millennial with no experience. How do I check her references?” you ask. Millennials are a fascinating bunch. Most of them are involved with causes or groups. They have experience. Just maybe not “job experience” per se. Asking for references from within these volunteer organizations is valid.

Hiring a new employee is a wonderful, and nerve-wracking time. Spend energy up front to ensure your job description, job posting and interview techniques help you identify the best candidates for your business. This upfront investment saves you time, money, frustration and the heartbreak that comes with hiring the wrong person.

If you need advice related to your employee search or would like assistance with any other business matter, please contact Nancy at Land, Carroll and Blair, PC, in Alexandria and Fairfax, VA at:

(703) 836-1000

ngreene@landcarroll.comAttorney Nancy Greene


Twitter:           @attnyNancyGreene



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