Help Wanted 1With labor day on Monday it might be a good time to consider Labor and what it means to startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs in general.

The nature of Jobs have changed drastically over the years since the first Labor Day on September 5, 1882. The United States went through a period of steady manufacturing hyper growth followed by a relatively fast decline. Not much is really built here anymore so all those assembly line jobs are gone along with all the related supporting white collar and services jobs.

Plus with over fifty percent of women (over 70 million individuals) in the workforce now compared to 20% in the late 1890s there are a lot more people chasing after fewer jobs. All in an environment where the best educated get the best jobs and a college education is more expensive then ever. Topping out in the $250,000 range for a bachelors degree.

So what does this have to do with people considering a startup or already knee deep in an entrepreneurial small business?

Good jobs are scarce and there are a large number of qualified and motivated people chasing those few jobs. As you staff your new or existing company you will probably receive hundreds of applicants for each position. You will be in awe of qualifications that eclipse your own. When you meet the applicants they will be articulate, focused, and have done their homework on your company and competitors.

But… Beware because even though a job candidate looks good on paper and impresses you in multiple interviews they may not be right for an entrepreneurial enterprise like yours. And when your staff is small, one bad hire can be a devastatingly costly setback.

Here are three things to look for when considering new employees for your startup or operating small business plus as a bonus my favorite final interview question that will really tell you if the person is right for the job:

1) Get real proof – All the great things an applicant has listed on their resume and their convincing smooth presentation may make you feel like they are just the right person for the job but be sure to dive deep into each item that impresses you. Just because they list an accomplishment on their resume does not mean they were a very active participant. We called these people “Empty Suits”. They were in the meetings and signed off on the memos but did not do anything to actually advance the effort. Ask more questions to determine what they did, what gave them the idea to do it, and what problems they had to overcome. Keep digging with your questions until you understand the applicant’s precise contributions to their former employers. If the answers to your detailed questions flow out effortlessly then you know you are probably not talking to an “Empty Suit”. Yes, this is a lot like a third degree hard boiled detective interrogation but the survival of your business may be at stake.

2) Flexibility – You might be excited to be interviewing a job candidate who formerly worked for a Fortune 500 company but beware. People who work in larger companies may be inflexible. With all those support people floating around they may have been pigeonholed in their past positions. Large companies sometimes focus employees within narrow competencies. It’s more efficient that way. In your line of questioning look for ways the candidate demonstrated flexibility. The wrong way to do is ask, “Are you flexible?” Ask about their typical day on the job. Ask about one time when things went wrong at any of their past employers. If they just tell you about how things went wrong and not how they creatively and flexibly made things right then this might be an indicator that the candidate lacks flexibility to do things traditionally outside their job description.

3) Do they really want the job? – This may seem like a silly question. Why wouldn’t anyone want to work at your wonderful company? Again this is another place where you can’t just ask the question. You need to get some real proof. Pick three small tasks and ask them to complete those task in order. Only request the next task when the task before it is completed. This can take a few days and is usually done by email. They can be small tasks like:

  • Write a two page summary about our company’s competitors and what we should be worried about.
  • These are our companies top three customers. Write a page on each and tell me if you think they are growing or in danger.
  • Write a two page summary about our company’s primary product (or service) and why the opportunity may will grow or shrink in the future.

They can email you the short write-ups. Look for how fast they respond, the completeness of their answers, and how they go that extra mile in their assignments. Their performance on these tasks will be a very close indicator to how they will perform when they are on your payroll. You will be surprised how many seemingly great candidates fall short or just ignore these tasks. It will save you much trouble in the future. I don’t even do face-to-face interviews with anyone who has not already completed three tasks or “test of fire” as we called them. It’s a big time saver.

How about that bonus interview question…

You probably won’t find this question in any of those “How To Interview” books and that’s why I like it. Most of the time this question catches people off balance so you will see who they really are deep down. It may be the first time in the interview that you see the real person who could be working for you.

Hold off on this question until the last thing. You have already asked all your other questions and have given the candidate a chance to ask all their questions. The interview seems to be over then… One more thing…

You ask, “If you walk out of here today and find out you won the lottery and will receive a check for $40 million dollars what would you do with the rest of your life?”

Then just let them talk… Keep them talking with some light questions… If they go on about what they would do for their favorite charity (if it is the Aryan Brotherhood, or Al queda that might be a negative) push them to tell you more with something like… “Okay so you have done everything you can in that area what else would you do?” or “$40 million is a lot of money is there anything else you would do?”

By the end of their answers to this question you should know a lot more about what kind of person is sitting across from you.