Interview questions for small business owners to ask

When interviewing a candidate to work at your small business, it can be helpful to have some questions in mind before you begin. Asking the right questions can lead you to hire the employees you're looking for and to get people who have the skills your business requires. 

If you're interviewing someone, it's important to know which questions to ask so you can hire the right person for the role and avoid the potentially messy outcome of later having to terminate them. Because a small business has fewer employees, each person working for you may form a bond with others who you employ. If you have to terminate someone, it can cause dissatisfaction with the rest of your crew. Here's more about how to conduct an interview and some examples of questions you can ask and what to look for in an answer.

How to conduct an interview

Small businesses often start with only one or two employees but can grow into companies that employ up to 500 people. This means that, as a small business owner, you may not have much experience conducting an interview. So, let's go over how to conduct an interview before discussing the questions you might ask job candidates:

Select candidates

Go over the resumes you received in response to your job posting. Scan them to see if they contain the elements you're looking for in an employee. Ask yourself which candidates are most likely to fit the role and culture of your business. You also want to note whether they've included the skills they'll need to perform their tasks. Keep the number of candidates you select to interview to around five, otherwise, you may feel overwhelmed when trying to choose the best one.

Schedule interviews

Once you've selected the candidates you want to interview, it's time to schedule the appointments. If the people you want to interview have other jobs, consider working around their schedules as a courtesy to other business owners. Depending on your preference and the contact information you have, you can send job candidates an email or call them to request an interview.

Formulate questions

Before the interview begins, you'll want to formulate the questions you need to ask. Having questions prepared ensures that you get the information you need to hire the right person to fill the open position. It also helps to make the interview go smoothly because you won't have to stop and think up questions on the spot.

Provide information

After asking a potential employee your interview questions, it's time to provide them with information about the position. Working for a smaller company has its own challenges, so it's important that you explain exactly what you'll expect from them if they're hired. Let them know what their schedule might be, how many hours they'll work, and discuss anything that makes working for your business unique. Providing insight into who will cover their shift if they go on vacation or are sick can also be beneficial.

Ask questions

Start the interview with easy questions that put the candidate at ease. This makes the experience more relaxed and helps the potential employee feel comfortable providing honest responses to your questions. Follow with questions about their experience, education, and background to help you learn more about them. Finally, you can ask detailed questions related to their skills and personality to help you determine how well they can perform the job and fit your company's values and mission.

Take notes

During the interview, remember to take notes. You can write the responses they give or your reaction to their responses overall to help jog your memory when you're trying to choose who you want to hire. If one candidate stands out among the rest, you can either choose to offer them the position immediately or make a note to ensure you recall which interviewee you preferred.

Thank candidates

At the end of the interview, thank each candidate for their time. Let them know that you'll contact them once you've made a decision. It's courteous to inform those you interviewed when you've filled the position, even if you don't choose to hire them. You'll also want to tell the candidate you hope to hire that they got the job as soon as possible so they don't accept another position.

Interview questions for small business owners to ask job candidates

Regardless of who you're interviewing, having questions prepared beforehand can make it go smoothly and ensure you get all the information you need. As a small business owner, the questions you ask will likely relate to your specific business. However, these are some general questions that most small business owners will want to ask job candidates in an interview to get good candidates in today's job market:

How did you hear about this job opening?

This is a good question to start the interview with, as it should be pretty easy and straightforward for the interviewee to answer. This question can help set the candidate at ease, as it's not necessarily important where they heard about the job, but it does open the conversation. In the answer, you can look for how they conduct themselves, such as:

  • Do they maintain eye contact?
  • Do they sit up straight?
  • How are they dressed?
  • Do they have confidence when speaking?

Can you tell me about your experience and how it can help you in this position?

Asking a candidate about their experience gives you insight into their skills and abilities. If they can explain in a clear and concise way how their experience can help them do the job you're hiring for, it means that they understand the role and its duties. While entry-level candidates might not have much job experience, they should be able to discuss how their education, volunteer experience, or extracurricular activities may relate to the position.

Did you ever have a conflict with a manager? How did you overcome it?

When you pose this question, you give the candidate a chance to demonstrate their conflict resolution skills, as well as their ability to communicate. Most people have disagreed with a co-worker at some point, and asking this question lets you see how honest a job candidate is and how well they can work with others. A good answer will explain:

  • What caused the conflict
  • Who the conflict involved
  • How the conflict was resolved
  • How the incident impacted the candidate

Before you interview a candidate for your small business, prepare some questions that help you learn more about them. This will help you ensure the interview provides you with the information you need to hire the right person for the job. Use these examples as a guide to come up with your own questions.

Here's some more information about interviewing candidates that might interest you :

Are your job candidates using the STAR method to answer interview questions?

Consider using hiring events to convert candidates to employees.

Learn more about hiring the next generation of workers at your small business.


3 in 4 small business employers have hired the wrong person. Have you? Find out.


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