5 must-ask interview questions for small-business job candidates

Small-business owners and their teams don't have the bandwidth for bad hires. In these companies, each employee plays a crucial part in productivity, morale and company growth. So when it comes to the job interview, smart leaders put effort into evaluating both a candidate’s background and their potential for thriving in a small-business environment. The following interview questions can provide valuable insight for you or leaders of lean teams in general, and potentially save you from having to part ways with the wrong hire early.

“Describe how you dealt with a workplace situation in which you were asked to perform a task outside of your comfort zone.”

Employees at small businesses need to be ready to wear many hats, some of which might be unfamiliar. A person who approaches new challenges with optimism and logic can make a great addition to your team. Likewise, when you ask this interview question, listen for evidence that the candidate knows how to seek help. Good small business employees make use of every resource at their disposal and place doing a good job above their ego.

“Tell me about a conflict you had with a manager, co-worker, or customer and provide specifics on how you resolved it.”

Your objective in asking this interview question shouldn’t be to find saintly (and probably dishonest) candidates who have never encountered a person they didn’t work well with. Rather, focus on getting a sense of how well someone deals with people. When a tight-knit staff works long hours in a confined workspace, problems need to be addressed swiftly and maturely for the sake of the team. Likewise, your small business depends on maintaining positive relationships with all its customers; you literally cannot afford to have staff members who burn bridges.

“Do you believe in life on other planets?”

Bet you didn’t see this interview question coming coming, and neither will your interviewees. An out-of-the-ordinary question encourages creativity and offers a glimpse into a candidate's personality. It also helps judge reasoning skills, ability to think on one’s feet, and composure when thrown for a loop; all worthy traits for a new addition to your team. 

According to CareerBuilder research, other unusual questions hiring managers have asked job candidates include:

  • What superpower would you like to have?
  • If you were stranded on an island, which two items would you like to have with you?
  • If you did not have to work, what would you do?
  • If you were trapped in a blender, what would you do to get out?

“Why are you looking for a new position?”

Hiring and training new employees takes time and money – two things small businesses already find scarce. Selecting a great match the first time around can save valuable resources down the line. This interview question will give you an idea of why a candidate wants to leave his or her current job. As a result, you can determine if the same issues might pose a problem at your company and clue you in on what retention strategies might work best, should you decide to hire.

“What do you feel I need to know that we haven’t discussed?”

Posing this question in the last stage of the interview gives the candidate an opportunity to talk about skills or experiences that didn’t get covered. It also can be a friendly way of inviting an applicant to bring up any previously unmentioned factors that might be significant to extending or accepting an offer. Either way, it will give you peace of mind that you allowed ample opportunity for the prospective employee to contribute to the discussion and shine.


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


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