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4 Interview Questions That Get to the Heart of a Candidate’s Potential

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: July 26, 2012

Hiring new employees is an opportunity, but it’s also a huge risk. So perfecting your interviewing skills is critical. But what kind of interview questions are most effective at helping you find an employee with the right skills and experience, and the best fit for your company culture?

The most successful interviews are based on facts, and these are usually best gleaned via the behavioral interview technique. As in life, actions and (in this case) past actions, speak louder than words. You can get a pretty good sense of how anyone is going to react, cope or integrate into your team based on how they’ve done this in the past.

Some of the best recommendations I’ve seen for conducting fact-based, behavioral interviews (and we’re not talking psychoanalysis here) come from Jeff Haden, a bestselling business writer and contributor to Inc. Magazine. Here’s a summary of his favorite behavioral interview questions as published in this article:

1. "Tell me about the last time a customer or co-worker got mad at you."

Interpersonal skills as well as ability to deal with conflict are critical in any small business. The key to this question, Haden explains, is to keep probing so that you find out why the customer or co-worker was mad, what the candidate did in response, and the outcome.

Look out for a candidate who blames the other person and takes no accountability for the conflict on themselves. What you really want to hear is a candidate who admits responsibility for the conflict, but who worked to rectify the situation. This doesn’t mean they are a cause of conflict, but their actions suggest that they learned from the situation, admitted they were wrong and fixed things.

2. “Tell me about the toughest decision you had to make in the last six months."

The goal is here to evaluate the candidate’s reasoning ability, problem solving skills, judgment, and willingness to take informed risks.

If you get no answer – consider it a warning sign!

Other more positive responses may shed light on how the interviewee made a difficult analytical decision based on reasoning or perhaps a difficult interpersonal decision. A really good answer will combine both! As Haden explains: “Making decisions based on data is important, but almost every decision has an impact on people as well. The best candidates naturally weigh all sides of an issue, not just the business or human side exclusively.”

3. "Tell me about a time you knew you were right but still had to follow directions or guidelines."

Clearly, here you are looking to evaluate the candidate’s ability to follow, but also their potential ability to lead. If the candidate went against these directions or guidelines, “because I knew I was right,” then consider that a warning sign. Likewise, note whether they followed directions but then let their performance suffer because they felt wronged or overlooked.

Positives to look for include candidates who did what needed to be done, met deadlines despite everything, and then raised their concerns or issues at an appropriate time and place, with the goal of improving things. Now if they did all this and stayed motivated, while helping motivate others as well, then they deserve a big tick in the box.

4. "Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done."

Here you’re evaluating commitment, prioritization and communication skills. Pay attention to this warning sign: "I just do what I have to do and get out. I keep telling my boss I can only do so much but he won't listen...”

Things to look for are comments about staying late to finish critical tasks, or prioritizing during the day to stay on top of everything so that nothing is left uncompleted.

Perhaps most important is communicating early on that deadlines were in jeopardy and then staying late or prioritizing accordingly. Surprisingly few employees put their hand up to tell their manager that they’re going to miss a deadline before it’s passed them by.

The Bottom Line

Keep the dialog going and insert follow-up questions (“so what happened next” or “wow, how did you deal with that?”). If candidates are being honest and have experience or facts to back up resume hype, then they should be able to participate fully in this form of interview. If they can’t, potential disconnects between who the candidate says he is and who he really is will be easier to spot.

Concludes Haden: “… great employee(s) will almost always shine during a fact-based interview.”

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

10 Ways Your Small Business May Be Breaking Employment Laws

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: July 25, 2012 Updated: July 25, 2012

Do you think of yourself as a flexible employer or even just a nice one?

According to a recent report by the California Chamber of Commerce (and covered here by OPEN Forum) – The Top 10 Things Employers Do to Get Sued – many small business owners may unintentionally be violating employment laws even as they are just trying to be flexible or nice. Much of the problem arises from the fact that state laws vary enormously. But some of these mistakes are universal and are often prohibited by federal law.

The report is worth a read, but here’s a summary of the 10 ways your business may be breaking employment laws, plus some resources from the SBA and other government agencies that can help you comply.

1. Classifying all employees as exempt, whether they are or not

An exempt employee is typically someone who is paid a specified amount of money, regardless of the number of hours worked a week. Under both state and federal law, these positions may be exempt from overtime requirements, as well as meal and rest breaks. Other positions may only be exempt from overtime.

Employees who don’t qualify for one of the exemptions are considered nonexempt and subject to overtime and meal breaks.

Problems arise when employers assume it’s easier to pay everyone a salary (or treat them as exempt), rather than dealing with meal and rest breaks, overtime, and time sheets. Many employers are sued for failure to provide meal and rest periods for nonexempt employees improperly classified as exempt. 

Read more about overtime and meal and rest breaks from the Department of Labor, and refer to your State Labor Office for laws on this matter.

2. The flexible lunch break

While federal law doesn’t require employees be given lunch or coffee breaks, certain states require that non-exempt employees get 30-minute lunch breaks, plus breaks for hours worked during the day. Laws even stipulate when the break must be given. In California, a meal break must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work. So giving employees the option of skipping lunch to get out of work early is a law-breaker. Again, refer to your State Labor Office for more information.

3.  Classifying employees as independent contractors

This is an area of the law ripe for litigation, which can also land you in trouble with the tax man. Your worker may be happy to be considered an independent contractor until money and benefits such as paid leave, workers’ compensation and disability become issues.  For more insight into this thorny topic, as well as the role the IRS plays and why you need to be aware, read Independent Contractors vs. Employees.

4. Not providing harassment and discrimination training to managers and supervisors

State rules vary on whether harassment and discrimination training is required by law. California, Maine and Connecticut mandate it; other states simply advise it. Training first-line supervisors is your best defense against a harassment or discrimination complaint. Refer to State Requirements for Harassment Training (PDF) and check with your State Labor Office about any discrimination training you may need to conduct.  

5. Letting employees decide which hours and how many they want to work each day

State laws restrict the number of hours an employee can work without payment of overtime. If you have a flex-time policy that lets employees work longer days but fewer of them, you’ll need to follow the rules to ensure you don’t incur overtime or back-pay along with penalties. Check what laws apply in your state regarding pay and scheduling.

6.  Terminating employees for taking a leave of absence

The law protects employees from being fired for taking family or medical leave, military leave or serving on jury duty. Read more about firing employees within the law.

7.  Failing to provide a final paycheck to an employee who has not returned company property

Employers are not required by federal law to immediately give former employees their final paycheck. Some states, however, may require immediate payment, regardless of whether laptops, company phones, etc. have been returned – basically as soon as the words “you’re fired” are uttered. Contact your State Labor Office for information on employer requirements in your state.

8. Giving employees loans and deducting repayments from their pay checks

You may think you’re being a generous boss, but most states don’t permit employers to deduct anything other than pay and benefits from employee paychecks. Instead, have the employee sign a promissory note with the oversight of a lawyer and arrange a regular schedule of repayments.

9. Non-compete agreements

Many employers ask their staff to sign non-compete agreements to protect company information and customer lists, and keep employees from working for the competition. However, enforceability of non-compete clauses vary widely by state and some, including California, prohibit them completely (with some exceptions). Consult your lawyer on these agreements and other options for protecting your business information.

10. Having a “use it or lose it” vacation policy but failing to pay back money-owed on termination

Some states, including California, prohibit "use it or lose it" vacation policies by law. In these states, vacation time is considered a form of compensation, and must be paid out when the employee leaves. To find out your state's rules, contact your State Labor Office.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

6 Tips for More Seamless and Fruitful Business Negotiations

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: July 23, 2012 Updated: September 19, 2016

Negotiation, like networking, is one of life’s necessities that you either love or hate. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Let’s face it, negotiation is almost an everyday business affair – whether you’re negotiating a new business deal, scoping out a statement of work with a client, or trying to reach consensus with a business partner, client or employee.

How do your negotiations typically go? Are they calm affairs? Do you often reach a satisfactory consensus?

Here are some tips for effective negotiation in your business:

Find Out What’s on the Table

Before you offer anything, uncover the stakes. Even if you know what outcome you want from a negotiation, find out what the other party wants first so you know what you’re dealing with. This is true whether you are negotiating a deadline, selling services or hiring an employee. If the other party isn’t willing to share this information, then be firm. As in all relationships, you can’t give the other party what they want unless you know what they are thinking.

Know Your Own Value

This is especially true if the other party isn’t disclosing what they want from you. So it’s important to know what you have to offer or what your position is and be able to clearly communicate what accepting it can do for them. Whether it’s positioning a product or service, solving a problem, or just making everyday business easier for everyone – let them know.

Be Personable

It’s also important to forge personal relationships with the other party and share your own values as an individual. Learn about them and help them learn about you. Respect their opinion or position. This can lead to synergies and increase the likelihood of a mutually beneficial outcome.

Look for Common Ground

Common ground is the root of compromise and it has to be sought, although you may not always find it. For example, if you are negotiating a commercial lease, the landlord will state his opening offer. Then you will declare yours and ask for more information (what’s included in the lease). From there you find out what you and the landlord can either compromise or give up on to reach a mutual agreement.

Articulate an Outcome

In the heat of negotiations, with both sides focused on the now and what they may or may not compromise, it’s useful to step back and articulate your vision of the outcome of these negotiations. Your vision can also become their vision, but only if you clearly explain what’s in it for them too. Having a picture of this end goal is surprisingly effective in getting others on board with your plan.

Be a Diplomat

No one likes to be pressured or threatened into submission – whether it’s done bluntly or passive-aggressively. But it’s going to happen – and the good thing is that this is your opportunity to really let your personality shine through. Handling negotiations with grace and diplomacy puts both parties at ease. Aggressive negotiators often act this way because they have stresses or pressures of their own and are probably panicky that the wrong outcome will reflect badly on them.

Diplomacy and poise on your part can go a long way to defusing even the trickiest negotiations and demands. It opens the door to problem-solving and respect.

Even if you choose to let off steam behind the scenes, having integrity and grace in the negotiation room can lead to a good business deal, as well as a good deal of business.

Additional Resources

  • Business Training – Get hands-on tips about the art of business negotiations and other topics at a variety of local workshops from SCORE. These free events are hosted nationwide on all manner of small business topics. SCORE also hosts regular webinars and has a rich archive of content to browse through. Local Small Business Development Centers also offer regular seminars and events for small business owners.

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Planning and Managing Strategic Positioning

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: July 19, 2012

 

One of the most important benefits of good business planning is strategic positioning. Especially as technology advances and markets grow constantly more narrow and more defined, positioning is vital. You can use your business plan, with regular review and revisions, to keep steering towards the right positioning.

The change in segmentation and strategy is remarkable. Take television sports as an example. We started with sports programs on network television. Now we have several mainstream sports channels, and separate channels for pro football, college football, tennis, golf, basketball, baseball and who knows what else. Restaurants are another good example. Think of how finely restaurant categories divide: not just fast food, but several varieties of allegedly ethnic fast foods, organic, local and so on.

This offers the normal small business the benefits of strategically defining a position that ropes off a set of specific target market and business offerings to enhance the relationship between business and customer. The phrase “target marketing” has been around about forever, but now it really means something.

You can use this classic positioning statement as a starting point:

For [target market description] who [target market need] [how our business offering meets the need]. Unlike [key competition], it [most distinguishing feature].  

And here’s an example:

For local small business owners who know they could optimize their business with more social media but don’t have time to actually do it, our social media services get it done for them without taking their time and effort. Unlike most social media consulting, we don’t just advise; we roll up our sleeves and do the work.

And another example:

For busy people looking for quick meals who care about local economies and their personal health and nutrition, our fast foods are organic, local, and healthy. Unlike most fast foods offerings, we use fresh local ingredients, organic, grilled not fried, with a lot of vegetables and vegetarian options, and local free-range meats

Both of those examples are old-fashioned positioning statements that show how much strategy is inherent in positioning. In both cases, the definition of target market at the opening should help the business enormously as it develops marketing messages and marketing plans because it has a more clearly defined understanding of the people it’s trying to reach. And in both cases the business offering is defined strategically to match the needs of the target market.

Positioning like this is a good reminder of how strategy is as much a matter of what your business doesn’t do as what it does. Both of these example businesses should be able to focus better on their particular piece of the larger market pie.

As part of your business planning process, your positioning doesn’t have to take any particular form. In planning, like in most of business, form follows function; doing the actual format doesn’t matter. I don’t think of business planning as producing a single written document, but as a process of regular review and revision. Let the positioning statement be a slide, a paragraph, pictures, a presentation, or whatever … the key is that when you review your planning, every month, you take a few minutes to go over your positioning. First, you remind yourself of your strategy. Second, you take a few minutes to consider changes in the market, and changes in your assumptions, that might require changing that positioning.

Positioning reminds me of my favorite marketing quote, which is actually from Bill Cosby, who was talking about a lot more than marketing:

“I don’t know the secret to success, but I do know that the secret to failure is trying to please everybody.”

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

How a Business Email Address Can Hurt or Help Your Financing Efforts

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: July 17, 2012

We can all agree that email is another tool used for exchanging information. But when it comes to business, it plays a much greater role then many people seem to realize.

Unfortunately, one of the most common mistakes business owners make is obtaining a business email account from one of the many free email services available on the Internet. While a free email services does serve a purpose, it can give a bad impression to a potential customer or even hurt your chances for obtaining credit because some creditors require a dedicated business email account.

You can help your business by obtaining a business email account that clearly shows that your company has a personalized domain name. The email address you set up should have @yourbusinessname.com. Not only does this look professional, but it also shows that you are a “real” company with a dedicated communications system.

The first thing you will need to do is register a domain name for your business with an approved domain registrar.

Once you visit the site, you will need to conduct a domain search to see if a .COM for your company name is available. I strongly suggest that you obtain a .COM because it adds another layer of credibility and professionalism to your business as opposed to a .Biz or .Net name.

If your company name is not available as a .COM, then consider searching for a .COM with the extension of your structure title as well. For example, ABC Company.com may not be available, but try ABC CompanyLLC.com as an alternative.

Be prepared to supply the following information when setting up your business email account:

  1. Name, company name, address and phone number
  2. Administrative contact information
  3. Technical contact information
  4. Domain Name System (DNS) server details

The DNS server is usually provided by the web hosting company that you use to host your website. If you don’t have a website, you can have your domain name parked on your registrar’s servers until you set one up. This can be done afterwards and you can always contact their tech support for additional help.

Once you register a domain name, you will be able to set up a business email account associated with your new domain name. When you select an email address, keep it simple because you will be supplying this information on all your company documents, applications, registrations and so on.

If you decide to establish multiple email addresses like ceo@abccompany.com, support@abccompany.com and sales@abccompany.com, make sure you use only one of these email addresses on all things related to the business credit building process.

It’s essential that you understand how lenders and credit providers assess the creditworthiness of a business. Even though it may seem like a minor detail, having a dedicated business email account does play a role in the decision making process. Small details like this that get overlooked can cause problems for you later on.

About the author

Marco Carbajo is CEO of the Business Credit Insiders Circle (http://www.businesscreditblogger.com), a step-by-step business credit building system providing credit recovery, lines of credit, business credit cards, trade credit, and funding sources.

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

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