How to Interview Like a Boss: Part Three


Today I am bringing you the third and final segment of "How to Interview Like a Boss."  In Part One, I focused on how to prepare before meeting a candidate and general best practices during the interview. In Part Two, I reviewed my top 10 favorite interview questions. If you just so happen to be looking for a job at the moment, you can also find my tips for what employers are looking for during an interview over here.

Alright, so here we go.

Be a Good Detective

So the interview went pretty well, and you're desperate to fill the position. Do you hire the candidate on the spot? No! Stop right there! I cannot stress how important it is to do your due diligence post-interview, even if you needed that employee yesterday. Allow me to illustrate why.

Fairly recently, I was set up with a second interview for a manager candidate. I followed all of my own rules laid out in Part One and based on my preliminary research, I did not think this person would be a good fit for us. So, I cancelled the interview as politely as possible. I am very busy as we all are, and did not want to waste my time or his. The candidate pressed on, wanting to know why the interview was cancelled. Thinking I would be helpful, I told him. He came back wanting to explain himself and for some reason I agreed to meet. The interview turned out to be strong, and his explanation seemed valid. Long story short, I ended up hiring him. It only took a couple of months before I saw my initial concerns playing out. We ultimately let him go and I learned a valuable lesson -- to trust my instincts! 

So what can you do to prevent this from happening to you?

Call their references AND their work history.

This is a step a lot of us are guilty of skipping. We think that we have good instincts and are excellent people readers, which is mostly true. But here's another story: I interviewed a man that we will call Joe. The interview was pretty strong. He said a lot of the right things about his leadership style and the kind of company he wanted to work for. After the interview, I began my research by calling his list of references. The first one was lukewarm at best. The second one was with the owner of a restaurant he used to work with, and the owner happened to speak English as a second language. When I asked him about Joe, his immediate response was "Joe?? No! He is LIAR! Do not hire!" It was so shockingly honest it was almost funny.

So what questions should you ask the references? Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. How do you know Susie? Susie may have written down that Reference 1 was her previous boss, but I like to verify that with an open-ended question. It also eases the reference into talking about the candidate.
  2. How would you describe Susie's leadership style? 
  3. What was it like working with Susie? 
  4. What area of Susie's work needs the most improvement? 
  5. How did Susie interact with her peers? Her supervisors? What about the staff that she led? 
  6. If given the opportunity, would you want to work with Susie again? 

The key is asking open ended questions, not ones that are easily answered with "yes" or "no". It is also important to ask follow up questions. If the reference says that her work was "extraordinary", ask "can you tell me what made it extraordinary?"

Most people will only put references down that they know will say great things about them (which is awfully telling about ol' Joe, isn't it?). It is equally important to follow up on their work history as it is to call their reference list. Who did they not put down on that list? Dig into their history and call. It's not rude, it's your job!

Remember to always thank each reference for their time, they were probably not expecting the interruption. Also note: if the candidate is still employed at another company, it is paramount to be sensitive to his or her wishes about contacting that employer.

Background Check

We background check all of our manager candidates, and I always let them know ahead of time. They will be in charge of cash, equipment, company information, and most importantly our employees. It is important to note that you cannot legally use a background check to not hire someone if they have been honest about their record. What I am verifying is that they were honest when they said they had no criminal charges on their record; or if they disclosed criminal charges, that they were honest about what they were.

A few years ago, I skipped this step. I hired a glowing candidate with excellent references. He did a great job for us at first. Through a series of events, I found out he lied on his application and not only did he have a criminal record, but that it was a very serious felony. As these lies began to unravel, they also began to affect his personal life and his work performance. He ended up leaving the company rather quickly.

Follow Up

Finally, it is so important to follow up with every candidate that you interview, even if they are a flat No. I am personally guilty of not following through on this at times. If the person isn't the right fit for your company, that doesn't make them any less of a human being and every human being deserves common courtesy.

When it is a definite no-go, a simple email is all that's needed. No lengthy explanation or apology. Just a "thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me to discuss opportunities with our company. Unfortunately, we have decided to hire a different candidate but will keep your resume on file for future opportunities." It is short and honest. Do not beat around the bush.

When it is someone that you are interested in, but still need to follow up on the detective work, let them know after the interview. "Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me. I truly enjoyed our conversation, and would like to take a couple of days to follow up on your references. I will be in touch by XX date." And then set a reminder on your calendar to do just that. You do not want to start off the relationship by not following through with your promises.


Good luck -- I welcome any of your questions about interviewing candidates either in the comments below or by emailing me at!

xx Claire