Advertise with Step Out Buffalo >

How To Interview Better & Improve Hiring Results For Your Business

This post was written by Emily Martin, Owner of Ally HR Partners LLC

It probably doesn’t take much thought to remember the pain associated with a past hiring mistake – the daily struggle of carrying someone that was just not a fit.

From a skills gap issue, to an abrasive personality, to just being totally unreliable, there are many ways that one person’s less than ideal, or even bad behavior can quickly become a detriment to your business. Although this issue is all-to-common, and hiring is certainly not a science, there are some easy adjustments that can be made to the selection process to reduce the likelihood of repeating the same error in the future.  

Of course this process starts with first identifying what exactly the “right” person looks like for your role, by thoroughly scoping out the job qualifications, and attributes someone needs to be successful from both a job and culture standpoint. For more information on this, see a previous piece on this subject, as well as some of our “Unfiltered HR” videos that touch on these subjects. 

Assuming you’ve done this homework, and have a set of relevant and helpful topics to cover in your interview, here we focus on tips for how to interview better. These tips are applicable for each hire you make, regardless of the role, to make it more likely you will weed out the imposters, and select the real best person for you, and without getting into any legal trouble. These tips can (and should) be used by people throughout the interview process in your organization, from phone screen stage to the final meeting. 

  1. Don’t ask anything illegal. Most basically, anyone involved in the interview process should understand what they can and can’t ask about- and this list is growing. Strictly off limit topics now include asking about salary history, and medical issues. Other topics to avoid include those about military service, criminal history, or basically anything that is not job-related (think protected classes). If information is volunteered outside the scope of what is relevant to job qualifications- great! Otherwise, avoid the subjects and be careful about follow-up questions if info is volunteered. When information is exchanged that is potentially protected from any kind of discrimination standpoint, you risk future claims that your hiring decision was based on that information instead of the person’s qualifications for the role. 
  1. Talk Less! If you’re talking more than the candidate, you’re doing it wrong. The point is to get them to reveal as much info as possible about them, good and bad, so that you can make the most educated decision on whether they are a fit. If you are taking most of the short time slot to tell them about you, you are wasting precious minutes that could be spent learning about them. Sure, part of the recruiting process is about selling your role, your Company, and your opportunity, and you certainly should and can do this, but save it for the end. Let them give their honest answers without any hint of what you might want to hear, then build rapport and a positive experience with the candidate to get them excited about working for you. 
  1. Ask better questions. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, so situational questions are very helpful in demonstrating whether someone will do what you need. Avoid yes/no questions and instead ask in a way that requires the candidate to give you specific examples and explanations (proof) on how they’ve done something in the past that they may need to do in the future for you (Tell me about a time when…). Also, make sure that you’re not asking the question in a way that is leading them to give the answer you want vs. what an outcome with them really looks like. For example, ask about a time they faced a challenge in their role, vs. a time they overcame a challenge in their role. How they choose to answer is just as telling as the answer itself, and if someone chooses a scenario where they failed, blamed others, or gave up, vs. one where the challenge was an opportunity that they then were able to overcome, that reveals a lot about how they are likely to respond to a challenge in your business if hired. Give them the opportunity to give you an answer you like and one you don’t like. Both are helpful for your decision making. 
  1. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Remember, the main purpose for the interview is to learn as much about the candidate as possible- and that means getting them to reveal as much as possible. Whether it’s gaps of silence, the candidate’s clear discomfort about a question, or interview nerves, don’t give in and back off questions or fill in the silence. It can be uncomfortable to put someone in the “hot seat” and sit back, but jumping in to avoid discomfort- on their part or even yours- will potentially rob you of the chance to get real, complete information that only discomfort can provide. Sit back, listen, and then ask follow-up questions when an answer is unclear, incomplete, or is of concern. This is your one shot to get as much information as possible. Think of the candidate like a bag of tea- the best way to tell what’s inside is putting them in some hot water. 
  1. Use the buddy system. My personal favorite way to interview is using the buddy system. There are a couple advantages to this. One, you are automatically more comfortable having an ally in the room. It also takes some heat off one person to be listening, taking notes, and preparing for the next question all at the same time, allowing for a better flow throughout the interview. This also gives you two sets of ears and eyes to better identify red flags, since two people will be listening and offering perspective on each answer, instead of just one. Finally, using this method, one person can act as the “good cop” and the other as the “bad cop”. One can press the candidate a bit harder with follow up questions, etc. while the other provides more feedback and encouragement on answers, allowing for more rapport and comfort to develop, which could also promote the candidate to reveal more to that person. 

Like we said before, hiring is and never will be a science. This being said, spending some time up front to understand who and what you need, and then using these interview tips to better investigate which of your candidates is most likely to meet this need, sure can help you reduce your error rate. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is EM-Headshot-731x1024.jpg

Have a question about this information, a tough situation you’re unsure how to handle, or just looking for some reassurance? We can help! Ally HR Partners helps HR people, business owners, and other people leaders who are overwhelmed or unsure tackle their problems, and strategically plan to prevent them in the future! Reach us at

This post was written by Emily Martin, Owner of Ally HR Partners LLC, a Buffalo-based HR consulting firm that helps small businesses identify and implement custom solutions to their people problems and opportunities. Often a business’ #1 expense, Ally HR Partners believes your people should be your #1 asset. Through an integrative partnership approach, Ally becomes your internal expert on all things HR including compliance assurance, performance management, and strategic HR initiatives designed to make the most out of your Human Capital. For more information about how Ally can work for you, visit

<a href="" target="_self">Step Out Buffalo Business</a>

Step Out Buffalo Business

Step Out Buffalo Business is a business focused publication featuring tips and tricks for entrepreneurs and small business people in Buffalo & Western New York. We write what we know and when we don't know, we ask an expert in the field. We've gained our knowledge through experience growing businesses in various industries.

Subscribe to Our Blog

Stay up to date with the latest marketing and business tips in Buffalo & WNY from the Step Out Buffalo team and beyond.

Step Out Buffalo Business Newsletter

More Posts You'll Love

The Biggest 2021 Holiday Marketing Trends You Need to Know Now

The Biggest 2021 Holiday Marketing Trends You Need to Know Now

Photo courtesy of Spaghetti & Meatballs Like it or not, the holiday season is right around the corner. While we’ll still be expecting the same lake effect snow that we know and (sometimes) love here in Buffalo, this year will obviously look a little bit different...

Leveraging Step Out Buffalo