Hiring can make or break your business – it’s that important.

Given the expense of replacing an employee, and the impact that a single employee can make on a small business, hiring the wrong applicant is a very expensive mistake.  To minimize this possibility, it goes without saying that you should carefully examine the resume and track record of each applicant you’re considering, including contacting his or her references and previous employers.  But beyond the obvious fact-checking, conducting an effective interview can help you separate the good applicants from the mediocre.  Below are three tips to ensure that you’re getting the insight you need from an interview:

Go beyond experience. Experience can be misleading.  The specific demands of your available position require specific skills.  It’s entirely possible than an applicant with years of experience in your industry could be outperformed by a recent college graduate who happens to have the right specific skills for the position.  So identify the characteristics that will lead to success in the position you’re hiring for.  Then, ask applicants to recount instances from their past in which they have utilized those specific skills.  For instance, if you value creative thinking, you may ask an applicant for a customer service position to recount a situation in which he or she thought outside-the-box in order to satisfy an unhappy customer.  Conversely, if you expect your employees to stick to your established procedures, ask about an instance in which the applicant was able to stick to a previous company’s policy despite pressure to deviate from the rules.

Identify their level of enthusiasm and commitment.  Why is the applicant seeking a job with your company?  Are they simply looking for any job they can find, or is there something about your available position that they are attracted to?  An employee who is genuinely interested in their job is infinitely more valuable than the employee whose commitment runs only as deep as securing their next paycheck.  Ask them simply why they want the job… you’ll get great insight from their answer.

Get a preview of their performance. There is nothing more discouraging than conducting a long search process, finally settling on somebody, and then discovering within the first week that they can’t get the job done.  There are great people out there who simply do things differently than you do—so get a look at the way they do things.  Give them a scenario, and ask them to talk you through their approach to solving the problem.  Make sure they describe their organizational process, their approach to communication, and their response to unexpected challenges.  By identifying as many of their tendencies as possible, you should be able to weed out applicants who may be well qualified but simply don’t approach things the way that you need them to.

Hiring your next employee is a big deal.  Make sure you take your time, conduct your due diligence, and learn as much as possible about each applicant before you make a decision.