Interviewing for a Skill Set You Don’t Have

Business coaching concept. Young woman being interviewed for a job.

“How do you interview for a skill set you don’t have yourself?” I was asked this question the other day by the owner of a machine shop with 50 employees. While this is a common dilemma for small business owners, most every manager faces it at one time or another. Over the past 25 years, I’ve seen a variety of approaches, but here are three that work well.

Hire out the process. Non-financial types, for instance, may know how to read a profit-and-loss statement or general ledger, but that doesn’t mean they can construct one. If you need to hire a bookkeeper, for instance, ask your accountant to participate in the screening. Begin by meeting with this person to discuss the skill set needed, experience desired, and the essential questions that need to be asked. You might even construct some sort of assessment that applicants will have to complete.

When resumes start coming in, begin by reviewing them yourself against the attributes you’ve established in advance. At this point, you might also conduct an initial screening to assess how well applicants might match with your work environment. (Note: If you choose to use placement firms, executive recruiters and/or on-line services, be wary of promises that they will only send you qualified candidates.)

After the initial screening, arrange to have your accountant meet with each applicant who appears to be a good match for the environment. Once he or she has completed this task sit down to discuss the outcome. Remember, however, that this person should serve as a consultant not the final decision maker.

This same approach can work for any position requiring a specialized skill set – engineering, design, software, etc. If you don’t have someone on staff who possesses the desired knowledge, seek out a local professional. It should go without saying that any specialists you consult should be compensated for their time and expertise. But it’s far better to spend $1000 to ensure a successful hire than $50,000 on a mistake that disrupts your business.

Seek out internal assistance. An alternative to the above is asking those working for you to assist with the screening. One of the surprising facts about today’s workforce is that many of those employed possess an expertise for which they were not hired. You might be surprised who offers their help when you reach out for assistance in screening.

Reach out to the industry association. A final alternative is to contact the local trade group of the skill set you are seeking to hire. In a few cases, this information might be available on the organization’s website. In most cases, however, it is best to call the executive director and explain your need. Once again, you will need to compensate the person providing assistance, but it will be well worth the expense.

Employee selection is too crucial a task not to seek out the best help to make sure you’re hiring the best.

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