Five Tips That Go Beyond The Resume When Hiring


Everyone knows how to write a resume, or knows someone who can. I think everyone can remember putting together their first resume, trying to emphasize the important life skills they learned working part time at the local movie theater or spending their Summers as a camp counselor while in school. With a little creativity and writing savvy, anyone can make even their most meager experiences into a journey of personal insights and understanding. I once had a friend who listed on his resume that he was a customer service rep at “The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company”. He was actually a part time cashier at “The A&P” while in high school. See what I mean?


If you are a small business owner, the hiring process can be one of the most daunting tasks you will have to do, but it may be the most important. The people who you employ to represent you and you're business can either make or break you, so give the hiring process the time and importance it deserves. Here are five things to look for in a potential candidate that go beyond just reading the resume.

Always ask for a cover letter. Generic resumes can be created and mass mailed without much thought or effort. When posting for a position, always require a detailed cover letter along with the resume. A detailed cover letter is where the applicant actually acknowledges that they are applying for a position with your company and a brief explanation as to why they think they are a fit for the position. Be cautious of generic cover letters that do not mention the name of the business or the actual position that is being applied for. An applicant who is too lazy to customize their cover letter for you will most likely be the lazy employee that will drive you crazy as a business owner.

Start with a phone conversation. Before you schedule a face to face interview, find out how the applicant sounds on the phone. Do they sound pleasant? Do they speak clearly and can articulate themselves? Don't worry too much about what questions you ask them, the goal is to get them talking and to see if this sounds like a person who you think could represent you and the business. If all goes well, schedule an in person interview.

Look at how the applicant behaves before the interview starts. Any applicants that have passed the cover letter and phone interview stages are ready for an in person interview. The interview starts before, and extends after the actual sit down, so be sure to pay attention to the following:

  • Is the applicant on time. Being on time is very important. Sometimes things happen, maybe the applicant got lost or had car trouble but if they act like it's no big deal or they do not acknowledge being late, they most likely see tardiness as no big deal.

  • First impressions. Make sure you watch the applicant as they enter the business. Are they smiling? Are they dressed appropriately? Do they introduce themselves to the other employees or do they walk right past them? All good signs into a person's personality and potential fit for your business.

Ask the right questions to get the right answers. The in person interview is the time to ask detailed questions about the applicant and to verify information listed on their resume. The goal of the interview is to see if the applicant is a personality fit as well as finding out if they have the skills to perform the job. Ask open ended questions and try to get the applicant to do most of the talking. The more you can get an applicant to talk the more likely they will reveal their true selves. Some sample questions I like to ask are:

  • What do you know about our business? I like to see if the applicant spent some time finding out about our business and what we do. It shows that they are proactive and really interested in this position. If you do not have an online presence it may be difficult for the applicant to do this research. You could even email some information about you're company to them when you schedule the interview and see if they took the time to review it.

  • What do you think you can bring to the our business? After giving a brief overview of the business and the company culture I like to ask this question. I'm looking to see how well they articulate themselves and to also see what they think their strengths are.

  • You said you are______, can you give a specific example of how you are ____? Resumes are loaded with buzzwords like “Exceptional Communication Skills” and “Highly Organized”. Anyone can write this on their resume, I’m looking to see if they actually are. If a person says they are highly organized, they should be able to give a specific example of how they are organized. If they really struggle to find an example then you can probably say that it may not actually be a strong point of theirs, just something they thought sounded good.

  • What do you like to do with you're free time? I like this question because you can really find out what someone is really like and what they are passionate about. Do they like to sit on a couch all weekend and watch tv? Do they like to travel and experience new things? Do they like to write? You may be interviewing for a customer service position but you may also have just found the person to start the business blog you keep putting off.

After the interview. After the interview is over I will ask the other employees what they thought of the candidate. It's a good idea to get their opinions as they will be the ones working with the new employee. Though they will not make the final decision, they should have a role in the hiring process. They can also give you a different insight or tell you something they noticed about the applicant that you didn't.

So here are five additional tips that will help you go beyond the basic resume and to make a more informed hiring decision. It can be tempting to rush through the hiring process, especially when you are desperate, but do take the time required as it can be the most important decision you make for your business. What tips do you have when hiring a new employee?

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CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.
12 replies
  1. William
    William says:

    I am expanding my business and so is my online website. I really appreciate your time in giving tips since I can use them to hire the right person. Thanks a lot.

  2. Jules
    Jules says:

    Before I started with my business, my last boss asked for a cover letter. This is the first step in making a big impression. I agree cover letters should be personalized and make sure to analyze them properly.

  3. Argie
    Argie says:

    I always make sure to watch for the good signs on their final interview with me. I have my own list as these are the factors I am looking for in an employee. This make a signifcant factor if I will hire them or not.

  4. Oliver
    Oliver says:

    Thanks for the list of questions to ask an applicant. We actually tried it earlier today and I got pretty amazing results. I will share this magnificent site to all.

  5. June
    June says:

    I love asking applicants about what they do during their free time. It makes them talk about themselves and be comfortable during the interview process. I would like to try some of your ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Vince
    Vince says:

    Our interview process includes 2 other employees who sit down with us. They take down notes too of what they think of the candidate. Then we collaborate on their thoughts. This is very effective way of hiring the right person.

  7. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    I have learned my lesson when we tried to rush the hiring process. We kept losing people that were not qualified at all and lose a lot of precious time. If we want to be productive, let us not rush the hiring process. We need to start right and solid so things will go on smoothly at work.

  8. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    Hiring can be the most important thing a business owner can do, you can’t rush it and you have to be very selective in who you hire. Having a hiring plan in place will help keep you focused.

  9. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    In many ways the cover letter is much more important than the actual resume. Take your time with your cover letter and show that you have really researched the business

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