Past success is a good indicator of future promise, so it’s no wonder that many employers look for candidates with experience in the role they’re trying to fill, even if the functions of those roles are easily trained. If you’re in that boat right now, you might rethink your requirements -- entry-level hires can be game-changers for your business. They’re often eager to please and learn, and can be more adaptable to your way of doing things than a more senior candidate -- giving you the opportunity to mold them into a model employee.
But how do you make a good bet when you don’t have job history to assess? And how do you ask good questions to get a handle on who you’re hiring?
An entry-level interview should focus more on qualities that would make someone successful in the role. Start by articulating those qualities. Hiring a server for your restaurant? You’re likely looking for someone who is good at communicating, reliable, and has a strong sense of urgency is likely going to be successful. Need an administrative assistant? You probably want someone organized, unflappable, and attentive to detail. Looking for someone to work the sales floor at your retail shop? There’s a good chance you want a good conversationalist who is good at organizing and multi-tasking.
For some of these, the interview process can be a decent test of raw skills. Someone who shows up punctually for interviews and responds quickly to emails is likely fairly reliable. A notetaker or someone who shows up with a list of questions is likely detail-oriented. Push this further: If you need someone who has strong writing skills, ask them a question via email that requires a fairly lengthy response. If you need someone who’s comfortable on the phone, make part of the interview a phone interview.
For the rest of your desired qualities, devise questions that probe for them. We’ve put together a few examples:
To test for organization: Tell me about how you manage your schedule and your email inbox.
Organized candidates will have a system. You can probe for details of that system to get an understanding of how they keep from missing important things.
To test for time management: What was your last big deadline? How did you make sure you met it?
You’re testing for two things here -- one, what is the candidate’s reaction to the idea of a deadline? And two, how do they organize their time during a big project? If you need someone good at managing their time, you want someone who works to deadlines and meets them.
To test for a sense of urgency: Tell me about a goal that you set and then achieved. How did you know when you’d achieved the goal? What steps did you take to achieve it?
It doesn’t matter what goal the candidate gives you here -- you’re looking for someone who worked diligently toward accomplishing something.
To test for a customer service sensibility: Tell me about the most difficult conversation you’ve ever had to have with a peer and how you handled it.
You know your service requirements, so you know how you’d prefer employees to interact with their peers or customers -- but this question will give you insight into emotional intelligence and diplomatic skills.
To test for coachability: Tell me about a mentor or teacher who has taught you something new. What about their style helped you learn?
Highly coachable candidates may bring up asking for or incorporating feedback to achieve success.
To test for team orientation: Tell me about the last group project you worked on.
Team-oriented candidates will be able to explain how they worked with others to finish something -- if you want a team player, it’s the working with others part that’s key. A candidate who took over is probably not a fit.
To test for resilience: Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. How did you bounce back?
All employees make mistakes. How they answer this could reveal how they’ll respond once they do.
To test for attention to detail: How do you check your work for errors?
Candidates who are attentive to detail will often describe a fairly rigorous self-editing system.
Finally, don’t discount the role-play in any interview, especially not in an entry-level interview. If you have a specific situation you know this hiree is going to have to perform, act it out. You’ll get a sense of how the candidate tackles customer service, stress, and thinking on their toes, and you’ll get a reasonable picture of their ability to communicate in the functions of the job.