“Let me tell you why our company is so great.”

That was the number one mistake I made during the interviewing process. I’ve come to learn it’s incredibly common.

And I think I finally found the reason: Insecurity.

number one interview mistake small-business leaders make
The number one mistake small business leaders make in interviews has an interesting root.
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Insecurity is a very strong, and perhaps offensive, word to small business leaders, but that is the reason I spent so much time selling our company to potential hires rather than making them sell themselves to me.

Here is what the typical interview looked like early on:

Me: Tell me what you know about our company?

Interviewee: Well I read a little on the site and Joe told me that you guys are growing fast, but honestly, not much else.

Me: OK, let’s forget the fact that you hardly did any research on us, and allow me to tell you our story. We started in the garage and…

22 minutes later…

Me: But enough about us, I’ve got a few minutes before my next sales call to learn about you. Are you completely literate in the English language?

Interviewee: I believe so.

Me: Great. We’ll be in touch soon.

Interview analysis: Well, he did have a pulse and his handshake was firm and Joe says all kinds of nice things about him. Let’s give him a chance!

No doubt by the end of the interview I had calmed all of his fears about working for our small business, but what had I done to calm my own fears about hiring him? Nothing.

I was insecure about where we stood in the business world. As a small business leader of a merry band of ten, with less than $2 million in sales, I could spout off all of the ways we couldn’t stand up against the competition:

  • No health insurance
  • No 401(k)
  • No fancy office furniture
  • No company-provided meals
  • No prestige
  • No office ping-pong table (gasp!)
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And on and on and on.

My insecurity led to some really bad hires that could have been completely avoided. Thankfully we were very blessed to accidentally hire some amazing people too.

The hiring process should be lengthy and difficult for a potential team member. Be confident in your company and don’t try to sell it to them, at least not early on. There will eventually be a time for that…it’s called the offer. You may miss out on some good people because you made it too difficult and while scary, that is OK. You will also avoid hiring some nut jobs.

Be secure. Believe in what you are doing. Make the interviewee be the one doing the selling. Take your time with the process and if there is any doubt about a potential hire, don’t pull the trigger until you are absolutely sure. That might mean another interview with you or with another person or another phone call, whatever it takes to be sure. You’ll be glad you did.

SPECIAL NOTE: It was Chris Hogan’s answer on the EntreLeadership Podcast (click here to listen to the episode) to a question I had about the hiring process that led me to this discovery. Without his answer, I would still struggle with insecurity. Thank you Chris!

How has insecurity hurt you in the hiring or interview process?

13 thoughts on “The Number One Interviewing Mistake Small Business Leaders Make

  1. Joshua Rivers says:

    Great post, Matt! That was a great podcast, too (so, thank you Chris Hogan and Chris LoCurto). I’m not in a position of hiring, but these are definitely great principles. I’ve had some interviews where it was mostly them telling me something or just chit-chat about various things. Too bad you made this realization, though, because I was about to sign up for a free ride into your company 🙂

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      HAHA Joshua!

      Thankfully I am not hiring right now…but I am doing the EntreLeader thing and planning out the possibilities for next year already. That’s new. No more “oh crap, we need a such-and-such.” Now I try to think of who I MIGHT need at some point in the future and budget time and money.

  2. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone on-and-on while interviewing someone. I’m with you, you should really make it hard to join your team. I like to hire for attitude and you have to do a bunch of interviews to get at that.

  3. Bret Wortman says:

    I’ve seen this from the other side more than I’ve experienced it as an interviewer. More times than I care to think of, I’ve spent the majority of my interview being sold, and if it’s one of those afternoons when I’m interviewing for an hour with four different people, then I get sold four different times with the same pitch, which I have to be polite and sit through. Yikes!

    About the only exception was my interview at Amazon. It started something like this with the first person:

    “Hi, I’m Joe from the umptyfrotz team and … you know what we do here, right?”

    “Um, yeah.”

    “Good. So what I need for you to do is grab a whiteboard marker and sketch out an algorithm for how you’d approach developing an email system that would send four kinds of messages….”

    In the future, this is definitely something to keep in mind. Do a quick assessment of how much they know about my company, and then move on to assessing their skills. Skip the sales pitch for later in the process if I decide they’re someone I really want on the team.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Love it Bret!

      I have not tested this yet, but I almost wonder if the “how great we are” part should come from someone else in the organization, i.e. “I’ve worked here 3 years and this is why we’er great.”

      Kind of like a political candidate…you want the compliments coming from others, not the candidate himself.

  4. Todd Liles says:

    Insecurity makes you disparate. No quality candidate finds that sexy. Confidence is the way to go.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      HAHA never thought of it like that! Well said Todd.

  5. Jon Stolpe says:

    I was at our annual manager’s meeting last week in Boston. One of the workshops was about interviewing. I’ve interviewed more than a hundred candidates for different positions. Generally, I think I do a pretty good job in the interviewing process, but I definitely learned some things. It’s important to keep your interviewing skills to represent your company well and to find the best candidates. We owe it to our companies and our potential employees.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      You know Jon, you just made me think: “I had done more than 100 interviews and still struggled with this (insecurity). How could that be?”

      100 interviews seems like a lot. By then, one should be a master interviewer.

      And then it struck me…I had to hit over 1,000,000 golf balls before I was even close to “mastering” it. I shot probably more than 200,000 basketballs before high school and I wasn’t even good enough to make the freshman team. Baseball players may hit more than 1,000,000 balls and never even make the minor leagues.

      So…what is 100 interviews? A good start I guess..

      1. Jon Stolpe says:

        A good start indeed. I have an interview coming up next week. Your post will be great encouragement!

  6. Dan Black says:

    I know in the past insecurity has effected my confidence during an interview. The lack of confidence held me back from effectively selling myself to the potential employer. I have found being self aware, my association, and having a support system in place beneficial to not being defeated by insecurity.

    I have a post coming out on Wednesday about the negative effects of insecurity and how to overcome it. Great minds think a like:)

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      It certainly works the other way too like you point out.

      Send me the link on Wednesday please, in case I miss it. I would love to read it!

  7. Chance Smith says:

    Yeah Dave Ramsey mentions that he used to do this. It is hard not to brag on your accomplishments Yet, we do use this moment to boost our self esteems. Great example and reminder, thanks!

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