The Most Important, Most Overlooked Hiring Question

The Most Important, Most Overlooked Hiring Question
by Ray Silverstein

Good news: it seems like more small business owners are shifting into hiring mode. That’s a good thing for everyone.

Now, the bad news. Many small business owners don’t really know how to hire the best candidate. And making a bad hiring choice is one of the most costly mistakes an entrepreneur can make. Consider the recruitment costs, training costs, and lost opportunity costs incurred when an employee fails.

In my experience, most small business owners dread the hiring process. So they adopt a classic HR-type approach, focusing on background, skills, and experience. They come up with tricky questions to pose to applicants.

Background, skills, and experience are important, to be sure. But they are not the most important thing. So what’s the #1 factor that drives a new hire’s ultimate success or failure?

What are the applicant’s core values…and do they match our company’s?

Think about it. Skills can be sharpened. Knowledge can be acquired. Processes can be learned. But the kind of person you are in your heart isn’t likely to change. If you hire someone who’s competent but doesn’t share your values, you’re almost predestined to part ways down the line.

For example, if your company prides itself on its ethical dealing with customers, you can’t accept an employee who places profits or efficiency over quality service. An employee who takes shortcuts when he can get away with it isn’t the kind of employee you can build your business on.

Or, maybe it’s the other way around. It’s not about right or wrong here. It’s about ensuring a good match. It means recognizing your core values, and asking applicants to share theirs.

Say, you’re hiring an office manager, and work/life balance is one of your priorities. Or, conversely, maybe getting the job done is, at any cost. Either way, wouldn’t it be good to know what a candidate would do if forced to choose between staying to push a key project out the door or attending his/her child’s big recital?

When you’re making your list of interview questions, include some that start with:
What would you do if…
Did you ever have to choose between…
What matters more to you…

…and address the issues that matter most to you.

And consider this. When an employee gives notice, many small business owners view it as a blow, a setback. But it’s also an opportunity to raise the bar. Focusing on the core values that ground your business is one way to ensure that your human assets are in fact…assets.

Interested in raising your HR IQ? Request my Human Assets Worksheet at

Email me at to find out more about working with PRO Peer Advisory groups to find out more about the numbers and what is behind them.

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About Ray Silverstein

RAY SILVERSTEIN is an entrepreneur, author and speaker revered for his high business intellect and ability to communicate meaningful and practical concepts to those wishing to achieve success in business. As the President of Peer Advisory Training and President’s Resource Organization (PRO), he is instrumental in creating breakthrough moments for executives wrestling with an assortment of personal and organizational issues. Ray describes himself in metaphorical terms as both a corporate chiropractor, one who helps straighten out businesses and a corporate farmer, one who provides the corporate fertilizer that helps business grow. He currently presides over seven peer advisory groups in Chicago and Phoenix.

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