Ask VERY Specific Questions

You can get a good idea of how someone will perform by asking very specific questions. You want to know how they’ll handle different situations that come up.

For example, if you’re hiring for an Office Manager position, here are some questions to ask:

  • A customer is complaining about their service to the person at the Front Desk. What do you do? Do you let this staff member deal with it or do you walk over and try to sort it out yourself?
  • One of your juniors is telling you that the owner is being unfair about salaries and schedules. How do you handle this? Do you inform the owner?
  • Your paycheck comes and you were overpaid by two hours. Do you simply put in for two hours less on the next paycheck, or do you let payroll know of the error? Do you inform the owner?

If you’re hiring someone to do collections for you, consider asking these questions:

  • How often would you contact the customer (or insurance company) when collecting on a bill of, say, $100?
  • If the bill were greater, would you change how frequently you call?
  • If the customer gets angry, what’s your strategy to get things simmered down?
  • How can you tell if the customer has little to no intention of ever paying the bill? How would you handle this?

Describe as many situations as you can with your prospective employees and then ask how would they handle each one. This will give you a clue to future performance.

Who Do They Think Is Successful?

Our major premise at The Employee Testing Center is:

“The more you know about someone BEFORE you hire them, the better your hiring decision will be.”

Many of these Hiring Tips discuss ways of finding out how the prospective employee would handle various work situations. We’ve also looked a bit more into the prospective employee’s personality. Both of these areas give us good information to help with the hiring decision.

Another question that you might consider asking is:

“Who do you think is very successful in life?”

If they ask you what do you mean by “successful,” you could reword the question to:

  • Who do you admire?
  • Whose opinion do you respect?

You’re basically looking for a person (or people) that your prospective employee admires or respects.

Ask the person to elaborate on why they admire a particular person (or persons).

The person may mention a world leader; or the person may admire a celebrity; or perhaps a parent or teacher. The person may be somone who has made major contributions, or it may be someone who is in the press for all the “wrong” reasons.

There’s no guarantee this line of questioning will be fruitful, but it may uncover a nice insight for you that will help you make your hiring decision.

How Does Your Applicant View the Future?

A great variety of questions can be asked during the hiring interview. In the following examples, you want the applicant to give you an idea of what the future looks like:

  • What do you see as growth potential for you personally with our company?
  • Where would you like to be in six months with our company? In one year?
  • Do you feel working for us is a stepping stone for something more important to you in the future? If so, tell me your thoughts on this.

Some applicants have not thought much about “the future” with a new company. Some are looking no further than to be gainfully employed, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But some have a very definite vision of where they’d like to be and how much of a contributor they can be for you.

The above questions, and others like them, will provide some great insights into this area.

Note: I was asked not too long ago what “gainful” meant in terms of gainful employment. I have to admit I had to look it up in the dictionary. “Gainful” employment is work for which one is paid.

How Would They Feel About Being Paid Too Much?

I’ve always wondered something about professional athletes. This happens in some sports more than others, so let me set the scene for you.

A football player agrees to a five-year contract for ten million dollars. After the third year, he feels he’s worth more, and he wants to re-negotiate his contract. His first three years were superb. He had excellent statistics and he feels he should “get a raise” now. So he informs management he wants to be paid more than the amount agreed upon in the contract.

Let’s say it gets to the point where he’s actually demanding more money. He puts it simply to management:

“Revise my contract and pay me more, or I’ll sit out and not play at all.”

Management responds with:

“We think the world of you and we’ll be more than happy to negotiate a new contract when your current one ends in two years. However, we’d like you to fulfill your agreement for the next two years.”

Now, let’s say our player decides not to play (which does happens in the sports world), and he doesn’t come in to practice either. He has basically told the team, “You want me to come to practice and get ready for the upcoming season, then pay me the additional money that I believe I’m worth.”

This is a very interesting scenario. The football player has signed his name to a five-year contract and has agreed to play for five years for ten million dollars. After three years, he’s performed really well and he has helped the team.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Well, from where I stand, there are two things to consider here:

1) First of all, our guy signed a contract. He made an agreement to play for five years at a particular salary. Now he feels he’s worth more and very possibly is, but he did make an agreement. He signed this agreement. What are agreements worth these days?

2) While you’re thinking that over, let’s also consider this next point. What if our player had performed poorly for the first three years? What if his performance was nowhere near what was expected of him? What if it was common knowledge that he was being grossly overpaid? Does this player step forward and say to management, “Guys, you trusted me with a five-year contract and ten million dollars to perform at a certain level, and I know that I haven’t come close to that level. I would like to be paid less for the two remaining years on my contract. Or I’d like to return some of the money you’ve paid me so far because I don’t feel I’ve honestly earned it.”

Whoah! Now that’s an extraordinary communication to receive from a professional athlete or really from anyone in the business world.

But should it really be that extraordinary?

Why is it okay for our football player to stop working altogether and demand that management give him more money when he has agreed, in writing, to give his very best for five full years? At the end of those five years, he and the team can certainly get together and discuss the future.

When someone is under contract to do X, why is it okay for this person to cast the validity of the contract aside when he feels he deserves more BUT, if he performs poorly, the idea of paying some back or getting less isn’t really an option?

That was a long-winded sentence, but you get the idea.

And how is all of this a “hiring tip”? Well, you might consider presenting the above scenarios to a potential staff prospect. Ask them to consider both scenarios: having performed much greater than expectations and also far less than expectations. Ask them for their views on the two scenarios.

This may produce some valuable insights for you.

Hiring and the Law – Do I Need an Employment Contract?

Devora L. Lindeman, Esq., Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, is providing us with insight and information regarding the hiring process. Ms. Lindeman is a management-side employment lawyer and has exclusively represented managers and companies in federal and state agencies and courts with regard to their labor and employment needs for many years.

Questions addressed to Ms. Lindeman may be addressed in this column.

Hiring and the Law
By Devora L. Lindeman, Esq.*

Question: I’m hiring a new employee. Do I need an employment contract?

Answer: Probably not.  Unless the new hire is a senior executive with a complex compensation package and, perhaps, a “golden parachute” (a type of severance arrangement), or other similar guarantees, your company would probably be better off not having employment contracts with your employees.

Often, the employment contracts I see are trying to do the job of an employee handbook and an offer letter combined.  For example, sometimes the contract sets forth information regarding company policy that the employee is expected to abide by and also includes employee benefits.  The company would be better protected with an employee handbook that provides the company policy and the benefits being offered at the time the handbook is published. This handbook would of course be distributed to all employees.

If the company has included individual employee benefits in the employee contracts, but then wants to change a benefit (or if, for example, the insurance company changes the health insurance policy and/or insurance premiums required), the company will need to change each individual contract for the employees affected.  There also could be issues raised if an employee refuses to sign a new contract and demands the old benefits, but the company is not in a position to provide them.  It is better for the company to have such global employment policy and benefit issues addressed through a general employee handbook that is applicable to everyone.  Employee handbooks should be able to be changed whenever the employer desires to do so.

An offer letter is a better vehicle to use to set forth the basic terms and conditions of employment—start date, base compensation, eligibility for bonuses or commissions, etc.  If the employee is going to receive commissions, a separate commission agreement may be advisable.  If the company is concerned about confidentiality, non-competition and non-solicitation of employees and/or clients/customers, a separate agreement containing these “restrictive covenants” is called for.  If a company is going to use an employee contract or agreement, it should be based around these restrictions, not the employee’s employment, generally.

The offer letter should be conditioned upon the employee signing any other types of agreements, usually on the employee’s first day of work.  The offer of employment also should be conditioned upon passing any physical exam the employer requires for people entering that new hire’s position, or upon passing any required drug test, as well as upon the employee’s ability to demonstrate his or her eligibility to work in the U.S.

Additionally, employees in the U.S. should be hired at will.  That means that the employment relationship exists as long as the employee and employer “will it”—as long as they want it to exist.  If an employee is at will, when the employee wants to leave, he or she can quit.  When the employer doesn’t want the employee to work for the company any more, the employer can let the employee go.  Employment contracts are often structured with certain durations, for a term of a number of years.  Including an expected duration of the term of employment destroys an employee’s at will status—which can be vital for the company to maintain.  Employees who are employed at will have no duration for the term of their employment.  It lasts as long as the employer and employee both want it to.

Thus, there are a number of pit falls with utilizing employment contracts with your employees.  If you determine that you want to do so for your business, it is probably a good idea to have it reviewed by a management side employment lawyer familiar with the law where your business is located.  That will ensure that you have not inadvertently included any provisions in the contract that could be counter to the company’s interests and be more trouble than they are worth in the long run.

*Ms. Lindeman is a Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, a law firm that exclusively represents businesses in all aspects of labor and employment law.  These columns are intended to be general information regarding the topic discussed and are not to be considered legal advice regarding a specific situation. Contact a management-side employment attorney familiar with the law of your jurisdiction for specific advice.  Ms. Lindeman is admitted to practice law in NY and NJ and may be contacted at  She is under no obligation to respond to reader inquiries personally, but may answer general employment law questions through this column.

© 2011 Greenwald Doherty.  May not be reprinted without permission.

How Important is YOUR Willingness?

Now that’s an interesting question. And it begs two more questions:

Why should you be concerned about your willingness? Aren’t we focused here on the applicant and what he or she can bring to the table?

Both very good questions. And yes, ordinarily we are interested in the skills and qualities of the prospective employee.

But let’s say someone shows up to work for you and they have a great résumé. Their skill set is ideal for the position. But during the interview, they say something that rubs you the wrong way. You get a bit miffed, maybe even offended.

For some of us making hiring decisions, that’s the end of that potential employee. And that may be a good decision. You certainly don’t want to get started with someone you don’t think you can get along with.

But let’s look at this example a bit more. What if the bothersome thing that was said (or done) was simply a misunderstanding? What if your applicant had no intention whatsoever to offend you?

If your willingness is high, then instead of getting offended (or staying offended) you keep moving through the hiring process. You can, and most likely should, take up the point that caused an upset for you and see how it was intended. It could clear up right then and there.

But, for some, they might not be willing to do this. Applicant says/does something they disapprove of, applicant goes home. And that applicant may have been a real gem had they been given the chance.

All I’m really saying here is this: your willingness can be a factor in the hiring process. Keep it as high as you can and you’ll have a better shot at hiring great staff.

How Important is Willingness?

Think about your current staff. Do you have someone who displays a very high level of willingness? Someone who will do just about anything you ask and will do so with a smile?

When you consider people in your business (and in your personal life), how do you feel about people who are extremely willing to get things done.

I know how I feel. I love working (and living) with people who are willing.

I’m not talking about people who simply want to get on your good side and are basically “sucking up” to you. I’m talking about folks who are genuinely willing to help out and don’t try to exact a cost from you for doing so.

How important is willingness? Well, let’s say you’re considering a new applicant who isn’t very experienced or perhaps doesn’t have the highest employee test scores. But you can see they are truly willing to learn and be a real asset to you and your business.

Do you take a chance?

Well, obviously each situation has its own unique set of circumstances, but if there is one quality I’d give an enormous amount of weight to, it’d be willingness.

You could hire such a person on a conditional basis and see how they pan out. If the willingness you saw in the interview is the real deal, and this new employee is a growing asset for you, then you made a good choice. If not, then having hired them conditionally prevents any great loss of time or training.

By the way, “willingness” is a two-way street. We’ve got the willingness of your applicants, your current staff, the people in your life and then we’ve got your willingness. We’ll talk about that in the next hiring tip.

Are They Willing to Go the Distance?

In an ideal world, your employees are willing to work super hard to get every detail of their work duties done to the very utmost of their capabilities.

In an ideal world.

In the real world, not every employee has a very high work ethic or a keen sense of loyalty to the company.

Some employees have a watchful eye on the clock come closing time. And when that time comes, they’re out the door as fast as possible.

Others may stay a bit longer and tidy up a bit, maybe take care of a few loose ends, but they’re not going to go that extra distance.

What “extra distance” are we talking about here?

We’re talking about the employee who wants the company to succeed and is willing to put a lot on the line to make that happen. I’m not talking about unpaid overtime here or unreasonable demands of your staff.

I’m talking about an employee who sees eye-to-eye with the purpose of the company and believes his success is, to a healthy degree, tied to the overall success of the company.

Now this person’s pay may not be directly connected to this overall success (or it may be) but the person just feels it’s appropriate to be a real player, a real contributor. This person sees that even the smallest details of his job need to get done so that his performance can have a significant impact on the company’s well being.

What does all of this have to do with hiring?

Good question!

During the hiring interview, you could ask the applicant a very simple, yet very direct question:

“What would it take for you to go the extra distance here?”

The applicant may ask you to clarify “extra distance” and you can use the information given in this hiring tip to provide more understanding of what you’re looking for.

This could be an extraordinary question to ask and get answered. You may find some applicants will have a hard time with this, others more than eager to answer up.

Either way, it could provide you with additional insight into your applicant’s world.

Should You Hire a Friend of Yours?

The answer is of course: Yes!

And the answer is of course: No!

If a major reason for hiring a friend or family member is their relationship with you, then this could cause problems for you up the line.

What if you find out this person doesn’t have the skills to do the job? What if you knew going in, they didn’t really have the proper skills for the job?

What if you discover this person doesn’t get along with your staff or worse, mistreats them because they “know” the boss?

What if you need to fire this person? Will this cause a rift between the two of you?

What if you need to fire this person and you don’t fire them because of your relationship? How will that affect other staff, who, by the way, are not dummies and can tell when someone is getting special treatment.

If you use the same hiring criteria with every new prospect and hire them based on their skills, experience and attitude, then you’ll get off on the right footing.

I realize there could be times when you “have to” hire a friend or family member, perhaps because of pressure from a family member or some personal need on your part to do so. If this does occur, and you know the person is NOT as qualified as someone else who competed for the job, then a little talk such as the following might help:

“Jason, you’re my wife’s brother and she is insistent I hire you and give you a shot. I love my wife and I think you’re a good guy. But I want to tell you upfront that you are not as qualified as others who have applied for this job, so I will hire you as long as you understand two things: 1) I will not be treating you any different than any other employee and 2) if things don’t work out, I will fire you just as I would any other employee. Please let me know you understand these points.”

Having that kind of conversation can be helpful if things don’t work out.

Oh, and I’d also tell the wife that you had the very same conversation.

Hiring and the Law – Hiring People With Disabilities

Devora L. Lindeman, Esq., Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, is providing us with insight and information regarding the hiring process. Ms. Lindeman is a management-side employment lawyer and has exclusively represented managers and companies in federal and state agencies and courts with regard to their labor and employment needs for many years.

Questions addressed to Ms. Lindeman may be addressed in this column.

Hiring and the Law
By Devora L. Lindeman, Esq.*

Question: I’m hiring customer service reps (“CSRs”) for our call center.  We hire pretty much anyone who reads and speaks English.  They need to read the necessary scripts and communicate with our customers.  A quadriplegic answered our ad and came to our office to fill out an application in his wheelchair.  He had a nice speaking voice, but we didn’t see how he could do the job, let alone fill out the application, so we thanked him and sent him on his way.  A colleague told me we should have interviewed him.  What should we have done?

Answer: Your colleague is correct.  When someone has a disability, you need to treat that applicant like any other.  You determine if the applicant has the skills, background and requirements you are looking for and whether he or she can perform all of the essential functions of the job.  You pre-screen for basic skills, background, education etc., by looking at a resume or job application for example, test where appropriate, and interview those with the basic requirements to see if they can do the job and are a cultural fit for your business.  You also may pre-screen out people for other reasons, such as they’ve indicated they want more money than you are paying for the position.  If it is an administrative position and their cover letter has typos, that application may also hit the circular file.

In this case, it seems like the only pre-screening is whether the applicant reads and speaks English.  If the quadriplegic applicant passed that preliminary requirement, he should have been moved to whatever your next application stage would be.

The disability discrimination laws generally preclude employers from making employment decisions because of an applicant or employee’s age, race, gender, religion etc.  However, employers can fail to hire a disabled applicant if the disability precludes the applicant from performing what are called the “essential functions of the job.”  Those are the functions the job exists to perform:  typists type; graphic artists design; project managers manage projects etc.  For example, the company can fail to hire the blind applicant for a truck driver position because of the applicant’s disability.  The essential function is driving and blind applicants can’t drive.  But, that same blind applicant may be perfectly competent to handle other positions.  A company would be discriminating against the applicant by presuming the applicant couldn’t perform another position where the relationship to the disability is not as obvious.  You need to look at each job and each applicant individually.

Companies are also required to provide “reasonable accommodations” if such would help the person perform the essential functions of the job.  The accommodation that is provided needs to be something that actually assists the person to do the job, and that is reasonable for the company to do.  For example, if a person with dwarfism applies to stock shelves, but can’t reach them, the company needs to provide a ladder. With the ladder (the “reasonable accommodation”) the shelves can be reached and the job can be done.  Even if the company has to buy a ladder or step-stool, this is reasonable to do and the company would be required to do so.

Reasonable accommodations need to be provided in the application process as well. For example, the quadriplegic applicant may have needed help filling out the job application.  That help needs to be provided.  Accommodations provided in the application process need not be the same provided if the person is hired.

With the quadriplegic applicant, the company should not have presumed that the applicant was unable to do the job.  Rather, he should have been asked.  You describe the job functions and ask how he would perform them in a tone of voice that is not antagonistic to the applicant.  For example, if your computers automatically dial phone numbers, so the rep doesn’t have to dial, and your CSRs plug headsets into that automated system, then a CSR doesn’t need to be able to physically dial the phone.  He may, however, need some help putting on the headset—and that help would need to be provided.

Maybe you’ll find he can’t do the job—but maybe you’ll find that he’s done this type of thing before and that he’ll turn out to be your best CSR.

*Ms. Lindeman is a Partner at Greenwald Doherty LLP, a law firm that exclusively represents businesses in all aspects of labor and employment law.  These columns are intended to be general information regarding the topic discussed and are not to be considered legal advice regarding a specific situation. Contact a management-side employment attorney familiar with the law of your jurisdiction for specific advice.  Ms. Lindeman is admitted to practice law in NY and NJ and may be contacted at  She is under no obligation to respond to reader inquiries personally, but may answer general employment law questions through this column.

© 2011 Greenwald Doherty.  May not be reprinted without permission.


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