Build Your Business:

Do’s and Don’ts for Finding Employees

By Connie Smith, Contributing Writer

March 13, 2018

Regardless of the size of your business, you eventually must go through the (sometimes dreaded) interview process when looking for new employees. You not only want to make a good impression personally, but you also must set the stage and make your business look enticing.

If you have a human resources representative, that person will take care of the first part of the process by finding prospects and perhaps even narrowing down the field to the best couple of candidates. As a supervisor, manager or owner, you will have the final say. Knowing the correct questions to ask can tremendously reduce the complexity of the task. You may think you know the kind of person you are looking for, but don’t get too set on that ideal person. You may pass up someone who could make a loyal and long-time employee.

Consider the following example: While previously working for a company in Atlanta, I happened to be at the front desk when a man in coveralls carrying a toolbox walked in looking for work. He had been laid off and was desperate to find anything just to make money for his family. It was raining and snowing outside and he was walking and stopping at every business asking for just one day of work. He had been working on machines in a factory, so I took him back to the embroidery area.

He walked into a room with nine mutihead machines running. He never batted an eye; he just studied the machines and started asking questions. I hired him on the spot. He turned out to be one of the best employees I ever had. He not only learned how to run the machines, but was able to work on them, too.

Sometimes determination, not experience, makes the better employee. Hiring someone who is willing to listen, take direction and learn is much better than hiring someone who knows everything and is not willing to change.

Not all of the questions you ask in an interview have to be about the job. General talk about a local sports team, the weather or even something the prospect is wearing can tell you so much about that person. Can he carry on a conversation? Does he ask questions? Does he speak sincerely?

Just remember not to get too personal. Even if the person starts a conversation about family, listen but don’t ask questions.

What You Can’t Ask
There are certain questions you can’t ask. Some of them seem like questions you should be able to put on an application, but the law says otherwise. Here are the questions you can’t ask, but also how the wording can be changed to be permissible.

Don’t Ask: Are you a United States citizen?
Instead, Ask: Are you authorized to work in the United States?

Don’t Ask: What is your native tongue?
Instead, Ask: What languages do you read, speak or write fluently?

Don’t Ask: How old are you?
Instead, Ask: Are you over the age of 18?

Don’t Ask: What religion do you practice or do you have children?
Instead, Use This Strategy: Our daily start time is 8 a.m. and we work until 5 p.m. There are times we will need to work on weekends. Is there anything that would keep you from doing this?

Don’t Ask: How long do you plan on working until retiring?
Instead, Ask: What are your long term career goals?

Don’t Ask: How do you feel about supervising someone older or younger, men or women?
Instead, Ask: What experience do you have in management?

What You Can Ask
You can ask any of the following questions in an interview:
1. Have you ever been reprimanded for inappropriate behavior at work?
2. Have you ever been reprimanded for alcohol or tobacco use while working?
3. Do you use illegal drugs?
4. Are you able to lift up to 50 pounds?
5. How many days of work did you miss last year?

Explain all job requirements clearly and put everything on paper. Before you hire someone, have prospects sign a document confirming they understand all the requirements of the job and attendance policies, etc.

Drug and Alcohol Testing
You can’t ask, force or even suggest an employee take a polygraph test before or after hiring unless the job consists of high security levels or handling drugs.

Drug testing is different. Working under the influence of drugs is dangerous for the employee and others around them. Most companies now require employees to take a drug test before starting work. To do this, it must be in your company policies and procedures information. Remember, it must be done before they start work.

Testing for alcohol is allowed if it is written in the company’s policies and procedures. You must have a valid reason for testing. If you can smell the alcohol on the employee or if the person is injured on the job, you can test. I once worked with a company that would have a discussion with the person without accusing him of anything. That person would have a choice of going for a test and was offered help in finding a program. Usually, a person suspected of drinking alcohol would admit it and seek help. If not, they could be dismissed from their jobs. Again, all of this has to be written in advance and explained before hiring and starting work.

Put all the information you want to ask, explain or give to the prospective employee in writing. Write any questions on their résumés so you don’t forget to ask. If you are not sure what you can or can’t ask, check first. It’s better to not ask a question or make statements that could possible mean trouble for you later.

Try devising your own application so you can get a lot of answers before the interview. And always call and let a person know if they did not get the job. It’s the right thing to do.

Connie R. Smith has been in the embroidery industry for more than 30 years and has been an industry speaker and consultant. She also is an award-winning digitizer. For more information or to comment on this article, email Connie at