It can be tempting to just surround yourself with the people whose company you enjoy, but from an HR perspective, you need to take some things into consideration to ensure that you’re hiring for fit. HR consultant Niki Ramirez spends time with Amber Hawley in this episode to walk us through some of these hiring considerations that are extremely important but quite frequently overlooked. Whether you’re a small business owner who’s in the process of looking for their first hire or a more established company who wants to review the previous additions to your team, now is a good time to learn how to navigate the world of hiring and HR compliance. Listen in as Niki shares some great tips on everything from making job descriptions to interviewing short-listed prospects. Plus, learn how you can get hold of her HR checklist that can be useful for your prospecting efforts!

Considerations When Hiring Employees With Niki Ramirez

I have an awesome guest. I have Niki Ramirez, who is an HR Consultant and Owner of Having used her services before, I will say it’s so great to have that person who is the all-knowing, super helpful and let-you-calm-down person to go to. I’m very excited to have her on the show. Welcome, Niki.

Amber, thanks for inviting me. I’m excited to talk with you.

I’m very excited. I was saying that as I’m working with clients and we’re dealing with overwhelm and trying to get people feeling so that they’re not distracted and disorganized, a big thing that’s coming up is this need for people to hire. Sometimes, people are hiring other companies or they’re finding people to do virtual contractor work but then there are those times as you grow that you’re like, “I need to invest in having an employee that’s dedicated to me.” It’s part of my company, my culture and is more invested in the business in that respect. I thought, “What better way than to talk to an HR expert about what do you do in that process?”

As I had talked about, I had the fortunate experience of being in a more corporate atmosphere when I worked in the dot-com world where I got to do the interviewing process and learn a lot like how do we go through that? What are the things you want to check out? How do you vet people? Although I still had an HR department to back me up but a lot of people who are entrepreneurs have never had any of that experience. It’s overwhelming. How do you structure an interview? What do you do? How do you vet people? What legally are you supposed to do? I thought it would be so great for us to have a conversation about that to help people navigate whether this is your first employee or you want to improve your process. What are the best practices when hiring somebody?

It’s a huge topic, Amber. Breaking it down into a couple of different phases for business owners will be helpful. The first thing to think about if it is your first employee is, am I situated to be an employer? I want entrepreneurs to know that there are certain steps that have to be taken in their state in order to get set up as an employer. Without going into all of the technical details there, you want to get set up with the state, you want to ensure that you have a payroll platform that can account for state and federal tax withholdings and all that kind of stuff. As you endeavor to hire your first employee, there may be some pre-work steps to launching your recruiting effort.

Make sure you’re set up as an employer. Your CPA might be able to help you with that. If you’re paying yourself as an employee in your business, your payroll company can give you some great ideas on how to square away those few steps, which are mostly tax-related. Once you are set up as an employer and you’re ready to go, then you embark on the exciting task of putting recruitment out into the world. Letting the world know that you are making an announcement for an open job. We’ve got that job announcement recruitment phase. Once you identify great candidates then we shift into what HR people like me call interviewing selection. You’ve got your recruitment and then you shift gears into interviewing and selection once you have some great candidates to choose from.

As business owners embark on recruitment, I want you to lean into your marketing talents. Know that the communication that you put out into the world during recruitment, two things are happening that we have to remember and be aware of. The first thing is that you are communicating to the world is the values of your business. Your mission, vision, values are coming alive in recruitment advertisements. You’re telling people what it would be like to work with you and what mission you serve in the world. Remember that your potential clients might see your job recruitment. If somebody googles your business name, they might see that you’re hiring, take a peek at your ad and see what you’re hiring for. Remember that your audience is wide and you want to employ a great marketing strategy in employee recruitment.

Once you have a job description, that’s a great start. What are the essential functions that this person is going to be executing on behalf of my company and my team? What skills, attributes, characteristics are you looking for them to possess when they come to you? We want to talk about those responsibilities, skills, abilities and clear in concrete terms as much as possible during recruitment because as an employer, that’s the first time you get to tell this potential employee what you expect from them. I want you to start your consistent messaging as a leader and supervisor during recruitment. When we talk about the duties and the functions of the job, imagine that you’re sitting down with this person, you’re training them and using this recruitment advertisement or the job description as a tool to help point them in the right direction.

It becomes a part of your HR ecosystem, the recruitment strategy and the job description. When you are moving out into the world, you’re recruiting, you’ve got this great tool that’s telling people what it’s like to be a part of your business. What’s your mission, vision and values are? What you need them to show up ready to do on day one. That’s something that I love small business owners to focus on in their recruitment communication. What do I need Amber to do on day one when she shows up? What are my non-negotiables? What systems, even our programs that you have a technical aspect in your business? What technology platforms? Do you need your new employee to be proficient on day one? That’s one of the things that I see small business owners and entrepreneurs stumble over a little bit. They find a candidate that they might love in terms of their general personality attributes and characteristics.

They think that it’s not a big deal that they’re not proficient in a particular software platform system. Maybe they aren’t so savvy at using Excel or they’ve never used Trello but you use Trello with every client that you work with. Even if they are the most spectacular person, do you as a small business leader and entrepreneur? Do you have it in you to teach somebody how to use that system or platform? Identify your non-negotiables for everyone. The system, platform, skills or abilities. When we get to going out into the world and deciding how to share the recruitments, that’s another big piece. I’m sure that you see your clients and in your experience, you have seen lots of different platforms for recruitment.

Sometimes, it could be the time of year or as time goes on and things shift, where I’ve found good quality people has shifted. I remember back in the day when I initially started, I could get good people on Craigslist. I’m not saying you still can’t but it depends on what the job is. As somebody who’s hired for different positions, that also matters. Sometimes, you’re going to get certain candidates from certain places because of what type of work they do that I’ve done Indeed. I’ve done a LinkedIn. I feel like it does shift. I’ve also done what you’re saying where you’re putting it out on your own social media, reaching out to people that you know and putting it on Listservs. I’ve done the whole gamut. It’s about catching that person at the right time.

That’s a very intuitive observation. You’re in tune with the market there. The recruitment platforms are shifting all the time. I was in an HR coffee talk, so we get together once a month. It’s about twelve of us that all live in Arizona where I’m from and we chit chat for an hour and drink coffee. When we’d got together, we were talking about recruitment. One of the group members mentioned that Indeed was somehow either they were bought out by or they were acquired by Glassdoor in the last couple of years. I didn’t know that. I’ve been an Indeed user for years. In the last year, I’ve noticed such a shift in the way that the platform functions. When that other individual mentioned that, it was obvious then that they’re shifting to a culture-based platform, they’re not just a job board anymore. It’s a different tool now than it used to be years ago.

That’s the hard part about all of this. You find that thing you love that was worth it when all of a sudden no longer works. I was getting spammed and all this other stuff. Sometimes, you’ve got to shift it up, change it up and try. I like what you’re saying. There are many parts to the hiring process and we could do a series. Let’s talk about that first part getting your business ready then getting your recruitment set up. I feel like doing all of that as we’re saying but the piece that I’m noticing where there’s resistance from the people I’m working with around hiring is I don’t even know what to do.

Once I get these applicants that I’m even possibly interested in. I do agree. The recruitment piece is huge. We’ll have to do another talk about that because I’ve learned a lot of tricks about how to eliminate people right off the bat to save myself time. I’ve posted on social media, this was a couple of years ago. I have a strategy and I was able, sadly, to eliminate 97% of the applicants because they didn’t follow the directions. If you can’t follow the directions during that process, what are you going to be like as an employee? I was one of those things. There’s so much value in talking about that but let’s say we get that person, they made it through the gauntlet, they’re part of the 3% and you’re like, “I want to meet with them.”

I’ll share an overview of my process to give an example. Our process is we have these five questions and we have things in there to make sure somebody read the whole thing. We make it culture-based and fun and whatever. They answer the five questions. They make it through the gauntlet. I have my intake person do a phone screen if they’ve passed to that point. She re-verifies things. She gets a vibe. She asks any questions if things were unsure about and then if she feels like after that process, although I will say it’s willy-nilly.

Even though I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ll have the general like, “Go back over the questions to make sure they’re being consistent because sometimes people say things.” You’re caught off guard and say something different. Even the phone screen, we could flush that out a little bit better. If they make it through then they come and I do an interview with them. It used to be I would do this in person. This would be our first in-person but right now, not. Everything is virtual. That has been a learning curve in 2020 as well. I do the first one and in the first one, I try to be very casual where it’s more of seeing if your personality is fit.

I tell them a lot about us and how we work in our company and also get to know them a little bit. I throw in things here and there to check out, like do they vibe with what I’m looking for? It depends on the position. I have them come back for a second in-person interview and I always try to include as much of the team as possible or the people that I feel are helpful in the hiring process. I’ve got a small team. I don’t have a ton of people. To check out by but that’s where I do more of the technical stuff because I’ve already made sure they’ve said they can do things.

They’re attesting to their abilities.

If I’m hiring for a therapist, then that’s where we do clinical questionnaires and stuff. I find almost being so casual on the first one puts them at ease, that way, it’s interesting because otherwise, people come in and they almost relax a little. You’re able to catch people when they’re not being honest or you get to see if they get frustrated or caught off guard. Are they defensive? How do they react? I have lots of reasons why I do things. We do that and that’s when we decide. After that, we decide if we’re going to hire somebody. I agree with you. When I worked in corporate, I even developed a simple Excel test and it was basic. People who said they were super familiar with Excel couldn’t finish it. I do think that there is a time and a place depending on the position. That’s my process but I always want to make it better.

Hiring Considerations: Identify what your non-negotiables are for system, platform, skills or abilities and start looking for alignment from there.

Hiring Considerations: Identify what your non-negotiables are for system, platform, skills or abilities and start looking for alignment from there.

The different phases that you talked about in the interview process demonstrate a pretty comprehensive process. What we’re trying to do through all of the different steps that you outlined is to create additional points of data. We’re creating a profile for this potential new employee. We want as much data in that profile as we can possibly generate because one thing that we know about people and in your professional industry, you will have a lot of personal, professional knowledge about this. Based on the situation that they’re in present themselves differently.

You already talked about that. We’re saying we want to see consistency in the applicant’s performance throughout their interview and recruitment process. We want to see that they’re consistently on time, consistently professional, consistently able to speak to the values of the organization whether it’s something that I’m talking about. That might be a technical skill but they’re linking it back to your intent to serve your community, patients or clients or they’re talking about their philosophy and delivering support in a clinical atmosphere.

You’ve got all kinds of different ways to draw out that information. I do recommend great screening questions that we put together. A series of questions that we even communicate in writing before the first phone interview. It sounds like you might be using, we sometimes call them knockout questions. You might send an applicant or candidate a series of questions that will give you important information about whether or not they’re a good fit for the job from a logistic standpoint saying, “This job does require evenings and weekends, are you able to work evenings and weekends? When could you start?” They might be in a family transition, they’re moving and they can’t start a new job until April and it’s January.

Who knows what the heck might happen? Sending a series of simple questions like, “What about the job posting caught your eye? Why did you decide to apply?” A simple question like that as an introduction starts to help you determine if this candidate is aligned with your hiring objective. That question works in any type of industry in any level position. That’ll give you a little bit of insight into why they are looking for a job. We want to try to remain fairly open to all candidates, especially during this early process. If someone says, “I’m currently unemployed.” That’s something we can dig into later. If they say, “I’m currently employed but I hate my supervisor.”

They’ve got something to think about too. Their language and their responses will help you build that profile to determine if they seem like they might be a good fit. In jobs that do require written communication, I do recommend that you start out with some messaging questions so that you can get an idea of how well-written your potential employee is. You want to see their writing style. You want to see if they’re going to use a capital letter in their message back to you or any type of punctuation. For my clients that hire for positions that are retail, highly labor-oriented, texting back and forth with someone, I do not demand a capitalization solution. We’re hiring cashiers or stock room folks, things like that. It’s not a job requirement, so I don’t necessarily use it as a disqualifier.

For those professional type positions where you may have someone who is on your team, they will interact in writing with your clients in some way or they record keep for you. They create notes and records that become a part of the patient’s record or that might be shared more publicly and not in your field. We have lots of information that might get out of an organization, for example. When we provide HR support, I want my team to send an email that somebody could copy and paste, put it on the internet and we would be proud of it.

As a part of the interview process, a comprehensive process, a phone interview is a very logical next step. Once we’ve communicated in messaging or email, even text messaging works depending on your business then we move into a discussion on the phone where we’re trying to determine if the candidate is aligned with the mission, vision and values of the organization. You might start to ask questions like, “Our organization relies heavily on collaboration and teamwork in order to get everything done. Talk to me about your philosophy on teamwork. Do you prefer to work independently or on a team?”

Try to draw them out in the conversation in areas that are going to be of key importance for you, your team and in service to your clients during that phone interview. I typically try to stay with 3, 4, 5, no more than 6 simple single topic questions in a phone interview. We don’t want it to go much longer than 15 to 20 minutes at the most. I don’t know what your philosophy is on the length of a phone interview but it does make a difference.

We tend to do it shorter. It’s a way of checking out to see if we had any questions or they have a good vibe because I don’t want to waste people’s time but I also don’t want to waste ours. I learned that I don’t bring people in straight away with the phone screen because I was like, “I wasted my time.” I will say I’m not good at the interview early even when it’s been clear to me. I need to work on that piece but I agree. On average, it’s about 15 to 20 minutes.

You bring up a good point and it’s worthy of a mention, Amber. When you’ve determined that somebody that you are interacting within a phone interview, informational or panel interview, what we want to be able to do is graciously end the interview. We don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable the best we can and we want to have them leave feeling respected. One easy way to do that, especially in phone interviews is, at the onset of the conversation say, “Hi, Amber, it’s Niki. I’m calling for your phone interview. Is it still a good time?”

You’ll say, “Of course, it is. Thanks for calling.” I say something simple to you like, “I have a couple of questions that I wanted to go over and it’ll take us somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.” That way, you’ve got this range. If at any point you decide not to move forward even if it’s after a couple of questions then you can say, “Amber, thanks so much for your time. I’ve concluded the questions I have for this morning. Do you have anything that you’d like to ask me?” You keep moving things along. If you give them that range in the beginning then you preserve that flexibility for yourself.

It’s easier on the phone screen than on the in-person one. I’m not going to continue to go for a full hour or something but I do like that. I like managing expectations. It is important. I don’t want anyone ever to feel bad. I want them to walk away still feeling positive about the interaction even if they’re not the right fit. This is why I wanted you on because we can always improve our process. There have been times where I have made many mistakes and then realize, “I forgot to do this part.” That’s where it’s streamlining it, which I resist having like, “Here are the five questions I ask.” It isn’t going to work.

We don’t want to seem over scripted or impersonal with people. We are trying to develop a good rapport and see if we would like to develop an employment relationship. Employment relationships are every other relationship in our lives. They operate the same way. We want to be friendly. We want to be respectful. There are these norms that each of us has in our lives in terms of how we interact with people. The more that you practice your flow, the easier it gets to. That’s something that you and I can chit chat through privately sometimes on how to ease out of asking all your questions. If you do panel interviews, sometimes you try to get other team members involved with the process.

If you have a panel of team members that are interviewing a candidate, you should have spoken ahead of time about what the process is if you, as the key decision-maker, Amber, decided to cut the interview short. You should have a strategy for that. A lot of times, that looks like you, the key decision-maker stepping in and saying, “I’d like to ask you a little bit of a different question,” and then you lead into what you and the panel know is the final question and that you’re skipping a part of the process.

You have a little code set up ahead of time. You can get creative about it with your team but the idea that you’ve got some messaging going back and forth as a first step and then you’re moving to a phone interview where you’re talking about good culture fit. Along the way, you have also hopefully collected some employment application that allows you to prepare for later steps in the process like verifying previous employment.

At the end of the road, when you are making an offer and selecting an employee, I do recommend that employers, although it is a fairly old fashioned and formal process, you do get approval from your top candidate to do an employment verification for each of their previous employers that are relevant to your decision and do check personal and professional references. That’s a part of the process where we create additional points of data that we can use to confirm our assumptions.

If this is a great person, I love all the things they’ve told me during the process, I called their previous employer and I learned that unfortunately, they’re not eligible for employment at that place of work anymore. That gives me information that I can use in the decision-making process. Maybe it doesn’t disqualify them from employment in my business but at least I can go back and I can say, “I was working on your employment verifications, Amber. I learned from ABC Company that you’re not eligible to return to that company for work. Can you talk to me about what happened?” You’ll get more information that you can use to balance out your decision.

That’s a step that a lot of people skip. It’s calling the references or doing a formal check like that. When I first started, I didn’t do that as much and then I started incorporating it. Now, I’ve given it to one of my team members. Even knowing which questions legally, we can ask and it’s so hard. There are all these rules that we don’t know. It’s not our expertise. I remember it’s also using the information. There was one person I had hired as an intake person and I loved her. We could be besties, although that’s not a reason why I hire somebody but I loved her.

Hiring Considerations: You want as much data on your potential new employee’s profile as you can possibly generate.

Hiring Considerations: You want as much data on your potential new employee’s profile as you can possibly generate.

I loved her personality and energy, everything. It was interesting when I called her current employer to verify. She gave the person as a reference. That was even more intriguing to me, which on the applicant side like, “Talk to your people.” He talked about her being chronically late and having problems with calling in sick a lot. What do you think I did? I still ignored that because I loved her. What do you think happens?

She was chronically late and called in a lot.

It went from needing to show up in-person to never showing up. She ended up quitting before I had to let her go, which I was grateful for because I hate firing people. It’s so intriguing. That was the hard thing. If I was in my corporate position, that would have been an obvious no to me. It’s hard as an entrepreneur. You’re putting yourself out there, trying to find people you trust, you want to be in your company and you’re like, “I love them.” I have done that a few times where I’ve not listened to the data that I’ve got back. I’m like, “I’ll give it a shot.” I’ve never, ever been happy with that decision.

Good lessons learned and then try to apply those lessons when we can. Sometimes our emotions get the best of us. That happens to HR people too. HR and small business owners too. It’s a very human mistake to make when we want to surround ourselves with people that we enjoy whether or not they are a good fit for a particular job.

Even when you feel desperate, that was the time is when I feel like, “I am dying here.” We’ve been turning away all of these clients, I need more therapists. I will hire somebody that seems pretty good but it wasn’t like a hell yes. There are those mantras I started having to tell myself and that’s also why I do include a team member. At times where I didn’t have somebody on my team that I felt would be an appropriate person, I’ve even had a colleague sit in on an interview to give me their impression. I developed that mantra of like, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” Most of the time, when I hired those people, I’m like, “They seem good. It’s not been what I’m needing.” I stopped trying to hire people out of desperation.

That’s a good move. With my clients and the folks that we sometimes support in recruitment services, we don’t do full service recruiting for our clients or anything like that. We definitely lean on a network of professional recruiters to help with that. From time-to-time, we do help our clients with the recruitment process like screening resumes and doing phone interviews, stuff like that. We have to talk through that emotion that I’m so swamped. I’m desperate. I’m flailing. I’m in crisis so get anybody. It can lead to all kinds of issues which you’ve already illustrated well. Having that ability to apply some patience is important during the process so that you can collect that data too. You might like somebody in the phone interview so much and you think, “I liked them, so I’m going to skip the next step in the process and move forward with whatever is the next piece.”

Be consistent in your process. I often ask employers especially entrepreneurs who have so many ideas. I’m an entrepreneur as well. We are idea people. That is we live and breathe. What is the next great thing that I’m going to do? I get excited about new ideas. Create a process that works for you. Make sure you document it. Don’t go crazy thinking you have to document your process a certain way. Get some Post-it notes and stick them on the wall whatever you need to do so that you know what you’re promising to yourself. I promise to myself and my team that I’m going to go through this process so that I can collect enough data to make a great decision so I can find that hell yes.

Don’t sell yourself short. Follow through the process. I’ve encouraged people to as a part of the interview process and it can happen most comfortably when you are almost in the last phase of your interview, whatever that is. If you’re doing one interview, aside from your phone interview, the single interview and then making a hiring decision, I want you to do this top-secret thing then or if you’re doing two interviews, you might do it in your first interview. You either are asking this candidate to fill out an application. It’s a general employment application or you’re holding a completed application or their resume, one or the other and you’re going to review their employment history with them live in person.

This is a technique that I employed when I was doing a lot of hiring both as an operations manager and in my HR directorship. That helped to facilitate a meaningful conversation about how this person makes decisions about their own employment. What I would do, Amber, if I had your resume, I’d be looking at it and say, “Amber, I’m holding a copy of your resume. Do you also have a copy of it? I want to talk through a few things with you. Is that okay?” They say, “I have my copy here.” I usually joke and I say, “I swear to you, this is not a test of any kind. I’m using the resume or the application as a point of reference,” to try to put them at ease. I’m not going to ask them for dates on their resume like, “When did you start and leave that employer?”

I’m not trying to catch somebody in detail. What I do is I say, “I’m going to start back at the furthest position that you held the longest ago. I see that you worked for the City of San Francisco in 1999. You left that position in 2006 to go to work for this school. Can you talk to me about something important that you learned when you worked for the City of San Francisco?” The second part of the question is, “What happened that made you decide to leave?” We stepped through each transition like that.

That is so smart.

This person has a reflective enough personality to look back and say, “When I worked for the City of San Francisco, it was my first time working as a clinician. I learned that I love working in a collaborative team where I can get support from other therapists because I like to get second opinions.” If it’s you and one other person, that might be something to think about in terms of what time do you have to consult on a particular skill or activity within the job. The why did you leave and what made you decide to move on is a great way to open up conversations about previous supervisors, co-workers or other hopefully, job-related things that will be informative for you and your business. Lots of times, we do hear people say things like, “I moved across the country. That’s why I left that job.”

That’s super obvious and you say thanks or somebody might say I had a baby or my family adopted a child, whatever it is. You were receiving a little bit of personal information, which we don’t want to get too terribly, overly personal during interviews but it’s okay if somebody tells you that they had a child or family event and that’s what caused them to move from one job to the next. That’s part of being human and we’re okay with hiring humans.

That’s a great point that you say like you may assume everyone knows, you shouldn’t be asking a lot of personal things. I’m telling you as somebody who’s been around a lot of people as they talk about their process, I’m like, “You can’t ask them that. You can’t be like, ‘Are you married?’ You can’t do that.”

It’s a different topic but there are certain things that by law in certain states and the federal level that we cannot ask about. We cannot use that information to make an employment decision without it being construed as potentially discriminating against someone if we don’t hire them once we know that info. For example, marital status is what we call a protected class. We can’t make a decision about employment based on marital status in several states across the US. We want to be informed about those types of compliance regulations and things like that. I have a list of interview do’s and don’ts that I often share with people. I want to say that it’s linked to over on the website as well. I’m happy to share that with you and your network. It’s the simple checklist of we don’t ask about where someone is from. If they’ve mentioned that they were born in another country, we casually move on to other information. All we care about is that they’re authorized to work in the US. We’re not going to dig into their citizenship status or anything like that.

I know it’s hard. Part of my people that I hire are therapists and I hire people especially to see couples because that’s my specialty. One of my specialties if we get a lot of referrals for couples, I have this personal bias about, not that you have to be married at all but if you haven’t had long-term relationships, how the heck are you going to give people support around that? There are those tricky things that come up. I still don’t ask it. I’m smart enough not to do that. It’s one of those things where I wish I could ask. If people disclose, they disclose but those are helpful things.

I can think of a question that you could ask. Can I share it with you? I would ask a therapist candidate, “Tell me about a strong long-term relationship that you’ve either been in or seen in your life close up. Talk to me about that long-term relationship and what made it successful and what types of challenges do you think were experienced.” Something like that. You’re welcome to ask about exposure to environments that are relevant to the job. You can be open to letting the person decide if they’re going to tell you about their own personal relationship. If it were me, I would tell you that my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary in June.

About the fact that my dad is an alcoholic and he’s been in recovery for 42 years, he’s amazing and that was hard for my family. There’s so much that you can learn even through examples, even if that person hasn’t been married, they have a best friend that they’ve maintained a close relationship with since they were seven. They saw them through their crazy crisis in their family. There are all sorts of things that might come up, so be flexible to get into those environmental types of questions.

Hiring Considerations: Reviewing an applicant’s employment history with them live helps facilitate a meaningful conversation about how this person makes decisions about their own employment.

Hiring Considerations: Reviewing an applicant’s employment history with them live helps facilitate a meaningful conversation about how this person makes decisions about their own employment.

That could be applied if people think about their industry. If somebody chose a relationship beyond their relationship, it wouldn’t necessarily say like, “I’m not going to,” but there is an insight.

Develop your questions in a way that allows for open conversation with your candidate. We talked through phases. That pre-interview messaging, phone screening, in-person interviews and potentially a panel-type interview with a couple of people. As a closing phase thought, if you’re going to ask people to do tests or assessments, make sure that you’re using tests or assessments that wouldn’t be viewed or construed as discriminatory in any way or disqualifying people from consideration for anything that isn’t directly related to the job. For example, Amber, the Excel spreadsheet test that you created. That’s awesome. Don’t give it to anybody who doesn’t use Excel in their day-to-day job.

It was for internet operations and we use Excel. I needed to know Excel. It was amazing how much that eliminated people but it is helpful. I appreciate being thoughtful about neutral that it’s relevant arbitrarily. That’s part of that resistance of, “I don’t want things to seem arbitrary or that I’m going through a checklist.” As a therapist, I have that viewpoint. I don’t like when intakes feel. It’s like, “Let me go through my checklist. I’m not listening to you or talking to you.” I like that relationship. It’s important but I do think that there’s so much value in writing those questions down or documenting them.

That was something I realized when I started having to hire people remotely. It’s really different. I felt like I was a first-time interviewer again in some ways because it was such a different thing. It’s also intriguing to be able to see people interviewing. We had somebody who I couldn’t see because I didn’t print out their resume in advance. This was part of that panel interview. I had the screen up but the other two people that I had were telling me that the person was walking around their house and doing other things, which I was like, “She seems pretty good.” I need to get somebody in even though I said to not come from a place of desperation but having those other people are like, “This was going up and this is the vibe I’m getting. I don’t like it.”

There’s been so much of a need to re-analyze and re-organize how we interview in this different virtual environment. To your checklist, I want to make mention one thing how I use checklists and lists of questions and interviews. I also love the more natural flow of a conversation. The best I can, I don’t ask scripted questions during interviews but I always have a list of scripted questions with me and I do look at them during the interview process. I always say this to the candidate. I say, “Amber before we conclude for the day, I want to look at my list one more time and make sure that we’ve touched on all of the topics that I was hoping to discuss with you.” I look at my sheet and lo and behold, I realized we didn’t talk about a skill, ability or attribute that I was hoping to discuss. I say, “Darn it, anyway, there is one more thing that I want to talk to you about.” I launch into that part of the conversation or the question. I do keep a checklist type of process in place because I figure checklists work for pilots and surgeons and I can also use a checklist.

That’s what 2020 has taught me. I need that. Frankly, I have a little bit of COVID brain like I forget words. I’m having those things where I’m extra forgetful. I know a lot of people are experiencing that. I am 100% on board with that. You’re right. Your delivery can be different than the process. I want to be respectful of your time. We should be doing a series. This is going to be helpful for people whether it’s their 1st hire they’re needing to reassess or their 100th hire. One last thing I did want to touch on.

I thought this was helpful when I started realizing there are ways to infuse making sure there’s a good cultural fit rather than them giving like, “Let me give the perfect answers,” and seeing do they fit. I have one example that people usually find funny but honestly, it was important to me as the employer. One thing that I say in the interview like the in-person interview, “How do you feel about the word fuck? When I’m stressed out, I say fuck a lot.” I don’t swear at people. You’re probably going to tell me I should not be doing this but I’m going to do it still, I’m telling you because it helps break the ice and make sure it’s a good fit. When I was in-person, I didn’t want to be with people who are very like, “I feel offended.”

I do not go around the long thing with the F word but there are those times, I don’t want to feel that I’ve made my employee uncomfortable and they can’t talk to me about something because they heard me in my office swearing to myself. That wouldn’t work for me. That’s my personality and I’m not going to censor myself because my business is my baby. If you talk to my employees, they will tell you, I don’t say it that often but it was enough to know like, “I need to know you’re cool with who I am,” because everyone who knows me well knows I do swear. It was funny because they laugh and they’re like, “I’m totally cool with it.” They might even say like, “I don’t swear that much but I’m good.” It’s an example. It’s so different when it’s your business. I want to make sure that I can be me and not feel this pressure. This might be the people-pleasing stuff of times past where I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable but I want to feel comfortable.

Your example is a great example. There are certain things about a business environment or relationships that we have with those key people in our business that we work directly with. We want to make sure that they are comfortable, especially if there are extremes. I’m going to say from an HR perspective, saying fuck at work is extreme. Saying it in your personal life is not extreme. Not at all. I’m not a big F-bomb dropper at work but in my personal life, you’ll definitely hear it and see it in my written word and verbally. It’s totally okay to ask those types of questions. Do you know how your computer runs with an operating system like Windows or Mac? My brain runs with an operating system and it’s HR compliance.

With that in mind, that particular word can be used in allegations of sexual harassment. That’s the only thing that we have to decide. Here’s the greatest part, Amber. As an entrepreneur or business owner, you get to make a decision about where you land on, “Am I worried about this in my business or am I trying to create an environment in which we can all operate as our true, authentic self?” That’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur or starting your own business, you get to choose. For all of my clients and small business owners that I work with, network with and collaborate with in life, I support it. I support you coming out as who you are authentic to your candidates to make sure that you are a good fit for a day-to-day workplace culture perspective.

We try to be generally respectful to people. If someone is not comfortable with that, there may be underlying reasons that they’re not. That has to do with their own experiences in the workplace. Maybe someone did swear at them in the past. Always talk about it. Always be as authentic as absolutely possible and keep doing you. That’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur. There’s always a spectrum from end-to-end of taking a risk or being so conservative. I support everybody along the way. That’s an important piece to remember as you build your business and as you hire, you are going to engage in practices from a corporate HR perspective where I ran away from my corporate job. It would be viewed as non-traditional to ask that question. You should still ask it.

I love to be viewed as non-traditional. That’s such a beautiful HR thing. Funnily enough, working in the dot-com world in all honesty, I saw VPs doing coke in bathrooms. From that, it was not corporate. Sometimes, they say it was corporate-ish. I agree it was very different. However, I do say it when I hired an assistant because I never swear at people. I make that clear and I talk about that. Frankly, I don’t but when I’m stressed, I will sit and I cannot help it. Fuck comes out. I should stop. I mean to say F-bombs come out left and right.

This is obviously explicit at this point but I will do a warning for people. It was one of those things where when I was in grad school and I remember this one class, our teacher bringing up F-bombs. These are people studying to be therapists. We talked about that if a client has used an F-bomb, she would be offended. She would talk to them and ask them not to refrain. That stuck with me. There are multiple layers of this. When I’m hearing a therapist, to me, that’s unacceptable. It’s not about somebody yelling at you and whatever but I need people who can take people being real because that’s how we can help them.

It shouldn’t be like, “I’m judging you because you swore.” This is your frustration. I know different jobs but I do appreciate it. There are better ways. I also talk about we like to have fun but we are professional. We know when we do and when we don’t but I liked the idea when I was thinking about figuring out ways that you can make sure that you’re hiring people that are a good fit for you or fit your culture. I’ll go to something less divisive. I have ADHD and I can be a little bit all over the place.

I talk to people about that. I’m like, “At some level, I am running a million miles an hour and I get distracted and I forget. If I forget something, you need to come back to me.” I talk about this is the process I need and I’m not going to change. I always try to work on being better or being more on top of things. I’m going to have this element of that. I like when people make it clear what people could expect because there are some people who find it chaotic and overwhelming. I don’t want them to have a bad experience either. I want them to feel happy when they come. They’re like, “I love taming all over the place person and being the organizational balance to you.”

Hiring Considerations: You may choose to not ask scripted questions during interviews, but it helps to always have a list of scripted questions that you can use during the review process.

Hiring Considerations: You may choose to not ask scripted questions during interviews, but it helps to always have a list of scripted questions that you can use during the review process.

It’s important to work on that culture fit. You’re going to do it all sorts of different ways during the process but there’s a big sticking point. Something that’s a deal-breaker. Bring it up, talk about it and explore it with your candidate. As we seek to find a culture fit in our organizations, let’s not forget that there’s this concept out as an outline concept in recruitment hiring and human resources. It’s finding people who are there as a culture stretch. If you have a great potential candidate that can challenge you in your business, don’t turn them away. Seek to find people that have the skills, abilities and attributes that you’re looking for but that is also going to be able to push your business in a direction that it needs to go in order to continue to grow.

I love that you articulated that because that’s something I do. I hire those people that are way more calm and organized. I’m an organized person but I have a lot going on. I do think it’s important to have those people who balance you out but not so much that it feels you are at odds with each other. I love the wording of that. It’s smart. When people are hiring, it’s like hiring people who are better at things than you are. It helps you grow your company.

They’re a good complement to everything that you’re great at. They complement the team that you have. Through that culture stretch type hiring, we can often open new markets in our business and reach potential customers and clients that we otherwise may have ignored or not even known about.

Thank you so much. I know we’ve been talking for a long time and there’s more. This is helpful. You had said that on your website, there was the checklist of screening do’s and don’ts. You also had another checklist.

It’s hiring your first employee. On the website, we have free samples and resources. I’ll make sure that we have those two items on the top of the list so that anyone who’s interested can get their sample, look at those interviewing do’s and don’ts and then the simple four-page checklist for hiring your first employee. Amber, I’m grateful for the invitation. I love talking about HR. Through HR practice, hiring great people and building great businesses, that’s how we make a positive impact in our communities. I’m thankful that you’re thinking about this and you’re helping other people learn the thing.

Thank you so much. People should head on over to because beyond those checklists, there’s a lot of great information. As I said at the beginning, I’ve used your consulting services when I’m in a very difficult pickle position. Having that person you know as an expert and you can trust is invaluable as an entrepreneur. By the way, I love that your rooster is crowing.

He did show up. I’m so thankful. does have an Instagram where he does have a showcase video. Anybody who wants to see the funky chicken, we had him at home a couple of years ago now. Feel free to take a peek. He’s huge, black and shiny. He’s amazing.

Niki is such a huge of knowledge. If you want to hear more from her, she is our February 2021 guest expert in My Biz Bestie’s Inner Circle, answering all of your hiring questions. The Inner Circle is a monthly membership that has training, ask-me-anything support sessions and a minimum of four hours of co-working each month. It has tons of support for you and your business. Right now, it’s only $49 a month. Go to to find more information and to sign up.



Niki Ramirez is an industry expert and certified human resource professional with over 20 years of successful experience in leadership and human resources management. She has taken what she learned in Fortune 500 HR and created an impactful and practical approach to balancing HR in small businesses that focuses on both employees’ and employer’s needs.

Central to everything that she does is the belief that all success that is accomplished is through the dedication and efforts of great employees. Niki is a firm believer in the powers of collaboration and communication. She carries with her a strong desire to empower employers and their employees to work in partnership to design and implement meaningful workplace and human resources programs rooted in collaboration, respect, trust and open communication.

Niki’s ultimate goal is to create a positive ripple in the world, through her unique approach to human resources. Niki’s professional background includes serving in operational management and leadership roles, as a corporate human resources consultant, as well as community college adjunct faculty, and a human resources executive. In addition to her 3 HR professional certifications, Niki is bi-lingual in Spanish/English, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from Arizona State University, and an MBA in HR Management from the University of Phoenix.