While unemployment holds frustratingly steady at nearly 10 percent, some businesses are still hiring right now -- many of them small businesses. In fact, small businesses added approximately 26,000 jobs in August, according to a recent survey by Intuit. Since October 2009, small businesses have added roughly 340,000 jobs. Not enough and not quickly enough to dig us out of the hole overnight, but politicians and economists alike continue to tout the job-creating abilities of small businesses. For many entrepreneurs, bucking the trend and helping right the economy is a big source of pride.
Why? Smart entrepreneurs recognize that an economic downturn also brings opportunity -- including an abundance of potential employees looking for work, who businesses can scoop up at a bargain.
So we know small businesses (at least some of them) are looking to hire, even amid the continued economic malaise. But what exactly are they looking for in job candidates? Our Board of Directors has created thousands of jobs over the years, and many of them are still intimately involved in the interview process. We asked them for the one question they always ask potential job seekers.
Warren BrownFounder, CakeLove and Love Cafe
"Are you good at troubleshooting? If they ask me what I mean, the interview is over."
Julie JumonvilleCo-Founder And Chief Innovation Officer, UpSpring Baby
"I don't ask this question on a regular basis but it has never failed me in a job interview. If I left you with a large, long haired dog for 15 minutes and asked you to count/estimate the hair on the dog's body, how would you approach getting me the most accurate hair count? The interviewee that said they would not count the dog hairs and would pet and make friends with the dog instead is who I hired and they still work for me today."
Tate ChalkFounder And CEO, Nfinity
"Why do you want this job? From that question, you can tell a lot -- how fast they think on their feet, how much they actually know about our business, how full of it they are? All good things to know. Plus, I want someone to work for me that actually wants to work for me, not just wants a job."
Clint GreenleafFounder And CEO, Greenleaf Book Group
"Rather than get a list of references that I never call, I like to make it clear that I am going to call previous bosses. When I call Mr. Sacamano, what will he say about your attention to detail? It's not 'if' but 'when.' You get surprisingly honest answers when people realize you're going to get a real honest answer from a third party."
Rob AdamsDirector, Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas
"Where are you and what are you doing 10 years from now."
Jennifer HillStartup Advisory And Venture Lawyer, Gunderson Dettmer LLP
"What is the question that you wished I'd asked you? Then, I ask for the answer. When I've been on job interviews, I ask if there is something else they are looking for which they have not seen. The question tends to elicit an honest response and invites an opportunity to address other issues. Sometimes you don't get asked the questions that you want to be asked. Find a way to understand the unspoken questions, so that you can infuse your responses with information to make the best impression possible."
Lawrence GelburdLecturer, The Wharton School
"Why are you interested in us and why not stay where you are?"
Tom SzakyFounder, TerraCycle
"In efforts to see if the candidate can think outside the box I always ask, If you had to create awareness of a program on the other side of the country without a budget, and in fact had to generate $10,000 in revenue in creating the awareness, what would you do? It's always interesting to see how people solve this question, since the more out of the box you think, the better your answer will be. And it is solvable -- even though most people's knee jerk reaction is that it isn't."
Eric RyanCo-Founder And Chief Brand Architect, Method
"At Method, every candidate who makes it as a finalist gets asked the same question: How will you help keep Method weird? This is always the third and final question during the 'homework assignment,' which is the final stage of our interview process. We give candidates 45 minutes to present three questions, which are given to them several days in advance. Kind of a live audition. We find it to be a much higher predictor of success than relying just an interview and reference checks, so it has been a cornerstone of our interview process for over five years. "A big advantage of this approach is that it allows you to get a real sense of chemistry and cultural fit by prototyping what working with a candidate will be really like. Since 'Keep Method Weird' is a cultural value, we ask them directly how they will support this, which is a tough question to answer in an interview in front of an audience. It forces people to show us who they really are, so we can see if they have courage, confidence and creativity. Because when you are trying to disrupt traditional categories, you need weird people who see the world a little differently."
Phil TownInvestor And Author Of Rule #1 And Payback Time
"Tell me why you are the best person in the world for this job."
Gary WhitehillFounder, The Relentless Foundation And New York Entrepreneur Week
"If you had one wish, and it was the only wish that is guaranteed be granted in your lifetime, what would it be and why?"
Steve StraussColumnist And Author Of The Small Business Bible
"I like the off-beat question that evokes answers that can't be rehearsed. What is your favorite book or favorite movie? That's good because it makes the interview more personal and usually ends up revealing something interesting about the person."
Lexy FunkCo-Founder And CEO, Brooklyn Industries
"Why do you want to come work for Brooklyn Industries?"
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 9/22/10.