Mentoring: Tips For Interviewing Summer Employees

Many small business owners feel lucky to have someone to fill the spots they need in order to open their small business and stay open for the season without having to work every shift from dawn to dusk themselves.  However, selectivity is still important.  

The people you hire are your brand. They represent who you are and what you stand for.  They are the ones you are depending on to offer the standard of care that will keep them coming back.  They are the ones that will be responsible for creating the great experiences shopping at your location that will create a referral or reference or just a great comment on Yelp or Tripadvisor.  How do you know?  Sometimes it isn’t until the newbies are on the job that you find out how they will perform, but by asking good questions and tying the interview to job requirements can get a positive impression of their potential for success on the job.  

Your interview process and probes will largely be determined by the position you are seeking to fill.  For someone working in a retail shop, the depth of questioning might be more than for a landscaper or material handler.  The amount of customer facing time will be a big determinant, which means that the tenor of the probes will be different.  In today’s environment flexibility will be of critical importance. 

In addition to basic questions such as why the candidate is interested in the job and why they feel they are qualified for the job, related experience, when are they available to work, schedule flexibility, ability to work as part of a team and references, here are a few more probing questions to ask a job candidate:

What makes you the most qualified candidate for this job?  This is a good question since it gives the applicant an opportunity to expand on their qualifications, experiences and qualities that make them best suited for the job.  They can focus on elements that might not be on their application or resume, if they have one. 

How do your friends and family describe you in three words?  This question gives the applicant the best chance to define the attributes they can bring to your business.  If they know anything about your business, they can frame their best qualities to mirror what connection to the buying community.  Also, this gives you an opportunity to assess the personality of the individual and judge their work ethic.

When you think about past summer or part time jobs, what makes you proudest of your work?  This is a great question to open up a conversation of strengths without interrogating the candidate.  It is asking for them to tell a story which eases tensions that often occurs in a job interview.

How do you feel you can improve our company?  By asking this you are again looking for them to tell you about their strengths and how they can play a part in making your business a success, creating a great customer experience or enhancing your customer service.  It also tells you a little about how much they know about your business.  

Tell me about a customer experience that went awry and how you handled it.   One of the keys to an effective workforce is how they handle your customers.  By asking the candidate about a negative experience they turned into a positive one, you can see how they think, what their customer service values are and how they think on their feet.  

Tell me what you really liked and really disliked about past jobs – summer or part time.  By asking this you can see what experiences they had, where their interests gravitate and how they will engage in the work in your enterprise.  

How would past employers describe you?  By asking this type of question, you can do some probing about past employer/employee relationships.  Also you can see what their perception of themselves as employees is to see how it compares to reference checks.  You realize all you may get from a past employer is that John or Jane worked for me in 2019.

What was the most significant challenge you had to overcome in your last summer/part time job?  Without asking the candidate about their weaknesses, you can take a peek of what they think they had difficulty in overcoming therefore uncovering perceived weaknesses.  Getting to work on time, meeting and greeting people they didn’t know, taking inventory.  All these statements are clues to issues that you might encounter with this employee.

Contributed by Marc L. Goldberg, Certified Mentor.  For free and confidential mentoring, contact SCORE Cape Cod and the Islands,,, 508/775-4884.