No one should walk away from an interview wondering how a candidate responded to situations like those your staff encounters. Sometimes you do ask questions about past performance and what you hear sounds good, but reflecting on the conversation you think, “What did he/she really do?”
You realize that you settled for a superficial answer, which is what candidates want you to do. Anticipating the questions they might be asked, they began rehearsing their answers as soon as you invited them to an interview.
To gather high-quality information upon which to base your hiring decisions, you need to go beyond those well-rehearsed words. You must probe to learn more about what the candidate has said.
Approach interviews assuming that candidates’ initial responses to questions will be incomplete. You will need to ask for more details.
While you could rely on your ability to generate good followup questions on the spot, it’s better to be prepared with questions before the interview begins.
Thinking of what to ask next can cause you to stop listening to the rest of the candidate’s response as you compose your next question. As a result, you may miss some important information.
In this way, interviews are plagued by problems akin to what researchers have found happening in many conversations (interviews are a type of conversation, but with higher stakes than most).
Rather than listening to what the other person is saying, the “listener” is more focused on composing what to say next. To make the right hiring decision, it is important to really hear what the candidate tells you.
To develop possible followup questions before the interview, ask yourself, “What type of information is necessary to have a complete picture of how the candidate responded to this situation?” Prepare followup questions that will aid you to fill in the gaps in the candidate’s initial response.
Some followup questions are obvious: When? (best if the incident is recent); Where? (best if the circumstance were similar); and What was the candidate’s role at the time? Also, What action did the candidate take? What was the outcome of this action?
Depending on the question, there may be other details, which would be valuable when making your hiring decisions:
- How did you respond? Why did you respond this way?
- What other options did you consider? Why were these approaches rejected?
- What obstacles/challenges did you encounter when dealing with this situation? How did you overcome them?
- What did you mean when you used the term “_________?” Define/explain “__________” for me.
[If you would like more suggestions for followup questions, let me know. Email your request, including your snailmail address, to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a card, which includes several followup questions you could use. I distribute this card during my Interview Right to Hire Right and “Unlucky” when Hiring? programs, during which I discuss writing and asking followup questions.]
The quality of these followup questions will go a long way to determining the quality of information you have when you are deciding to hire or not.
A good way to keep track of what you want to hear from the candidate is to list possible followup questions as a checklist. In the initial response to your inquiry, the candidate may provide information that answers some, even all, of these. As this happens, check those questions off. There’s no need to ask these questions. You already have the information you need.
Through his writing, speaking and training, Nelson Scott assists leaders fulfil their commitment to hire, engage and retain the right staff. He can be contacted at email@example.com or (780) 232-3828 to learn more.