Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
A key part of interviewing is following up on things people tell you. You need to ask more questions to get the full story. After asking the “lead” question, be sure to PROBE.
Most practice leaders ask open-ended behavioral questions when interviewing job candidates. They require applicants to draw on their background and experiences to describe how they used a particular skill, ability, trait or quality in the past that is relevant to the position they’re interviewing for.
The thinking behind this type of interviewing is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Essentially, you ask questions about real-life situations, such as,
- “Tell me about a time when…and how did you overcome that?”
- “Walk me through a time when you…”
- “Tell me about a recent ….”
But it is not sufficient just to ask questions. The answer to an open question will give you some important information but not enough to assess the candidate. A key part of interviewing is following up on things people tell you. You need to ask more questions to get the full story. After asking the “lead” question, probe for more information.
Clarify what they said. Assume you don’t know what they mean and ask questions to force them to say more to fill in the gaps. For example:
- “Can you explain that?”
- “What was the result of that?”
- “Why was that important to you?”
Use the SAR Approach. Your job as the interviewer is to focus on specifics. The acronym to remember is S.A.R.: ask for a Situation and drill down on the Actions and Results. For example:
- “Describe a situation in which you had to deal with an upset client.”
- “How did you do it?”
- “Who else was involved?”
- “How did you work with them to resolve the situation?”
- “What were the results?”
Drill Down for Details. A candidate’s résumé may be filled with “Team player”, “Organized”, “Resilient” and “Sales Superstar”, but anyone can include this on their résumé. Ask questions that force candidates to speak about these traits to discover whether they do in fact possess them, to uncover vague answers and shed light on possible inconsistencies. For example:
Interviewer: “In your resume, you said were the number one sales person over the last two years. Can you tell me how you were able to do that?”
Candidate: “I landed four huge clients in the first 6 months with Company X.”
Interviewer: “That’s a tremendous achievement. I’d love to hear more about your process. Talk to me about how you landed each client:
- “How many were new or pre-existing leads?”
- “Tell me about one of your most rewarding sales experiences. What made it so rewarding? What did you do?”
- “Tell me about the last time you lost a sale. What did you do to recover?
- “What was the biggest obstacle to selling each of these customers? How did you overcome those objections?”
- “What revenue has each client brought to your company?”
Asking a “lead” open-ended behavioral question is like opening a suitcase to get information from a job candidate. Probing unpacks the details in what the applicant is talking about.