Strategic Interviewing


  • Develop realistic goals and manage the interview process.
  • Clearly define the performance expectations need to perform the job successfully.
  • Ask questions that predict the candidate’s ability to meet performance standards.
  • Decide on the answers you want before you ask the questions.
  • Conduct in a manner that maximizes effective communication and measurement.
  • Use behavioural decision making to predict the candidate’s performance.

There are 3 main goals of interviewing

  • Accurately measure whether the candidate can do the job.
  • Influence the candidate to accept the job if it is offered by selling the benefits and positives of the company.
  • Assist the candidate to make an appropriate choice by providing realistic job information and the balanced view. Give realistic view of the challenges (working hours, history of conflicts, travels and available resources etc.) to be faced. This is critical to the retention.

Problems & Solutions of Interview Management

Insufficient time is devoted to measurement. Small talk, selling the company, selling the job, answering questions and closing take up most of the time and only about 30 minutes is spent on measuring the qualification. The questions jump all over the place and key questions are omitted because untrained interviewers ask only comfortable and familiar questions.

Coordinate the interviewers and develop an agenda. Agree on who will focus on which goals and who will measure what. Work from the prepared interview guidelines, develop customized measurement guidelines and review the resume in detail.

Multiple interviews over extended period of time without clear purpose behind it send inconsistent and contradictory messages. Companies hire PR experts for the media and investors but do not apply the same logic to interviews.

Train and motivate interviewers to conduct accurate measurement. Provide time and take time to be proficient at interviewing. The ability to hire top quality people is and should be one of the top required competencies.

There is nothing worse than a series of back-to-back interviews, hearing similar comments and answering similar generic questions in each interview. This is a waste of everyone’s time.

Manage a unified PR message.

Use videos, pictures, tours and web sites to convey the environment and culture.

Defining Performance Expectations

Performance expectations are the standards an interviewer uses to determine the expected level of performance. To prepare for an interview, the three components of performance expectations are Goals, Job Barriers and Competency Requirements.


A goal is an end result that produces a direct, positive benefit to the organization. For example, for a salesperson, you are trying to predict through the interview if the new hire will reach the required sales quota.

Be specific and measurable on goals. For example, “build a good relationship” can be measured by sales achieved fast and with minimum risk of time/cost investments, presentation-closing ratio and repeat/additional sales rates. Clear goals will help in determining the job barriers and competency requirements.

Job Barriers

Job barriers are key job situations an employee has to overcome in order to be an effective performer and achieve important organizational goals. Bureaucracy, team culture, department conflicts, competitive position, resistance to change, relaxed/intense, company cycle and morale.

Financial resources, marketing support, industry knowledge, company brand, product cycle, economic cycle, technical knowledge, sales tools, administrative support, lead generation support, territory assignment, compensation structure, training, and coaching have impact on salesperson’s performance. The existence and level of these situations or conditions have to be considered in linking and evaluation the performance expectation.

  • Ask “What are the types of situations that good performers handle in one way, while poor performers handle in a different way?”
  • Identify people who are meeting or failing to meet key performance expectations.
  • Work backwards from labels of desired competencies and ask, “What do they do that leads to success?”

Competency Requirements

Competency requirements describe how you would like your employees to behave in job barrier situations.

  • Did he use high-pressure sales techniques?
  • Were unrealistic promises made?
  • Did he give away all the discounts and other gimmicks to make sales?
  • Was there any unethical behaviour like buying competitor’s customer lists from competitor’s employee?
  • Did he find creative ways to overcome the missing supports?
  • Was he successful at penetrating new accounts or maintaining good relationships to generate repeat orders or did he balance both?

Have you ever had a person that looked perfect on the paper and even have a history of delivering results but failed miserably at your organization? You probably failed to address the specific competency requirements – how job barriers should be addressed.

Competency requirements are different from competencies. Competencies are characteristics of individuals and the combination of the knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes and values they possess that apply in a variety of situations.

Focusing on competencies without linking them to the job barriers and performance expectation will result in disappointing outcome.

Strategies for Developing Performance Expectations

Don’t describe what you want your candidate to be (I want a good team player) but rather describe what you want your candidate to do (I want a person that sacrifices/motivates/resolve conflicts/listens/builds consensus/moves in one direction).

Be clear why you want a team player. If your organization is designed to encourage individual performance and requires no cooperation among the players, why would you need a team player?

Requirement Assessment

  • Responsibilities
  • Results to be delivered – short term & long term
  • Challenges/Barriers to Overcome
  • Emotional Intelligence Required
  • Technical Skills & Knowledge
  • Industry Experience & Knowledge
  • Functional Skills & Experience
  • Situations & Barriers Experience
  • Schools & Continuing Education
  • Management Capabilities

Developing Job-Related Questions and Answers

Too many questions are asked that merely produces the candidate’s ability to talk, act and prepare in advance.

Some candidates take control of the interview by asking lots of questions and create an impression of knowledgeable and capable.

Candidate’s description of their competencies cannot be verified even if they are true. If you ask “What are your strengths?” and he answers “strategic thinking, organization and creativity”. Do you now know if he has those strengths and are they important in performing the job?

Don’t ask questions that have no clear right or wrong answers. Asking,” Who are your role models?” No one will likely say “Hitler”. What if he says “Clinton” or “Trudeau” and you don’t think highly of them? What if he mentions someone you don’t know – “Sir Sonny Cho”?

How about asking a question where you want to know the candidate’s motivation, ambition or career planning skill? If you ask “Where do you want to be five years from now?” He will probably say “I want to progress to my best capability and contribute to the organization” or “I want to be a vice president/CEO”. It doesn’t tell you much about his future performance. If you want to know if he will stick around, there are better questions to ask. Ask questions to find out why he is really making a change – more money or fast ways of promotion.

Experience does not equate to performance. There are people with considerable experience in certain industry and function but continue to make the same mistakes – flopped mergers, sunk in the process of turnaround situations, flopped product launch, flopped systems implementation or steady sales in a protected monopoly industry.

Assuming experience from well-regarded organizations like GE or Merck is no guarantee for a start-up situation.

Asking questions to see if the candidate’s ideal or preference match the realities of the open position will not yield valuable information.

Think of a job that was not ideal but you enjoyed and stayed for a long time and in which you were considered a good performer.

If he really dislikes traveling or working more than 40 hours a week, he will find out from your job description and requirements. The key is to find out why he is really changing – is he moving because of the traveling, hours, stress or lousy boss?

Candidate’s ability to sell himself does not predict his capability to do the job. Questions like “Why should I hire you? And “What do you know about us?” The logic is to find a person who is positive, energetic and interested. But are you really measuring his interest in doing the job or interest in getting the job? Every professional interviewee knows how to show enthusiasm and research the company.

Asking non-job related questions and playing a psychologist would not reveal relevant job behaviours. Questions like “if you were a fruit, what kind would you be?

Strategies for Effective Interview Questions

Strategy 1: Ask for a Demonstration

Ask candidates to demonstrate their behaviour for the specific types of situations that are key to successful job performance.

Work sample requests are often integrated into the interview process – making telephone calls or making sales presentations.

To be an effective work sample or performance question, what is measured interview should be similar to the job in terms of:

  • Time to perform the task
  • Activities involved
  • Work conditions
  • Frequency
  • Importance
  • Performance standards

For example, “sell me this pen” is not a good sample.

Strategy 2: Ask for Descriptions of Past Experience with Job Barriers

It is not always practical or possible to observe performance. Describe a specific situation the candidate would face on the job and listen for evidence. The interviewer should know the job barriers to ask about and how the candidate should achieve goals and overcome job barriers.

“Give me an example of a time you dealt with a difficult customer. What did you do?” This question does not clearly define the situation. The better question is “Give me an example in which you dealt with a difficult customer who had a valid complaint against your company.”

What if the candidate has not been in a situation you described?

First, ask how the candidate has behaved in the specific situation.

Second, if the candidate has not been in the situation, ask how the candidate has behaved in similar situations.

Third, if the candidate has not been in similar situation, ask how the candidate would behave in the situation.

Strategy 3: Ask for Description of Behaviour in Comparable Situation

If you ask “Can you give me an example in which your boss asked you to do x, y and z, all equally important, and they could not be done at the same time? What did you do?”

Inexperienced candidates may answer that they never faced that kind of situation.

The intent of this question is to find out how the candidate handles situations when there are competing and equally important priorities. This competency requirement can be developed outside the job. More effective questions might be “Can you give me an example in which you had several things that needed to be done at the same time and were of equal importance? What did you do?”

Strategy 4: Ask How Past Behaviour Relates to the Performance Expectations

Instead of asking “Tell me about yourself”, try “Could you give me some examples of how your work experiences qualify you for this position?” or “How would you apply your education to this job?”

These questions allow you to guide the candidate to provide a more focused answer, acquires context to understand the candidates past behaviours and candidates can demonstrate how comparable experiences will allow them to be effective in the new position.

Strategy 5: Ask for Description of Accomplishments

Give me an example of a time when your attention to detail has benefited your organization.

What have you done to make your organization more effective?

Some people produce good outcomes by using bad processes and some people use right processes but never seem to produce the desired outcomes. These questions are designed to address what was accomplished and how it was accomplished.

Identify Answers That Demonstrate the Ability to Meet Performance Expectations

Comparing answers of various candidates to determine who should be hired may not meet the performance expectations.

The best way to compare each candidate is to compare against objective standards.

Pre-determined standards or answers help interviewer focus their probing to determine if the candidate can meet the competency requirements. If you don’t know what you are looking for, you won’t know when you see it.

This information can later be used for areas for development for hired candidates.

Develop ample of both effective and ineffective answers.

Conducting an Effective Interview

You can follow all the steps up to this point and still fail to hire the right person if you let the following happen:

  • Misunderstanding the true meaning of a question may cause a candidate to give an incorrect answer.
  • Misinterpreting the true meaning of an answer may cause an interviewer to misevaluate.
  • Anxiety may reduce the candidate’s ability to fully comment or express one’s capabilities.
  • Distractions and interruptions may cause interviewer/interviewee to lose concentration or interest.
  • Fatigue may also cause a loss of concentration or an inaccurate picture of the candidate’s true capabilities.

Using the resume as a guide to ask questions and verify information is inefficient and will miss key questions on performance expectations.

Unstructured interviewers ask different questions to different candidates and will not be using the same standards to assess all applicants for the same position.

Strategies for Conducting Effective Interviews

Strategy 1: Develop and Use an Interviewer Guide

Guide ensures that interviewers ask all candidates for the same job a common set of questions and the questions are organized in a way to strengthen accuracy of measurement.

Guide also reduces redundancies among interviewers.

Guide should instruct interviewers to ask all questions of all candidates so that candidates will not be treated differently during the interviewing process. Add reminders about avoiding illegal questions and suggest taking full notes.

Suggest beginning the interview by providing information to the candidate about the interview process. Discuss who they will be meeting, what they do and their general focus.

Create a measurement section and list the performance expectation, the questions that measure them and sample effective and ineffective answers.

Including goals, job barriers and competency requirements will keep the interviewer focus on why he is asking a question.

Organize the questions to flow logically. Start with easier ones to build the candidate’s confidence. Postpone questions that focus on how the candidate’s accomplishments demonstrate an ability to do the job until near the end. These are typically more difficult because the candidate has to connect past accomplishments to the job’s requirements.

Remind interviewers to ensure questions are answered and to inform the candidate on the next steps in the process.

Strategy 2: Preview the Interview Process for the Candidate

Inform the candidates at the beginning of the interview why you are taking notes. It’s to help you remember key points.

Tell the candidate at the beginning of the interview that you will be probing their answers for additional information.

Acknowledge that you have reviewed the resume before you begin the interview. Interview time is not the time to review the resume. Use the pre-interview Work History form to be filled out to save time and to provide clearer understanding before the interview. These are mostly factual matters that do not need to be probed by an interview.

Limit small talk at the beginning of the interview.

Strategy 3: Probe to Gather More Complete Behavioural Data

Candidates will use ambiguous words like led, controlled and solved because that’s what they read in the books.

Probe with questions such as these:

  • What did you do?
  • How did you do it?
  • Why did you do it?
  • What was the result from your actions?
  • How did the company benefit from your actions?
  • Would you do anything differently and why?

Ask how a candidate’s behaviour changed as a result of the experience. How have you acted differently as a result of what you learned in this situation?

Ask about the results. What resulted from what you did and how do you know this occurred? How did you measure your success?

Vary your style of probing to reduce a feeling of interrogation. Be alert to the need to back off when the candidate is unable to provide specifics.

Probe “red flags” but do not assume they are necessarily bad signs. A candidate may have left due to a conflict but a further probing may reveal that he was asked to engage in unethical practice by his superiors.

Avoid the normal tendency to rush to judgment – take descriptive rather than evaluative notes and suspend judgment during the interview process.

Strategy 4: Reinforce the Impressions You Want to Create

Dress professionally.

Show a genuine interest in the interviewee through facial expressions and appropriate verbal responses.

Smile and call the candidate by name when you say hello.

Maintain a professional demeanor throughout the interview as you ask questions and probe for behaviours.

Maintain frequent eye contact with the interviewee even though you are taking notes.

Avoid behaviours such as excessive head nodding, frowning or blank stares that can be confusing to interviewees.

Strategy 5: Manage the Interviewing Environment

  • Choose a quiet environment free of distractions.
  • Choose an environment with a comfortable temperature and soft lighting.
  • Provide comfortable seating for both parties.
  • Establish a distance between you and the candidate that facilitates communication.
  • Establish an angle for the seating that allows eye contact but does not place the candidate directly across a table or desk from the interviewer. For a team interview, try a round circle format instead of an interrogation or judging format.
  • Reduce distractions (interruptions, ringing phones, intriguing documents, computer screens, outside noise).
  • Reduce barriers (cluttered desks, intimidating seating arrangements) that inhibit communication. Round table minimizes the power differences.

Strategy 6: Streamline the Interview Process with Team Interviews

  • Team interview can reduce duplication of multiple interviews.
  • Limit the number to two to three to avoid intimidation and to allow sufficient time for each interviewer.
  • Team members must discuss and agree in advance who will ask what.
  • Team interviews are more effective for higher position levels and jobs that involve interacting with multiple constituencies.
  • Team interviews allow inexperienced interviewer to learn from observing experienced interviewers.
  • Be cautious of the fact that too many decision makers may result in selecting a candidate with the least negatives or weaknesses rather than selecting a candidate with strong competency requirements.

Making the Hiring Decision

Three mistakes that lead to poor decision-makings are: (1) relying on personal reactions and impressions (similar to me error); (2) using the candidates to set the level of standards (contrast error) and (3) using incomplete or non-job-related data (stereotyping error).

Gather Appropriate Information to Support or Refute Gut Feelings.

Ask yourself “What is the basis for my gut feeling?” What did the candidate say, not say or do?

Ask yourself “what do my feelings suggest about how the candidate will act on the job?” Assess against the performance expectations. You may have to gather the information from the references.

Be cautious since gut feelings result from differences in communication styles.

Use a Structured Approach to Document Your Hiring Decision Process

Consider using a candidate Assessment Form.



Date Interviewed:

Performance Expectations Relevant Behaviours Rating 0,1,2, 3 …. Reasons for ratings

List the performance expectations in order of importance to the job. Include goals, job barriers and competency requirements.

Strengths Areas for Development Overall Rating

Review the Decision Process and Outcome.

Measure the success rate and quality of the process on a regular basis to ensure consistently good results are produced.

Use Team Interviews Where Feasible and Appropriate.

Limit the number to a maximum of three. The goal is to produce better results by engaging different expertise and perspectives, not to build democracy.

Responding to Candidate Behaviours

Appears to be enhancing experience, implying greater influence or responsibility in achievements.

  • Were you directly responsible for that?
  • Was that your sole achievement?
  • Can you tell me more about how you went about achieving all that?
  • What challenges did you face?
  • How would you do it differently in the future?

Appears to be evasive, unwilling or unable to disclose detailed information.

Commonly Asked Ineffective Questions

These questions will produce answers that will not help determining future job performance. At best, they tell you how well the candidate has practiced, can act, be diplomatic in answers and have good verbal skills.

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why are you the best candidate for this job?
  • If we offer you a position, how would you spend your first two weeks?
  • How will your boss or peers describe you?
  • Describe your ideal job. Boss?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Give me an example of a situation when you set priorities on the job. Tell me why you set them as you did.
  • Tell me about accomplishments that you are proud of.
  • Describe the most difficult problem you faced on your previous job.
  • Why are you interested in this job?
  • Why did you select the college you attended?
  • If you had to pick one, what kind of a vegetable, tree or fruit would you be and why?

Effective Questions

  • Have you ever had more work than you could finish by the deadline? What did you do?
  • Tell me about a situation in which you disagreed with your boss on handling an important issue. What did you do? Why?
  • Describe a situation in which you applied your education or some knowledge learned from a different job to improve a new situation. What did you do and how did it improve the situation?

Sample Job Barriers, Requirements, Q & A for a Sales Position

Job Barrier – the key job situations an employee has to overcome in order to be an effective performer: at a sales presentation, a customer offers to close a deal if the salesperson will provide certain financial benefits.

Competency Requirements – how you would like your employees to behave in these job barrier situations:

Quick Financial Analysis: Quickly analyze the proposal for its profit margin for long-term success. Proposes creative solutions that meet the customer’s needs while maintaining the desired profit margin and opportunity for long-term success.

Negotiation: Uses knowledge of the customer’s needs and the capability of the company to identify persuasive appeals that will motivate the customer to accept the salesperson’s recommendation. Goes into customer’s meetings with a strategy based on such knowledge and has a variety of fallback positions. Gathers insightful market intelligence that leads to the development of unique opportunities. Uses a negotiation strategy that shows flexibility and aims to produce win-win outcomes.

Q1: Have you ever been in a situation in which you presented a proposed to a customer and the customer promised you the business if you agreed to make certain financial benefits to the customer? Describe your initial proposal and the change the customer requested. What did you do and why?

Effective A1: Identified the financial consequences and recognized when the customer’s proposal would not meet the desired profit margin.

Ineffective A1: Accepted the deal without considering the financial implications of the changes or incorrectly analyzed the impact.

Q2: Describe a situation in which a customer promised you a deal if you gave the customer certain incentives or spent money in a certain way and you decided not to accept the recommendation. Describe the situation, what they recommended, and how you determined that the deal was not acceptable. Describe the outcome of the situation.

Effective A2: Proposed financially sound creative solutions to meet the desired margin and also addressed the customer’s needs.

Ineffective A2: Walked away from the deal without proposing creative solutions or was unable to propose alternatives that met the customer’s and the organization’s needs.

Q3: Describe a situation in which your financial analysis skills benefited your organization. I’d particularly like to hear about a situation in which you were able to think on your feet and quickly recognize the financial consequences of a proposed deal.

Effective A3: Describe a situation where financial skills produced a positive benefit for the organization. The situation required analyzing options and recognizing the financial consequences of the deal.

Ineffective A3: Provided no evidence of using financial analysis skills to produce a positive benefit to the organization. Discussed benefits that are not clear or significant. The situation only had one option or financial consequences were not addressed.

Q4: Have you ever been in a situation in which your knowledge of the customer’s needs and your knowledge of the capabilities of your organization led to a unique and highly beneficial deal for your organization? Describe what you knew about the customer and your own organization that led to the deal. What was the outcome?

Effective A4: Used understanding of the customer’s needs and the capabilities of the organization to identify unique win-win opportunities.

Ineffective A4: did not come to meetings with a strategy or came with a strategy not based on the customer’s needs.

Q5: Describe a situation in which you came in with a proposal to a customer that you were very high on, but that was rejected. Describe what you did in the situation and why.

Effective A5: Came to customer meetings with a strategy based upon the customer’s needs and anticipated and created fallback positions that were consistent with the customer’s goals.

Ineffective A5: Did not appear to have fallback positions or had positions that were based on the needs of the seller’s organization.

Q6: Can you give me an example in which your market intelligence led to a unique and highly beneficial deal for your organization? Describe the market intelligence, how you obtained it and how it benefited the deal.

Effective A6: Gathered market intelligence that led to unique opportunities.

Ineffective A6: Showed no evidence of using market intelligence to develop unique opportunities.

Assessing the Questions Asked

It’s hard to evaluate candidate’s strategic thinking skills by asking questions. It can be assessed by analyzing their questions. Candidates should be asking some of the following questions.

  • Who are your most competitive threats? Most challenging issues currently?
  • What is your core strategy?
  • What are your competitive advantages?
  • How do you intend to win?
  • Where will you be taking your company?
  • How do you work with your direct reports?
  • What are your expectations?
  • How can I help the company?
  • How can I help you?
  • Who and what will I be working with?
  • What brought you here?
  • How did you get here?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • How do you communicate with your team?
  • Have you ever had a Chairman that asked you to cut 25% of the workforce but you disagree? What did you do?
  • Who are on the board and what are their objectives, priorities and philosophies?