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Use Behavioral Questions to Draw Out the Truth

If you’ve worked as a staffing pro or hiring manager for a few years, you’ve probably encountered this familiar scenario: Your candidate says he’s a natural leader (or a team player, or an “experienced sales pro”). “Great!” you say. “That’s exactly what we need for this role. Can you tell me about the biggest leadership challenge you’ve ever faced on the job? What were the circumstances and how did you respond?”

As the candidate launches into an enthusiastic story, you start to sense a few gaps in his description of events. A few minutes in, and you suspect that this story is riddled with exaggerations. By the time the candidate reaches his breathless conclusion, you have doubts about his “natural leadership,” and worse, you have some doubts about his loyalty to the truth and maybe even the strength of his character.

But you want to be fair. And just as important, you’d like to be respectful. As a professional, you know you gain nothing by turning this session into a hostile cross examination. But you also gain nothing by allowing this story to tarnish the candidates good name if, in fact, it IS true. What should you do? Here are a few follow-up questions that can help you iron out this awkward moment before the session comes to an end.

  • It sounds like you faced a very steep challenge. Can you tell me more about that challenge? Describe the problem and the circumstances that were in place before you took action.
  • You mentioned that you accomplished (insert questionable achievement). Did you do this by yourself, or were acting as part of a team?
  • Did you consider (alternative potential solution)?
  • Did you face opposition when you began your plan of action? Describe that opposition.
  • I must be honest. Your definition of a “big challenge” may pale in comparison to what you might face in this position. Are you ready to take on (more aggressive clients, more critical managers, tighter deadlines, higher expectations) than the ones in your story?
  • What happened after you put your solution into action? Tell me about the results over both the long and the short term.

By simply coaxing your candidate to provide more detail, you may satisfy yourself that the story is, in fact, too embellished to hold much practical value. But the opposite may also happen, and you may prevent your initial doubts from allowing a talented and highly qualified candidate from slipping out the door. In either case, keep your follow-up questions meaningful, direct, and polite. Gently apply pressure to the weaker points of the story to see how well they hold up, and keep an open mind as you do so.

For more on how to uncover the facts without turning your interview into an interrogation, contact the staffing experts at Cordia Resources.