Stop the Interview Lies (And Get A Fit For Your Culture) With These 2 Simple Questions…

When it comes to interviewing, Tim Russert or Chris Matthews you are not…

Fortunately, when interviewing for open positions in your company, you don’t have to be.  I was reminded of this when I was reading the current Workforce Recruiting article focused on how to maximize retention, by being a more effective/efficient recruiter.

The primary thoughts?  It ain’t rocket science, behavioral interviewing is your best option, and don’tHardball_1 forget to figure out what type of culture jazzes your candidates.

Inside the Workforce Recruiting article, T-Mobile’s featured as using behavioral interviewing to figure out the cultural "turn-on’s" of candidates, using the specific question, "Tell me about the company’s culture you are currently working with".

That’s a good start, but not HARD enough.  You’ve got to make the candidate take a stand, so you can evaluate what makes them tick.  Here’s how to make it better and grind on a candidate to get exactly what you need.

When it comes to the workplace, there’s a lot of theory out there regarding the best way to interview candidates.  Whether it’s a Behavioral Interview, a Skill-Based Interview or an interview filled with hypothetical questions, everyone’s got a system.  Most hiring managers, in my experience, ask way too many hypothetical questions (examples – "How do you deal with low-performing employees?"), a style I’m critical of since it’s so easy to BS your way through that type of interview.

The fact that hypothetical questions are easy to fake (No strengths?  Just make some up and sell it baby!) gave rise to the behavioral interview, which attempts to cut through the hype/spin by asking candidates about specific experiences they have ACTUALLY had. 

Unfortunately, the Behavioral Interview is only as good as the interviewer.  You can ask a behavioral question ("Tell me about a time you had to tell your boss they were wrong), but if the interviewee gives you hypothetical soft stuff back, you’ve got to have the ability to interrogate/grind on them about what they actually did when faced with that situation. 

In my experience, even those with a lot of in-house training are limited in their ability to grind on a candidate.  Feels too much like interrogation, and most of us hate confrontation.  That’s a problem, because your miss rate (defined as the percentage of hires you make that don’t work out because they weren’t a fit for the job or your culture) goes way up as a result. 

What’s my solution?  I’m a believer in the Behavioral Interview, but if I had only five minutes with a candidate, I’d ask them the following two questions:

-Tell me when you have been most satisfied in your career…

-Tell me when you have been least satisfied in your career…

Those two questions measure Motivational Fit and are stunning in their simplicity to match a candidate with your culture.  Assuming you like the background and experiences of the candidate and are confident they can do the job, you really only need to evaluate if your company, the specific opportunity, and the candidate are a fit for each other.  So, ask these questions one at a time.  Once you get the response from the candidate, ask "why?" and say "tell me more" multiple times.  Then, s.h.u.t. u.p.   Seriously – stop talking.  Don’t bail the candidate out, but rather force them to tell you what really jazzes them about jobs and companies, and subsequently, what drives them crazy.

Once you get that, you’ll have what you need.  Candidate likes a lot of structure, but all you can provide is that circus you call a company?  Move on.   Candidate likes to play ping-pong for 4 hours a day, but your CEO walks around evaluating if people are working hard enough by how unhappy they look?  Probably not going to work out.

Give it a try and spend at least 5 minutes on each item.  You’ll be shocked at the value of what candidates tell you in response to these simple questions. 

FOT Background Check

Kris Dunn
 Kris Dunn is Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix and a blogger at The HR Capitalist and the Founder and Executive Editor of Fistful of Talent. That makes him a career VP of HR, a blogger, a dad and a hoops junkie, the order of which changes based on his mood. Tweet him @kris_dunn. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard the good word, he's also jumped into the RPO game as part owner of a rising shop out of ATL, Kinetix. Not your mama's recruiting process outsourcing, that's for sure... check 'em out.


  1. Holly Rasmussen says:

    Behavioral interviewing is only 57% effective. Why do people still use it? Have you ever heard of performance-based interviewing? Check out Lou Adler’s book “Hire with your Head” for a huge epiphany and evaluate a tool that helps you get closer to 80% effectiveness. With behavioral interviewing, shallow and broad questions, you might as well flip a coin.

  2. Jennifer Morris says:

    The 2 questions dovetail nicely with the focus on strengths engagement discussed in Marcus Buckingham’s Go, Put your Strengths to Work.
    I think we can get more from those 2 questions than simply motivational fit provided we dig deep and focus on the “why”? It is the probing questions that make a prospect identify the type of work and preferred mode of task performance that provide insight into the employee behavior/action/task strengths beyond simply motivational fit.

  3. Jessica Lee says:

    thanks for the post, KD. i think asking why and follow up questions is so key… and something i try to pass down to younger recruiters and hiring managers alike. asking questions on their own is never enough. you’ve got to dig dig dig!

  4. Kris those are great questions and I have used them and passed them on to others. But the use of any questioning technique is only as good as the person asking the questions. Behavioral interview questions are only shallow if you make them that way. If you have no idea of what you are looking for and what to ask to get at it, behavioral, performance based, hypothetical doesn’t do you any good. I agree with Jessica, you have to dig. And managers need to be trained. And if after that they still can’t hire good people then that responsibility needs to go to someone that can.

  5. Mary Lorenz says:

    Great post! Another great question to consider (which an interviewer once asked me): “What do you want to have accomplished when you retire?” Not only was it original and unexpected, it showed the interviewer my drive, work ethic and interests without my having to say it in a rehearsed “this is probably what you want to hear” answer.

  6. I like this one:
    “So tell me about when your integrity was last challenged at work?”
    Really gets a nice debate going!

  7. Greg Dolby says:

    I agree with Jessica Lee above in the sense that it does little good to do a behavioral interview without any knowledge of “what a good answer sounds like.” The BI model is sound but highly prone to eveluator bias so I always recommend that a solid assessment tool be used alongside it so that there are good data points available based on candidate responses to counter-balance rate bias. I encourage you to only use a validated tool that blends measures of both character and behavior.

  8. Kristine says:

    I am struggling to ensure evaluator biases are minimized. What are the solid assessment tools that you have used and recommend?

  9. Wally Bock says:

    Pow! Bam! Sock! Whammo! Hard questions, indeed.
    Fine post, Kris.
    In my experience the great interviewers, either in the media or in police work or in recruiting are the ones who ask the great second or follow-up questions. Anyone can read the equivalent of The Idiot’s Guide to Behavioral Interviewing and ask the first question. But as you note, it’s what happens next that determines how the interview goes.

  10. KD says:

    Good comments by everyone here. I like these two questions a lot, but as many have said, you’re only as good as your ability to grind and not let the candidate give you hypothetical stuff. Have to stay on it and use silence as your friend. Don’t bail them out.
    As for those of you who don’t like behavioral interviewing, that’s OK. My experience is that it’s the best system that exists. Like everything else, if folks can’t and don’t want to work at it, they’re going to get limited results….

  11. KD says:

    Kristine –
    Evaluator Bias comes in two forms in my expeience. The first is understanding and being able to recognize the difference between a hypothetical and behavioral answer and not accepting the former. That’s training and coaching (by having an expeienced interviewer shadow and provide feedback).
    Once you’re sure your getting a real behavioral answer, the second major bias in my experience is determining whether the answer you are getting actually fits the behavioral dimension you are probing. Once a candidate give you an answer, you have to determine is that answer is representative of the behavior you were looking for (think the dimension of persistance, for example).
    A third bias would be the ability to detemine/rate the extent that a behavioral answer that is representative of the dimension you are looking at projects success in the position.
    Happy hunting – I’ll let the others pitch in as well…

  12. María Sen says:

    It’s the first time I read this web. I’m a young recruiter from Argentina (sorry for my written english) and I’ve found out that I use both question usually with great result for many positions in my company. For me are determinant of the motive of the person to the job, and to fit in culture.
    And as you all say, when they try to justify the reason… some get themself confused.

  13. As far as cutting through the canned answers in an interview, I agree Lou Adlers program is a good place to start and so is Top Grading by Bradford Smart, and then it is time to do the heavy lifting internally. Benchmarking the role is critical, defining what the core competencies, values and motivations need to be and then using a tool to help build an interviewing guide can make a much bigger impact than 55%. (as long as the interview questions are in alignment with the role and the company, and many are simply too generic) My clients experience higher than 85% effectiveness when using a quality system for hiring. It has everything to do with…. 1. Was the work done correctly up front..was the position defined and were the key performance indicators clarified. 2. The quality of the tool (Keenview is a quality tool). 3. And the quality of the person using the tool.

  14. DSWilson says:

    Great questions – now how about the reverse? How does the interview-ee ask the question on the culture within the interviewing organization?
    Unless one can find someone on the ‘inside’ it is very hard to learn how an organization functions from the outside. So change sides of the table – and consider what would be an appropriate way for the interview-ee to ask the HR person? (And, get a realistic answer, not just a sales pitch…)

  15. I used to ask candidates, “What would you do if you didn’t have to work at all?” That was a very good bulls**** detector because most candidates didn’t suspect what I was really getting at.
    The job was one that called for people who were very driven – compelled even – by intellectual curiosity. People who found it “fun” to do obscure research for hours on end into dry material, such as the accounting practices at a client company.
    People whose answers were an attempt to demonstrate “work ethic” failed. What I was looking for was the kind of person who tended towards intense intellectual play. Also, the culture was built around being a “safe haven” for “smart” people who were motivated more by intellectual stimulation than by traditional corporate definitions of achievement. So, ironically, I was looking for the sort of person who didn’t really care about “fitting in” or “rising the corporate ladder” in the social senses.

  16. Benchmarking the role is critical, defining what the core competencies, values and motivations need to be and then using a tool to help build an interviewing guide can make a much bigger impact than 55%

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