Interviewing candidates for your open position is one of the key elements in hiring winners who will perform and succeed. It’s a step in the chain of selecting top performers that demands more skill than most others. How you conduct the interview, the questions you ask, and the responses you receive will dig out the information you need to make a good hiring decision…or not.

It’s so easy to get caught up in “selling” your job and company instead of focusing on the interview’s main purpose: gathering information that helps you identify the winners from the losers.

Want to select the best person for your job? Make sure you collect the right information from candidates during the interview.

There are several types of interview questions:

Motivational Questions-Determine whether the basics for “fit” are met: Salary, benefits, location, hours, cultural fit, and specific training or education needed.

Situational Questions– Ask for a response to a specific situation the candidate may face on the job. These types of questions are designed to draw out analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as how you handle problems with short notice and minimal preparation. The downside is that they give us thought patterns but not actions in the moment.

Hypothetical Questions– Ask what they would, should, or could do theoretically or hypothetically. The downside is that candidates know the “right” answer and that doesn’t tell us what they would really do in the moment.

Behavioral Questions – Ask questions that elicit an answer about what actions were taken in a specific and real situation. The downside is that it takes time and energy to have the candidate relate the story.

Each type of interview question has its merits and place in screening situations. Motivational questions should be asked early to determine if the candidate meets the basic requirements. Then you can acquire more information to determine viability of the candidate’s future success.

Hypothetical and Situational questions have their place. Use them when the candidate doesn’t have the experiences related to the position or you want them to think quickly or problem solve.

When you seek viable information for what this candidate will actually do in a situation, behavior based interview questions provide the best information.

Behavior based questions focus on what I believe to be true: a strong predictor of how someone will act in a certain situation is what they have done in similar situations in the past.

“Behavioral based interviewing has been around for a long time, yet I am surprised how few managers really know what it is or how to facilitate a behavior based interview.”

This confusion is very common. Heck, I noticed that many of the “experts” online suggest asking questions that are NOT behavior based.

Behavioral based interview questions get the candidates telling us the real story that relates what actually happened, not what they think should have happened. The more specific and detailed the story, the harder it is to change the story and actions while relating the specifics.

It sounds easy enough. But I can tell you from conducting thousands of these interviews, candidates are not accustomed to telling us the specifics.

Interview In Progress 

An example of what happens:

I asked a candidate to tell me about a situation when they were asked for a price discount. I asked for the context of the situation, name of the customer, and what led up to the discount request. As he told me the real “story,” I carefully observed the actions and words he relayed.

At the point in his story where the candidate spoke of the price discount request, he stopped and said, “Well, in this case I did something different, typically what I would do is…” and he gave me the right answer.” I refocused him back to the details of what he DID do in that situation. He offered the price discount immediately.

To gather further proof of what he really does when faced with an objection I asked another behavior based question. Share with me the last conversation where the buyer had a concern about selecting your product. His story gave me another situation that was “not typical” and “not what I normally do.” Two in a row? It’s a pattern to be further explored.

I requested the hiring manager include more questions about this pattern. I suggested they listen to whether he gives in to demands versus stopping and asking for more information about the objection and working through a process such as I outlined here when faced with an objection.

Sound familiar? Without careful focus on listening and requiring specifics, we accept responses that don’t help us determine viability of success in our position.

The information we need to learn is found in the BAR acronym:

Background – Gets the candidate’s mind into the story and gives us context.  The situation in which the candidate displayed the behavior.

  •          What was going on?
  •          Where did it take place?
  •          When did it take place?
  •          Who else was involved?
  •          What were the circumstances?
Action – Allows us to experience their specific behaviors and actions. What the candidate actually said or did in the situation.

  •          What did the candidate say?
  •          What did the candidate do?
  •          How did he/she respond?
Results – The output of the actions. The outcome of the situation.

  •          What resulted from the candidate’s action?
  •          What was the end result of the situation?
  •          Are there measurable outcomes?

Here’s a sample of a response to the following question:

Please share with me how you earned Rookie of the Quarter recognition noted on your resume.


 When I first started in sales, I had no sales knowledge or experience so it was difficult to understand what my manager was talking about when she referred to effective collaborative selling skills. (Background)

 I participated in a training course called Genuine Sales® where I learned what to do and how to be effective in selling. We had specific actions to take every week and I put the tools to practice in my sales calls. I really worked with the other salespeople to adjust how I was selling and preparing and saw results so quickly.

With one lead, I prepared the entire call from objective to possible objections to the specific action I wanted the prospect to commit to. During the call, I focused on What’s in it for Them and made sure that I learned of their problem and qualified they were the decision maker. I explained how our software would address their specific problem and the timing to implement. The buyer, Rachel, wanted to discuss price and I was able to show her the price and how much value she would get from making the investment. Then I asked her for a commitment to the Demo with the others on her team and she scheduled the meeting for the following week. I made the sales three weeks later. (Action)

My boss was so pleased with how I was able to use the training and the sales I made in the first few months that she recognized my sales success at a department meeting with a Rookie of the Quarter award. (Result)

Listening for the BAR keeps you focused on capturing the right information. This type of detail gives you stronger insight to what this person really does in specific situations.

There you have the basics of behavioral based interviews: what they are, how they are used, and what you should listen for.

Stay tuned. The next Timely Tips outlines the Do’s and Don’ts with 10 Great Interview Questions to get you started. 

4 Success Drivers You Need to Know...and Grow


How do you strengthen this "Will" among your sales associates? How does the lack of drive impact your daily life? I discussed this and so much more on a recent virtual training event you can access below. It's valuable information for any business leader who needs to maximize performance of their people to grow their company.

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