Two Reasons Interviewing Fails So Often: The Five Questions to Ask in an Interview

By Brad RemillardBrad Remillard

Do you have other people in your organization interview candidates that will end up working directly for you? Just about everyone answers “Yes” to this question. The follow up question to that is, “Have you ever sat in the interviews with these co-workers and assessed whether or not they are competent interviewers?”  Not co-interview with them, but specifically be there to assess their interviewing abilities. Most answer “No” to this question.

You are relying on their opinion to hire someone that will play a role in your success, yet you don’t even know if they are competent interviewers. So you cross your fingers and hope everything works out. Crossed fingers and hope make a poor hiring process.

Two reasons interviewing fails:

First and foremost are incompetent people conducting the interviews. This is by no means a knock on those people. The fact is, a few people are naturally good interviewers, just like only a few people are natural at music, sports, or math. However, most people are not good interviewers, just like most are not good at music, sports, or math. Most would be considered amateurs when it comes to interviewing. Do you want to have your success based on amateurs conducting the interviews?

The vast majority of people learn to interview from the people that interviewed them. Since that is true, then where did the people that interviewed them learn to interview from? You guessed it, from the people that interviewed them. And so it goes all the way back to Moses. This is not a training program.

Interviewing is a skill that needs to be developed and honed. Since very few people ever actually receive any training on how to properly interview, most just aren’t good at it. Most people have either had no training or it was one short class years ago and they’ve long forgotten what they learned.   How can anyone expect their managers to be competent interviewers? Skills need to be practiced or at least kept up to date to be effective. Asking the same questions you were asked 15 years ago in an interview is not up to date.

Lack of training and practice creates one major flaw which poor interviewers make over and over again. They don’t probe deeply enough into what the candidate tells them. The interviewer tends to just accept or reject what they are told. Few really probe for facts, time, data, outcomes, challenges, team issues, names, etc. They may ask one or two follow-up questions, but even these are pretty superficial. Teaching interviewers how to probe deeply is the biggest challenge to overcome when training people to interview. Not that the person doesn’t want to probe, they just don’t know how or they are uncomfortable asking these deep level of questions.

Secondly, vague questions equal vague hires. This is often because those in the second or third round of interviews really don’t understand the position. They interview every candidate much the same way regardless of position. It is the one size fits all interviewing syndrome.

Since the other interviewers don’t really know the details of the job, they ask vague and generic questions, just like they were asked way back when. The problem with this is that once the person comes on board the job expectations by their new manager are rarely vague and generic. Nobody has asked the probing question as to how the person will do the job once they come on board.

Can you guess what percentage of hiring managers actually review the details of the job description with the co-workers that will be interviewing the candidates? If you guessed less than 10%, you were correct. So that means the other people interviewing simply assume they know what is important in the job, what specific issues need to be probed, and what questions they should ask to determine if the person is qualified for the job they themselves don’t even understand. Is it any wonder interviewing fails?

Interviewing doesn’t have to be all that complicated. It doesn’t have to be so sophisticated that a person needs to go through extensive training every time they have an interview. In fact, interviewing should be simple, thorough, and easy for everyone to understand.

Well-trained interviewers can get about 80% of the information they need to decide whether or not the person can do the job with just five questions and 6 words. That is it. If they can’t pass these five core questions, then all the other questions are irrelevant, so why ask them? In fact, for most hires at the manager level and higher, if the candidate can’t get past the first three, you should move on. The five questions are:

1) Give me an example where you demonstrated high initiative. Just about every position requires initiative. The degree of initiative may change based on the position, but if they don’t have it at the level you need, do you really need to continue?

2) Give me an example where you successfully executed on a critical project. If you have critical issues you need done and they can’t execute and get them done, you may not have the right person.

3) Give me an example where you lead a cross functional team on a complex project. Leadership is something managers must possess. Cross functional is important, because motivating people that one does not have authority over is just one difference between managing and leading.

4) Give me an example where you have done X in your current company. Aligning past experiences and accomplishments with regards to scope, size, and organization is important.

5) When you come on board how would you accomplish X within X period of time? Getting them to describe how they will do the job in your company, with your resources and your culture demonstrates their ability to adapt to your company.

Once the interviewer asks each of these questions, then simple probe deeply with who, what, when, where, why and how. Simply ask follow-up questions that start with one of these six words. If the candidate really did what they claim to have done they will be able to describe in great detail what they did. Probing deeply is what will separate those that did it, from those that claim they did it.

Brad Remillard is a speaker, author and trainer with more than thirty years of experience in hiring and recruiting. Through his corporate workshops and industry association speaking engagements he demonstrates how organizations can effectively attract, interview, hire and retain top talent. Brad is also the co-founder of Impact Hiring Solutions and co-author of, “You’re NOT the Person I Hired: A CEO’s Guide to Hiring Top Talent.”  For more information on Brad’s hiring training programs or speaking, please visit

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Wordsmith Peter DeHaan shares his passion for life and faith through words. Peter DeHaan’s website ( contains information and links to his blogs, newsletter, and social media pages. Peter DeHaan is the president of Peter DeHaan Publishing, Inc., ( the publisher and editor of Connections Magazine and AnswerStat, and editor of Article Weekly.