Recruitment can be an incredibly time-intensive process. From sourcing candidates, to managing relationships with external search firms, scheduling interviews, negotiating offers – it’s easy to see why some searches seem to drag on. However, the interview itself doesn’t have to be painful! It’s possible to gather the information required from a candidate in as little as ten minutes, following this advice.

Find a Connection Point

Interviews are emotionally intense situations, particularly for the candidate, which can affect their performance in this setting. To quickly put a candidate at ease, it’s best to try to identify a ‘connection point’ – or a subject matter that the individual is passionate about. Most of us tend to look for common ground when meeting someone new, and interview settings are no exception. Some candidates even list their interests on their resume, but if not, it’s appropriate to ask candidates what they’re passionate about. You can also look for clues on their resume to pave the way for a mutual connection – for example, maybe you know someone who graduated college in the same class, or maybe the candidate previously lived in a city that’s home to your favorite sports team. Getting the conversation flowing is half the battle of a successful interview, and doing so will create an open dialogue that allows more honest communication.

Flip the Script

A great way to determine what excites a candidate is through the questions they ask during the interview. Develop the skill of briefly answering the individual’s question, then turning it around to determine the interest, intent, and overall enthusiasm behind the question. For example, responses might include:

  • “To answer your question, we do have a particular process for bringing materials into the company, then getting them to the appropriate work stations. Interesting question – what makes you ask?”
  • “Yes, I got my degree in Clinical Psychology, and I enjoyed the training. Do you have a similar background? What was your training?”
  • “I would describe our CEO as a benevolent dictator. He’s definitely in charge, but most people don’t seem to mind. What’s your boss like?”

As you converse, note the following:

  • Non-verbal cues: Does the candidate show enthusiasm through their tone of voice and posture?
  • Verbal cues: Does the candidate express passion in their response, either through their approach to answering the question or through a history that demonstrates commitment and success?
  • Specifically, what professional areas does the candidate seem most enthusiastic about? Will that enthusiasm help or hurt them in this role?
  • When discussing topics that are exciting to them, how well-organized are the candidate’s thoughts and ideas? How effectively are they able to communicate their enthusiasm to you?
  • What evidence does the candidate provide to demonstrate they’re deeply committed to a particular subject they claim to be passionate about?
  • Do you find yourself sharing their excitement, even if the candidate is describing a topic that’s not typically of particular interest to you?
  • Has the candidate provided any new insights or perspectives in their responses that you feel would add value to your organization?

If you’re unable to get the candidate excited about any professional area in particular, then they probably wouldn’t be a star performer once hired. If you do sense enthusiasm, dig into the topic further to determine whether that enthusiasm can apply to the candidate’s ability to focus on areas that are important to you – such as specific responsibilities you’d like them to take on, for example.

Advanced Technique: Playing Devil’s Advocate

Not only does enthusiasm help interviewers to identify candidates’ strengths, but it also provides the conditions needed to assess how that individual will perform under pressure. Excitement is a signal that the individual is emotionally invested in that particular topic. Naturally, as emotions increase, most individuals begin to lose some control over their most dominant personality characteristics or habits.

When an individual feels very strongly about something, and senses that they’re around like-minded individuals who share that opinion, they’re generally able to communicate comfortably without much effort. However, if an individual is faced with an interviewer who disagrees with their point of view, they may become anxious, irritated, or even visibly angry. Most candidates know that they need to be on their best behavior in an interview setting. However, through creating this cognitive conflict, the interviewer is able to get a true sense of the candidate’s actual personality and behaviors.

The key is to create a meaningful challenge. If your challenge is too easy for the candidate to address, you aren’t going to be able to create a setting that encourages an emotional response. Essentially, you have to confront the candidate in an area where they believe they’re an expert with enough authority that their confidence is at least momentarily shaken – even if they are truly more knowledgeable on the topic than you might be. If you’re successful in this approach, you can assess the candidate across the following areas:

  • Ability to listen when challenged or criticized
  • Flexibility to consider alternative perspectives
  • Amount of threat required to throw them off their stride
  • Length of time it takes the person to recover from criticism
  • Whether the person is capable of independently recovering, or if they’ll require reassurance
  • Amount of reassurance required to restore the candidate’s confidence

Challenging the Expertise of Powerful Individuals

Many interviewers are intimidated by the prospect of confronting candidates who they perceive to be more powerful, knowledgeable, or successful than they are. Consider the student who doesn’t dare challenge their teacher, for example, or the patient who shies away from challenging their doctor’s diagnosis. It’s easy to become intimidated when facing off with an impressive individual, but it’s possible to get past this mental block by recognizing the following:

  • ‘Experts’ often fail to recognize the limits of their expertise, and may frequently respond with general, authoritative statements – even if they don’t have any supporting information.
  • As an interviewer, you possess expertise that the candidate doesn’t. You have local knowledge about what makes individuals successful within your organization, for example. This information is just as powerful as any expertise the candidate might possess.

To the first point, there are no universal truths. Exceptions exist for every rule and/or law. In fact, exceptions are often the rule. When a candidate responds with absolute statements, it’s a perfect opportunity to challenge their viewpoints. Listen for the following:

  • “This is the only way….”
  • “This is the best solution…”
  • “We never…”
  • “We always…”
  • “You must…”

When you do hear an absolute statement, try to determine whether there might be any exceptions. Once you’ve identified an exception, challenge the candidate. Start with a gentle challenge and slowly build the emotional intensity as needed to produce the desired result, getting as bold as you can comfortably. Here are some escalating examples:

  • “I’m not sure I agree with your statement. It seems there may be exceptions to it. Is ___ truly always ____?”
  • “I don’t agree with your statement; I think it’s too broad and generalized.”
  • “You’re wrong on that point; I completely disagree.”
  • “Where did you come up with that one? That’s about as uninformed an opinion as I’ve heard on the topic.”
  • “The last person who made that type of statement was fired.”

Of course, the extent to which you challenge the individual should be appropriate for the level of the role in question. The last couple points above, for example, would be more effective for executive-level candidates that will frequently encounter highly stressful, often adversarial situations.

Remember, as you issue these challenges, you’re seeking signs of distress – such as a red face, muscle tension, agitation, or verbal cues that indicate the candidate is upset. Be sure to observe how the candidate handles this stressful situation, as it will paint a clear image of the candidate’s true personality and ability to perform under pressure.

Don’t Back Down

Generally, most people tend to shy away from confrontational situations. However, many professional roles – such as leadership positions – require candidates to effectively resolve conflicts in a way that protects the business’s interests. The best way to predict a candidate’s ability to perform in a highly stressful position is to create a stressful situation during the interview process.

Initiating this interviewing approach can be daunting, especially at first. Some interviewers find it’s easier to challenge candidates in a panel interview setting, an environment which also creates more pressure for the candidate.

Remain cognizant of the candidate’s experience during the interview. While you may be challenging the candidate’s viewpoints, it’s unnecessary for the conversation to become mean-spirited or personal in nature. Keep the tone of the conversation overall friendly or neutral, and try to dissociate yourself from the candidate’s emotional response. If you’re too reactive to the candidate’s emotional response, you’re likely to either back down from your point, or alternatively, the conversation could evolve into a heated argument. Remember that you do ultimately want the candidate to want the job – you don’t want them to change their mind based on the tone of the interview!

By using this approach, you’ll be able to quickly gain an understanding of the candidate’s strengths, passions, and emotional / behavioral profile in a much more efficient way than traditional interviewing strategies might allow.


We’d love to hear from you! Let us know your interview strategies and processes. Schedule a 15-minute conversation with our CCY Team to how we may be able to help you become more efficient in your processes for identifying top-level-talent.