You are here: Home




How to Ask Probing Questions

Do you spend too much time interviewing candidates without getting the critical information that you need about their future job performance?

This month we conclude our series on interview effectiveness and discuss tips on how to probe when candidates give short or rehearsed answers.  Turnover costs your company 50-150% of an employee’s annual salary. If you can take away even one tip on how to improve your interviewing effectiveness in the next 4 minutes of reading, we hope our E-zine will have been worth your time!

"I'm asking good interview questions, but I'm still getting vague or rehearsed answers. How do I probe without making a good candidate feel interrogated?"

The best interviews are 50% probing.

Many Right Fit™ clients struggle with how to probe for the truth while interviewing candidates. "I'm asking behavior-based interview questions, but I'm still getting vague or rehearsed answers. How do I probe without making a good candidate feel interrogated?"

There are many reasons why candidates don't give complete answers: Many candidates are unfamiliar with behavior-based questions. Some are inherently more introverted and need time to provide complete answers. Some candidates are used to speaking in generalities. Other candidates are trying to avoid a particular topic. Whatever the reason, you can direct the interview to get the information you need to know.

Thorough follow-up questioning is the key to finding out whether the candidate has the competencies you are looking for. Keep reading for tips on how to ask probing questions!

Using Probing Questions Effectively

Your job as the interviewer is to focus on specifics. The acronym to remember is S.A.R: ask for a Situation and drill down on the Actions and Results. For example, if “conflict resolution” is a key competency for a position, then a series of questions might be:

Describe a situation in which you had to deal with an upset co-worker? How did you do it? Who else was involved? How did you work with them to resolve the situation? What were the results?


Since many candidates are unfamiliar with behavioral questions, they may answer questions in a hypothetical way rather than providing real-world examples. Here's how you can probe for specifics:

Interviewer (behavior-based question): “Tell me about a difficult decision you’ve had to make on the job.”

Candidate: “Most of my difficult decisions have to do with delegation and managing deadlines….”

Interviewer (probing question): “Tell me about the most difficult decision you've made in the past month.”


When relaying a story, nervous candidates often forget details or make assumptions that the interviewer knows certain information. Good follow-up questions can fill in the gaps in the story and investigate important details. For example:

“You mentioned working as a team to solve that problem. Tell me more about the team situation - how was the team created, how many people were on the team and how did you lead the diverse personalities to achieve that goal?"


A candidate may offer vague answers and omit certain details in an attempt to present him/herself in the most favorable manner. Probing for more detail around Situations, Actions or Results will quickly expose a candidate’s lack of candor. For example:

Candidate: "I landed four huge clients in the first 6 months with Company X."

Interviewer: "That's a tremendous achievement. I'd love to hear more about your process. Tell me how you landed each client: Were these new or pre-existing leads? What was the biggest obstacle you encountered to selling each of these customers? How did you overcome those objections? What additional resources did you use to help you close the deal? What revenue has each client brought to your company? Did you ever bring your sales manager with you on sales calls?"


As a candidate is answering one question, they often mention information that hints at additional competencies that may be relevant to the position or the organization. For example, in responding to a question, the candidate mentions that she previously worked a flex-time schedule. Your organization values flexibility in its employees and is currently re-evaluating the efficiency of its staffing schedule. You could follow up with:

“You mentioned working a flex-time schedule in your previous job. Tell me more about that situation.”

Remember, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Since most applicants will answer in generalities, good interviewers learn to probe for S.A.R. by gently but firmly probing for specifics.

A new hire is an investment that can bring a competitive advantage to your organization, or be a costly and time-consuming mistake. Although the interviewing process can sometimes feel tedious and tiresome, asking the right questions now can save lots of headaches down the road!

Free Consultation

Sample Image

Contact us now for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

Hire right the first time!

Newsletter Sign Up