Top tips for interviewers - Part II

Frank Newberryin Consultancy

FrankNewberry.jpgAt the Golf Industry Show in Orlando recently, I listened intently to a very sincere and highly qualified turf care professional as he advised an audience of his peers how they can pass job interviews. During his excellent talk, the speaker stressed the need for candidates to take every opportunity to reassure the interviewers during the job interview that they 'could do the job' or would 'do a good job' for the employer.

It quickly became clear that the speaker was actually instructing his audience how to pass an interview carried out by an untrained interviewer. A trained or professional interviewer would ignore a candidate's reassurances, no matter how many times they were given during the interview, and they would certainly not ask for or seek them.

Why? Because reassurances are not evidence that someone can do a job. Reassurances, however, are what untrained interviewers seek with questions like 'Can you lead a team?' 'Can you operate a chainsaw?' and 'Are you willing to work late to finish a job?'

It gets worse. Turfcare sector interviewers are still using, and relying heavily upon, answers to hypothetical questions such as 'What would you do if this happened?' or 'What would you do in this situation?'

For many years, professional interviewers have been saying that reassurances and answers to hypothetical questions are no indicator of suitability, because these answers are 'knowledge' answers.

'Knowledge' answers are not a reliable indicator of actual experience or suitability, because clever candidates tend to research and rehearse the best answers to the hypothetical questions they think they will be asked. Canny candidates during the interview then present their answers as wisdom gained from real experience.

As interviewers, we make this potential deception easier by asking hypothetical questions and by accepting reassurances. We need to focus, instead, on asking 'evidence' questions and then probing the answers given for more and more reliable data.

Tip 1: Indicate right at the start of each interview that you will be asking all candidates to demonstrate their suitability by answering your questions with real-life examples from their work experience.

Tip 2: Start with a simple question, so that the nervous candidate can settle down. You could use a question like 'How was your journey here today?'

Tip 3: Increase the degree of difficulty slightly by asking a question about an entry on their CV, or their motive for applying. You could use questions like: 'What made you apply for this particular position?' or 'You say here on your CV that you had a key role in a renovation project - please tell me about that role'.

What candidate gains:
Candidate is clear on what is expected and has the chance to relax a little by answering an easy question and a predictable one.

What interviewer gains: Because the candidate is more relaxed s/he is more likely to communicate clearly and perform to their potential in the interview.

Tip 4: Begin to ask your set 'evidence' questions at this point. Use phrases like 'What experience do you have of ...?' 'Please give me an example of ...'

Tip 5: Probe each response, so that you get evidence rather than reassurance. You could use phrases like: 'Tell me more about that...' or 'What did you do about that?'

Tip 6: If the candidate uses expressions like 'we' or 'us', ask what the candidate personally did. Every time the candidate refers to 'we' the data is invalid because s/he is referring to what other people did.

What candidate gains: Candidates have the opportunity to talk about their real work experience and give authentic answers to probing questions.

What interviewer gains: By focusing on a candidate's actual experience, the interviewer can gain more reliable data on all of the relevant selection criteria.

Tip 7: Consider using a 'funnelling' mnemonic like S.T.A.R. to help you to funnel or draw evidence in a logical sequence from your candidates:
S = Situation: Q: What experience do you have of (this) situation?
T = Target: Q: What were you hoping to achieve?
A = Action Q: What action did you take?
R = Result: Q: What result did you achieve?

Tip 8: If any of your candidates goes straight to the 'result' without giving you any evidence, simply reverse the sequence, i.e. R.A.T.S. You could say something like 'So you achieved a result - what action did you take to achieve that result?' and then 'What was your goal or target in that situation?'

Tip 9: Take notes during the interview so that you stay on track with your set questions. This will not be awkward if you tell candidates at the beginning that you will be taking notes so that you 'do not miss anything'.

Tip 10: If you are interviewing in a team, be organised and don't back off from asking the 'What was the worst mistake you ever made at work?'. If you probe carefully, you could learn more about the candidate from this question than from any other.

What candidate gains: Candidates are encouraged to give their answers in a lucid and meaningful way, thereby increasing their chances of demonstrating their suitability.

What interviewer gains: By using a mnemonic like S.T.A.R., and by being organised, the interviewer's work can be effective and time-efficient.

So, good luck with all your future recruitment interviews. Often, the difference between success and failure is a little confidence, which you can gain with a little training and practice sessions.

For the sake of all the turfcare professions, we really must get the right people in the right jobs.

We certainly need to improve on the abysmal performance of our untrained interviewers, whose success rate at getting the right people is a mere 31%.

Frank Newberry has been helping people to recruit and select the best people for over 25 years. If you (or someone you know) would benefit from some training, contact your membership association and/or telephone Pitchcare's training co-ordinator Christine Johnson on 01902 440263. You can reach her by email on

You can contact Frank by email or by telephone via the contact tab of his personal website, which is

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