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Candidate Help & Advice

Expect the Unexpected: Good Interviewers Ask Follow Up Questions

As an interviewer, it always amazes me how often I trip people up by asking follow up questions. It seems all of these interview prep books and websites like to just list out questions and canned answers but they don’t prepare job seekers for the possibility that the person conducting the interview is going to dive deeper.

Now, I don’t set out to trip people up to be mean – my job is to find out about you, what your skills are, and do they match the needs for the job.  If I simply ask questions and take your answers for face value, I’m doing my company a disservice and frankly, I’m not doing my job.

Here’s a true life example for you.  I often employ a rating method on basic computer skills.  So I would ask a candidate to rate their knowledge of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc., on a 1 through 10 scale. I usually try to help the candidate by saying “a 10 means that you know absolutely everything there is to know about this software and 1 means you’ve never even heard of it”.  It’s fun to see how people answer this question – some give what seems are very honest answers while others are 9s and 10s all around.  Regardless of where they rate themselves, I always ask a few follow up questions: “tell me about the more intermediate or advanced features of the program you know” or “tell me about the most complex project you completed using the software”. Most of the candidates never see this coming, and many of them fumble, unable to elaborate about their skills.  And often, those who thought they would get by with their simple 9 and 10 answers end up looking like liars.

Sure, I could take you at your word that you know Microsoft Excel, for example, but I’ve been around the block a few times and guess what – sometimes people lie in job interviews – I know you are totally shocked!  My job is to find the best fit for my company and the role for which I’m recruiting.  I have a responsibility not to take a candidate’s answers at face value and to probe deeper.  And I will, so be prepared.


Mike Spinale is a corporate Human Resources leader at a healthcare information technology company located outside of Boston, Massachusetts and is an adjunct professor at Southern New Hampshire University. He has over eight years of experience in HR and management including career counseling, recruitment, staffing, employment branding, and talent management.  Mike has dedicated his HR career to modern views on the field – HR is not about the personnel files – it’s about bringing on the best talent, ensuring they’re in the right seat, and keeping them motivated and growing in their careers. In addition, Mike is the author of the CareerSpin blog where he offers advice and opinion on job search, personal & employment branding, recruiting, and HR. Mike is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Babson College. He is also a board member of the Metro-North Regional Employment Board, a board which sets workforce development policy for Boston’s Metro-North region, and an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management and the Northeast Human Resources Association.


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