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We have been publishing articles for over 30 years to address the myriad of issues that interviewers encounter in the process of hiring top talent. Our library of articles is available below for your review.

The Fallacy of "Give Me an Example" Questions

Newsletter • volume 7 • number 4

If you want to get at the truth about a candidate – any candidate – we caution you against relying on "give me an example" questions. As the behavioral interview evolves, more training companies are encouraging clients to focus on this type of question, believing that the best way to assess candidates is to directly ask for examples of how they've displayed a certain competency. But if used incorrectly, these questions are an inadequate way to assess a candidate.

Savvy Responses from Savvy Candidates

The fact is using "give me an example" questions telegraphs to candidates what an interviewer is looking for while also allowing them to omit negative aspects of their work history. Once the question is asked, many candidates immediately know what to say to suggest they have a particular competency. Sometimes the examples candidates give are accurate and sometimes they're embellished or worse, completely fabricated. But in even the best cases, you're probably not getting the whole truth because you're not hearing about someone's entire work experience.

What's more, candidates have a wealth of resources to help them learn how to nail these common questions. Noted interview coach Robin Kessler released a book, "Competency-Based Interviews," that serves as a how-to guide on acing questions geared towards revealing competencies. And Fortune magazine showcased a Boston-based company that charges upwards of $3,000 to coach novice candidates on how to interview. The evidence confirms what we already know about the next generation of candidates – they will be much more prepared to give polished answers to typical interview questions.

A Lose-Lose Proposition

While "give me an example" questions are ineffective for interviewers, they're also unfair to candidates. For one thing, they force unnatural responses. Individuals organize their memories around their past job experience, not around instances when they've demonstrated a particular competency.

When pressed for an answer, some candidates may come up with a poor example, giving the appearance that they're weak in an area where they actually may be very strong. Or, if they sense what the interviewers are looking for but can't cite an example, they may just make one up. Candidates who can't think of an answer at all fare the worst, as the experience of having nothing to say can be so frustrating that it ruins the entire interview.

An Answer to "Give Me an Example" Questions

Our approach avoids most of these common problems. First, our interviewing process is nearly impossible to prepare for through coaching or other means. This is because our Interview Funnel™ model reveals actual experience and behavior without telegraphing expectations, and its use to probe different time periods reveals a pattern (or absence) of repeated evidence of behavior.

It also allows candidates to more freely expand on their past work experiences as they've actually occurred, rather than pinning them down on specific qualities. It's a natural way to interview that elicits a more complete picture of the candidate.

We don't advocate completely dismissing "give me an example" questions, but they have their time and their place. Ideally, the questions belong at the end of the interview as a safety net to ensure a candidate has a quality not yet discussed. Think of it as putting together a mosaic of the candidate's past behavior, and "give me an example" questions fill in the last pieces.

The assessment process that just focuses on "give me example" questions reveals only a partial picture of the candidate. Unfortunately, this is how many training companies are encouraging clients to conduct their interviews. Our holistic approach takes interviewing to the next level, revealing who the candidate really is in a natural and conversational manner.