The ‘Career Coaching’ Approach to Getting Inside Candidates’ Heads and Hearts

Paul Falcone By Paul Falcone May 26, 2020
The ‘Career Coaching’ Approach to Getting Inside Candidates’ Heads and Hearts

​The coronavirus pandemic is twisting the paradigm for how to interview candidates—remotely and in person. For months now, hiring managers have faced challenges they've never seen before, with no road map or past practice to guide them. It's more important than ever to understand what's driving candidates through this period of self-isolation, sheltering in place and working remotely. Consider introducing new questions into your interviews to broaden your understanding of each candidate's approach to these challenging times.

 "Piercing the veil" of the candidate façade is both an art and a science. But what is it that you're really looking for as a hiring manager in the candidates you interview? And what should job candidates come to expect from you—especially in terms of addressing the COVID-19 elephant in the room? Maybe it's time to simplify the interviewing process so that the interview itself becomes an exercise of value rather than a game of wits, strategies and defenses.

Consider opening the interview by focusing on the applicant's career needs and aspirations, especially in light of the challenges posed by the global pandemic. Get her talking about her short-term challenges and longer-term career goals, and you'll have a much more meaningful interaction.

The key to this kind of simpler, more-open interviewing style lies in engaging candidates' hearts as well as their minds. And you'll know that it's worked when they make themselves vulnerable, saying something like, "Well, I normally wouldn't say this during an interview, but I feel comfortable telling you …" Even without that spontaneous moment of full disclosure, though, you'll still get so much more from each interview meeting if you're willing to ask questions that help candidates learn from the process, think about their own priorities and longer-term career goals, and articulate—right on the spot—why the position you're offering may make sense for them in terms of building a career.

Reinventing your interview questioning strategy to focus on the individual's needs can be labeled as a "career coaching" approach to evaluating job applicants because it initially places their needs ahead of your own. As such, it builds immediate rapport, demonstrates goodwill, and turns the job interview into a more open and honest dialogue that focuses just as much on the candidate's needs as on the needs of your organization. After all, most candidates meet the technical requirements of a position by the time they advance to a face-to-face interview. But what will help you distinguish the most suitable individual for your organization or department will ultimately be a personality match, rapport and business style that complement your organization's corporate culture and unique personality.

For example, ask why a candidate left or wants to leave a previous or current organization. If the person is currently unemployed or furloughed, what are his criteria for selecting his next organization, position or boss? If the person is still employed, why does it make sense now for him to pursue other opportunities?

To gain a better understanding of the candidate, ask one of these questions:

  • "What's your primary reason for leaving your current company, and how would joining us fill that need?"
  • "What would joining our organization do for you in terms of building your resume over the long term?"
  • "If you were to accept this position with us today, how would you explain that to a prospective employer five years from now? In other words, how would this job provide a link to your future career progression?"

For employed candidates who may be considering a lateral move into your organization, ask these questions in this order:

  • "What would have to change at your current organization for you to consider staying?"
  • "What would be your next move in career progression if you stayed put?"
  • "How long would it take you to get there?"

You want the candidate to articulate what's driving the need to change companies, what's important at this point in her career, and why your organization makes sense in terms of building her career and resume.

Similarly, ask personal value questions like this to flesh out the individual's true motivators:

  • "What are the three criteria that are most important to you in selecting your next company?"
  • "Industry, company and the people you'd be working with are typically the three most important elements when selecting a new company, but which of those three is the most significant to you right now?"
  • "What three companies—besides us—would you pursue right now if you could, and what would the titles be for the positions you would plan on pursuing with them?"
  • "What jumped out at you when you researched us? What makes us stand out in your mind even at this early stage, and what do you picture the role you're applying for looking like in an organization like ours?"
  • "How have you managed your way through the COVID-19 pandemic that caught so many people off guard, and what did you learn about yourself that surprised you? Were there any achievements during that period that you're particularly proud of? Likewise, what would your most respected critic say about how you mastered the challenges posed by the pandemic?"

Yes, this may be a lot of information before you've formally begun discussing the individual's specific qualifications, but gaining the candidate's trust and benefiting from her initial impressions will help you steer the interview. You'll find that candidates may be a little thrown off if they have never been asked to articulate those considerations to a prospective employer in such detail before, but it will open the door to the bonding relationship you're looking to develop. That's because candidates will walk away thinking, "Wow, I've never interviewed with a company that took such a strong interest in me and my own career needs. They really forced me to think this move through. And, if they put candidates' needs first, they probably do that for their employees as well." In short, forcing career introspection demonstrates goodwill and builds trust early on.

Be prepared, as well, to share the challenges you or your organization have faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This virus has affected us all. We share a common humanity that's bigger than any job, career path or company. Include your story in your interview questioning arsenal to demonstrate your openness and your willingness to address the uncomfortable aspects of working during this time.

You'll not only have helped a junior member of the workforce gain new insights into how he should be looking at his own career, you'll also strengthen your reputation as a skillful and selfless leader and a developer of people by shifting the "employee development" conversation mgxzto the pre-employment stage. Candidates deserve those few extra minutes of your time to benefit from your expertise. You may just find that a little short-term sacrifice and career coaching on your part will lead to greater stability on your team and a lot of goodwill in your own career as you build strong teams from this selfless leadership orientation.

Paul Falcone ( is CHRO at the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Los Angeles and author of 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees, 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems, 75 Ways for Managers to Hire, Develop, and Keep Great Employees, and 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews. This article is adapted from 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire (Amacom/HarperCollins Leadership, 3rd ed., 2018). 



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