Recruitment & Selection | Recognition & Retention | Customer Service | More Productive Meetings | Leadership Development

  Creating Staff & Customer Loyalty

Home Search Conatct



staff recruitment & selection

Three steps to writing effective interview questions

During an interview, you want learn how candidates would handle situations that are common in your workplace. The best way to do this would be to observe each candidate in action on the job. As opportunities to do so are seldom available and would be very time-consuming, the next best way is to ask candidates what they did in circumstances similar to those that your staff face. How someone has handled a situation in the past is a good predictor of how he or she would handle similar situations in the future. Behaviour Description Interviewing (BDI) provides the structure that requires candidates to focus on past job behaviour.

Writing a series of BDI questions begins with you thinking about your top performers. What makes them successful? Be specific. It is not enough that your best people have great attitudes, serve customers well, or are team players. What behaviours demonstrate these traits? Provide a detailed description that would enable the listener to “see” these top performers in action. A complete understanding of what distinguishes top performers from others prepares you to ask questions that help identify leading candidates.

Your task during interviews is to determine how each candidate handled typical on-the-job situations. Later, when assessing the candidates, you compare what they said to how your top performers handle these situations. The closer the candidate’s response aligns with the behaviour you have observed by top performers, the more likely it is that this is the person you want to hire.

BDI questions have three components:

  1. Provide a context. Let the candidate know why the question is being asked. Describe a situation that your staff encounter regularly (“All of us deal with upset customers from time to time and know what a challenge this can be.”) or state a belief or value that is important to your organization (“We believe that teamwork is essential to be successful.”).

  2. Request specific information. Encourage the candidate to recall how he or she handled a situation similar to the one you have outlined: “Describe a time when you dealt with an upset customer.” “Tell us about a work team of which you were part.”

  3. List the details you want each candidate to provide. What information is needed for a complete answer? You likely want to know when and where the candidate had this experience. What was the role of the candidate and who else was involved? How did the candidate handle the situation? Why was this approach taken and were other alternatives considered?

Questions related to the complaint scenario describe above might include: “What was the nature of the complaint?” “What did you say or do as the customer complained?” “What actions did you take?” “How was the problem resolved?” “Did you involve anyone else in resolving the problem? Who? How was this person(s) involved?” “How satisfied was the customer with how the problem was resolved?” “Did the customer continue to do business with you?” “What practices or procedures (if any) were changed as a result of this complaint?”

It is unlikely you will need to ask all these questions. In responding to your Request for Information (step 2) the candidate will answer some and maybe all of these questions. This list of questions will serve as a checklist. If the candidate doesn’t supply all the information you require, ask questions to get the missing information. Now you have complete picture of each candidate that can be used to compare what you have heard from all the candidates so you can pick the one who has described what you are looking for...behaviours that align with those of your top performers.

During his Interview Right to Hire Right seminars, Nelson Scott works with participants to write questions that will obtain high-quality information to make the right hiring decisions.


Return to Staff Recruitment & Selection Index
Return to Articles & Tips Index

Go to Recruitment & Selection Presentations

Back to Top



© Nelson Scott.  All rights reserved.

A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


Article Categories

Staff Recruitment
& Selection

Staff Recognition and
& Retention

Customer Service

Productive Meetings

Book Reviews



Copyright & byline
to include if you
reprint any article

© SEA Consulting
All rights reserved
An Andrew Johnstone Design