Ten Probing Interview Questions


Preparing for a generic interview is easy, but are you ready for questions that probe deeper? Below, four top call centre recruitment specialists answer 10 probing queiries, giving you a unique insight on how to respond well to tricky interview questions.

1. “Hypothetically, if after this interview I made a call to your husband/wife/partner/best friend (select as seems appropriate) and asked them what, when you get home in the evening, is your biggest moan about your current role, what would they tell me?”

I ask this later on in an interview. Candidates’ responses typically tell me far more about frustrations in their current position and reasons for wanting to move on than any ‘seeking a new challenge‘ answer they have given me earlier in the interview.

As they are focused on what somebody else’s opinion would be and not their own, I often get a more honest picture about what they dislike in their job and what has brought them to an interview – from dissatisfaction with long working hours through to difficulties in working relationships, poor company policies, lack of real promotional opportunities, unhappiness with their remuneration or just outright boredom.

2. “You have been given the opportunity to set up a greenfield contact centre offering similar services to your current operation and you can take 100% of your current staff with you. What percentage would you actually take?”

I don’t want to be told that someone considers themselves a ‘firm but fair manager’ – what I do want to know is more about the realities of their relationship with their staff, what kind of teams they’ve recruited, trained and built and what faith they have in them. If a candidate is only going to take 25% of their staff with them then alarm bells go off.

3. “Beyond the new role and the next five years, what is the bigger career plan?”

I ask this to give me an idea of their longer-term ambitions – whether they want to sit on a board or run a B&B, how far they feel they’ve come in terms of their personal aspirations and how long they see themselves working in the industry for.

4. “If you could go back in time and offer the younger you leaving school/college/university (select as appropriate) one piece of career advice, what would it be?”

This gives me a clearer picture of what they personally feel they’ve had to overcome – from poor career choices through to lack of confidence and areas they perceive to have been a struggle.

Sarah Sibbald, Haigh Recruitment (www.haigh-recruitment.com)

5. “When have you felt the most acute pressure to compromise your integrity and how did you deal with it?”

Therese Eltringham

Therese Eltringham

A good interview isn’t about a killer set of questions; it’s more about the approach you take with the candidate. It’s about probing deeper, once the initial answer has been given, and asking behavioural questions showing motivation and attitude.

For example, this question could be followed by “What were you thinking/feeling at the time?” and “What options did you consider and why did you choose the path you did?

It is important to keep strong eye contact throughout. Without being a body language expert you can assess the candidate’s confidence and conviction in their answer and read signals to indicate when you should ask more. The mention of following up these specific points during referencing works too!

Therese Eltringham, T-Associates

6. “What are the major lessons you learned from your last role?”

While you’re probably already asking candidates why they left their last role, it’s a good idea to have them evaluate what they got out of it in a way that they won’t have already put on their CV.

Asking them to discuss the lessons they’ve learned gives them the opportunity to show the way their last role has enabled them to grow – although a negative answer will give you a good idea of whether they’ve got the right personality and attitude to learning for your business.

7. “What are the three to five areas you need or want to continue developing or are weak in?”

Candidates will always rehearse the positive answers to interview questions – but asking them about their weaknesses gives you the opportunity to see how well they can evaluate their skills.

Francesca Randle

Obviously, there will be opportunities for those candidates who say “I’m perfect – I don’t have any weaknesses,” but it’s likely that you’re looking for someone who can look at things a little more objectively.

If they can see the aspects of themselves that require improvement, it’s likely that they can view your business with a similar level of objectivity; and their drive towards improvement will serve both you and the candidate well in the long term.

8. “What is the highest level job you expect to hold in your career?”

This is a great question for identifying the go-getters among your candidates. While helping them to demonstrate their drive and ambition, it also gives you a better idea of how long you can retain them in the role they’re applying for.

If you’re looking for an employee who’ll stay with you for the long term, then the candidate who sees themselves as the future CEO might be better off on The Apprentice; however, if you’re seeking a driven individual who strives for success, the candidate who sees this job as their ultimate goal might not be the one for you.

Francesca Randle, Cactus Search (www.cactussearch.co.uk)

9. “How do you think those changes would have affected the outcome?”

Michelle Ansell

Michelle Ansell

No one has a crystal ball as to how a customer or staff member may react if the situation were different, but the ability to look to the future, make a decision or predict an outcome before making it happen is essential.

Understanding this can also help deliver insight into what truly matters to the potential applicant and what they take into consideration before they make these decisions.

10. “What were the wider implications of you handling this issue in that way?”

It is important in the customer contact industry for your new member of staff to understand that their actions do not affect just them.  This question can help you ascertain how much of a team player or customer/business advocate they really are.

Michelle Ansell, Douglas Jackson (www.douglas-jackson.com)

If you’re looking for probing questions to use with customers, not interviewees, read our article: 17 Probing Questions to Improve Your Customer Service

Author: Jo Robinson
Reviewed by: Megan Jones

Published On: 29th Jun 2011 - Last modified: 18th Jan 2024
Read more about - Call Centre Life, , , , , ,

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  • Good advice is to try and be original. Don’t tell them what they are expecting to hear. Confidence is the key. If you have total confidence and self assurance then you can take control of the interview. People react well to this and helps them in turn.

    paul 29 Jun at 15:59
  • I will often ask candidates who was the worst colleague that they have ever worked with, and why. This has shocked me on occasions when you get a torrent of “This manager didn’t like me” / “This person had it in for me”. One lady was giving me text book answers, and looked a perfect candidate, but something felt wrong. When I asked this question, I got a ten minute torrent about previous colleagues.

    Helen 30 Jun at 14:21
  • Hi
    I would actually like to know your 10 top tips for a Team Manager/Leader when they are about to go for an interview of the same level but different company or department.

    Nthabiseng Tele 1 Jul at 11:16
  • Integrity is an extremely difficult quality to probe for in an interview yet it is highly valued in our industry, so I like to present questions like: “Have you ever been forced to break the rules / policies? Explain the circumstances that led to this.” Or I will lead the candidate into exposing themselves a little by asking: “We all tell a lie now and then, when was the last time you lied to a work colleague? Explain what happened and what was the outcome.”

    Estelle Malan 7 Jul at 11:56
  • Very good help in preparing for a job interview outwith my own profession.

    CD 27 Nov at 15:24
  • Great list and great information. As a hiring manager I often ask the odd-ball questions to see how people handle uncertainty and to see how quick they are on their toes (have to be quick with many customers, especially the irate ones). One of the best questions (in my opinion) is to ask what kind of boss/manager the interviewee would like to have (describe your ideal manager). You will most likely hear all the opposites of the manager he/she felt was the worst manager. You can then decide if your management style is a good match. Remember, the interviewee is interviewING you and your company as much as you are interviewing him/her. A great fit is the objective, so really listen to what the candidate has to say and then you can decide if you feel the job is a good fit for you, your company, the teammates and for the candidate.

    Susan 30 Nov at 17:08
  • Some of your questions can open up a can of worms should the interviewee decide to go to the EEOC and complain about why they didn’t get the job. It’s fine to ask hypothetical questions; but leave the home/family life/age questions out.

    HR Says, No 31 Jul at 22:52