Interview 101: The Art of Follow-Up
What are some of your tried-and-true interview questions? Or even just “getting to know you” questions? Of course, we all have them- it’s how we tend to start conversations with new acquaintances.
Now, what about your follow-up questions? Do you have any of those?
Unfortunately, most people don’t. Instead, they accept the answers given to them at face value and move on. This can be fine for instances of small talk, but in order to understand others better, it’s vital to make use of follow-up questions.
Why they matter
Follow-up questions in an interview allow the applicant to build on their answer to your initial question. Therefore, to ask a good follow-up, you must pay special attention to that initial answer.
Were they nervous and spoke too fast? There might be some critical information they forgot to share. Did their answer seem practiced or rehearsed? A follow-up question may provide you with a more accurate or precise answer.
Follow-up questions allow the candidate to speak more than the interviewer. They allow you to uncover the interviewee’s actual experiences and accomplishments. When the candidate dominates the speaking time, it allows you to observe them and to get a better read on the room.
Psychologist Dr. Kurt Einstein reiterates that first responses seldom give the complete picture, and implementing follow-up questions allows the candidate to tell their real story. The more details you can gain about someone’s achievements, the better your understanding of their contributions. This is especially handy when the applicant couches most of their successes as team or group work.
Follow-up questions are often confused with clarifying questions. A clarifying question is used to gain an understanding of what has already been said. Follow-up questions are meant to gain more information that hasn’t yet been shared. Make sure your questions are not expressing personal opinions or bias; you’re trying to get a clear factual understanding without the candidate trying to cater to what they believe you want to hear.
Here are some fitting examples of follow-up questions:
● When did you utilize that strength?
● Can you tell me more about that?
● How did you accomplish that?
● Why was that important to you?
● How does that fit into your long-term goals?
● Why do you think that is?
When, why, and how questions generally make appropriate follow-up questions and tend to open the floor for new answers and insights. Questions that begin with who, what, or why fall into the clarifying question category.
You can also rephrase your original question with a slightly different emphasis. For example, “Tell me about your strengths” can evolve into “When did you utilize your strengths while working collaboratively?”
Try linking their previous statements with other answers. For example, if the candidate (or their resume) notes presentation or networking as skills and then later talk about their role in acquiring a new client, you can ask how they utilized those skills in the acquisition.
After each of your standard questions, try asking a follow-up. This can help create a habit of information gathering and will eventually start to help normalize the process. When you get better at asking questions, you improve the entire process and effectiveness of an interview. The only way to assess a candidate’s abilities is by asking.
Sometimes asking follow-up questions can feel probing, something we’re conditioned not to do in polite company. However, in an article published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, three studies found that asking follow-up questions in conversations among strangers actually increased the perceived friendliness of the question asker.
The best way to get past the intrusive nature that can accompany asking follow-up questions is to reframe your view of them. They’re prepared to talk about themselves; you just have to give them the opportunity.
Don’t think of it as invasive. Instead, just think of it as being curious. Remind yourself that proper communication directly influences efficiency and that you are assessing candidates on their ability to contribute to the company.