In the article Recruitment Tips: Planning the recruitment interview part one we talked about past performance as being the best predictor of how a candidate will perform in the future and we focused on describing the non-technical skills and attributes as behaviours.  In the article working out which questions to ask we explored the types of questions that work well in interviews (and those that don’t!).  Let’s now look at a framework for using those questions to explore a candidate’s past performance and, specifically, their past behaviours

Recruitment Tip 1: Use a question framework

When assessing candidate’s past behaviour, it is useful to gather information on several key components: Context, Action, Result, Learning (CARL)


We use open questions to help the candidate identify a ‘real-life situation’ that we can explore with them. We might also use objective questions for clarity. We need the context in order to best evaluate the candidate’s actions


Tell me about a situation when…

What was your role?

How many people were involved?


Here we begin by using open questions to encourage the candidate to describe their actions; what they did in the situation. We can then use probing questions to get a clearer understanding of why they did what they did  

What did you do?

Why did you choose that course of action?

What other alternative actions did you consider?


We now want to know the result of the actions taken so that we can evaluate the actions taken. A simple open question would be

What was the outcome…?


We often want to evaluate a candidate’s ability to learn from experience; what did the candidate learn from the situation and how did they apply that learning?

What did you learn from this situation?

How have you applied that to other situations?

Let’s now take an example of interviewing the candidate about their ability to work under pressure (you can see how we describe ‘ability to work under pressure’ in the previous article here). We’ll focus on meeting deadlines

Example: Ability to Work Under Pressure (Meeting Deadlines)

We would begin the questioning by introducing the topic:

I’d like to hear from you now about how you deal with meeting challenging deadlines



  • Tell me about a situation when you had difficulty in meeting a deadline


  • What did you do?
  • What led you to decide to take that action?
  • What did you take into consideration when you reprioritised your work?
  • Who was affected by your actions?
  • How did you involve/get them to agree to your reprioritisation?


  • What was the outcome?


  • What did you learn from this experience?
  • How have you applied that learning?

Recruitment Tip 2: Consider using a contrary evidence question

I think it’s fair to say that most candidates will be able to give an example of meeting a challenging deadline and, of course, this may not be specifically work-related if the candidate is applying for their first job. The benefits of using a ‘contrary evidence’ question are that a) it often helps the recruiter to evaluate how a candidate deals with failure and b) it can help the recruiter evaluate how honestly the candidate can evaluate themselves and their performance

  • Now describe to me a situation when, despite all your efforts, you were unable to meet a deadline (followed by actions, results, learning)


Having a framework for asking questions about past performance (in order to predict future performance) has two benefits. Firstly, the recruiter has a format that can bring real vigour to their questioning; a step-by-step approach to exploring past experience. Secondly, it gives the candidate an opportunity to talk about their past performance in a logical sequence. I’ve coached dozens of candidates on how to talk about past experience and, believe me, without a structure like CARL they rarely know where to start – or finish!  

Most of the candidates I’ve worked with say that, although they often find this style of interviewing challenging, they find being interviewed by someone who really wants to probe how they have applied their knowledge, skills and attributes in a structured way a very positive experience. If you need guidance on any of the points mentioned in this article contact Jonathan for a chat

Author Joan Henshaw

Joan is a management development trainer, author and presenter of the video management training series ‘The 10 Minute Management Toolkit’. She has spent the last 25 years helping business owners, leaders and managers improve their effectiveness, including building their skills as recruiters.

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