Executive Summary

Interviews have undeniable value in every organization’s hiring process. Performance-based interviewing is a technique to make your interviews even more effective in finding the best hires. Performance-based interviewing takes into account the most important job metrics of a target position (performance), as well as behavioral traits that have proven to deliver great results in those metrics, then matches that data to the behavioral makeup of the candidate. When the candidate displays a shortcoming in a behavioral trait vital to a role, questions based on performance allow the interviewer to explore whether this particular person has the capacity to compensate for the perceived disconnect and perform at an exceptional level or not. At the same time, the interviewer may find a candidate’s innate behaviors to be so far from ideal that the chances he/she would fulfill the performance requirements of the target job are slim. Interviews conducted using performance-based content provide major data points for the hiring manager to use when differentiating the game-changers from candidates who are most likely accustomed to being spectators.

If you are an intermediate or executive-level HR professional, recruiter, or HR Generalist who conducts interviews or oversees hiring activities, this white paper is especially relevant to you. Those seeking to improve the quality of hire will learn to do so through better interviewing techniques using the link between job performance and candidate behaviors.

This Interview Could Have Been More Effective

We sat face to face with nothing but open space between us. The candidate appeared calm and cool, leaving me a bit anxious. Maybe my nerves were on high alert because I was on my third cup of coffee, or maybe the long day of multiple interviews was wearing me down. Regardless of my mood, my objective was to determine if this person could handle a fast-paced role. His resume seemed to indicate a good fit, and he even had related experience with a direct competitor. I was armed with all the textbook interview questions and determined to uncover the real insights masked by the candidate’s sharp suit and calm demeanor.

“So, tell me about yourself.” I led off with an easy, standard-type interview question intended to break the ice in a non-threatening way. He politely made small talk for a few minutes.

As that conversation thread wound down, I decided to jumpstart the interview with a very thoughtful situational-style question. “How would you react if you were asked to work in a fast-paced environment?” My tactic was sound. Dig down layer by layer with the intention of uncovering the “real story.” Would he be able to handle a fast-paced office, or would he fall behind? This savvy interviewee responded with an answer so full of generalities that I had no more concrete information after I asked the question than before.

I thought to myself, “Time to take the gloves off!” It was then that I decided to pull out the big gun—the behavioral interview question! I went directly at him, holding nothing back. “Tell me about a time when you were able to handle many tasks coming at you at once, all with competing deadlines?” He came back with a smooth, practiced answer, making sure he did not tip his hand to reveal any signs of weakness. After his response, he leaned toward me with one eyebrow lifted as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?”

We hired him based on his professional interviewing manner and with the understanding that he could handle a fast-paced job. A short two months later, we lost him to another employer. We found out during the exit interview that he had understood the job to be action-packed and fast-paced, but he found his actual duties too boring, lacking the high-energy activities that would keep him engaged.

Where did I go wrong? I was a seasoned interviewer. I asked all the right questions. I had all the right interview training. In retrospect, my dilemma had two simple answers:

• My assumption of a fast-paced environment had no behavioral reference point obtained from actual performance data in the role.
• My question content was not focused on specific behavioral disconnects.

As it turned out, the pace of the role was not as fast as I thought it was, and the candidate preferred a much faster pace than the environment the target position offered.

The Concept of Performance-Based Interviewing

The essential value proposition of performance-based interviewing is not the content of the questions, but the compilation of source material that helps you formulate your initial evaluation of the candidate and select the most effective interview questions. The two most important ingredients in performance-based interviewing are:

1. The performance-based factors that are consistently present in those who deliver great performance results (based on actual performance data).
2. An external measure of those factors (or behaviors) for each candidate.

You see, most interview training focuses on techniques to deliver interview questions or interpret information based on subjective assumptions. I would like to discuss a deeper, more impactful strategy that is not meant to replace any interview technique, but to ensure that interview questions are truly based on actual performance aspects proven necessary for job success derived from analysis of real-world performance data.

Performance-Based Factors

To identify performance-based factors, you need two pieces of information:

• A sample of employees with actual performance data.
• An external measure designed to capture the absolute level of a set of behaviors, skills, or knowledge shared by those employees who perform at higher levels when compared to their peers.

Performance Data

Four steps describe the process to compile performance data.

• Inventory – Take inventory of the data you have for employees in the role, as well as the data you need, for the target position.
• Analyze – Analyze the quality of the data and the realistic ability for you to collect high-quality data that best represents actual performance.
• Identify – Identify position-level data that is considered a business driver (i.e., for a sales position, it might be Total Sales per Month).
• Decide – Decide on the most vital performance data to leverage throughout the process.

External Measure

An external measure will be used to capture the absolute level of a factor. These findings can also serve as the bridge to evaluate future candidates once it has been calibrated against the current employee performance data. An external measure can be described as any tool or collection mechanism that is universal in nature, meaning you will be able to predict future performance based on the results of those currently in the role. An external measure typically comes in the form of behavioral, skill, knowledge, situational judgment, phone screens, etc. This evaluation occurs even though the candidate has never actually performed in the role.

This external measure, if linked effectively to the actual performance data, can become a powerful predictor of future performance in any given role. Be sure that you feel comfortable with the quality and accuracy of the external measure utilized since you will rely heavily on these measures in the performance-based interview process.

Identifying Performance-Based Factors

By linking the external measure(s) with the employee performance data, you have the ability to uncover the performance-based factors necessary for success in the position. Think of the process in this manner: based on the performance data, you know who your top performers are, as well as the middle-tier and lower-tier performers. Use external measure(s) to answer some relevant questions:

• Based on the external measure, what are the shared factors among your high performers?
• How do those factors differentiate from those who are not doing as well in the position?

The Concept of “Core vs. Capacity”

We need to establish where performance-based factors and the external measure fit in the interview process. Specifically, the performance-based factors help us to define performance in the position. The external measure gives you the ability to accurately collect information on candidates outside your organization and objectively compare each one to the role.

Identifying the Core

The concept of a person’s core refers to each individual’s core behavioral preferences. Generally, an individual’s core behavioral preferences remain unchanged over time. The purpose of the external measure is to capture a candidate’s core behaviors and provide a means of comparison against the performance-based factors established from the performance data. This information should be collected prior to the face-to-face interview. This establishes a sound base line to help you focus your interview time on those areas that have been proven to relate to future performance.

Identifying Capacity

When face-to-face with a candidate, the interviewer’s job is to utilize the information gathered around the core of the candidate and better understand the person’s capacity. Described further, capacity should be thought of as the ability to stretch or shift behavior to account for a particular situation. For example, an external measure may assign a low value regarding “attention to details.” By applying skills gained from past experience, taking job-related training courses, and old-fashioned hard work, the candidate has learned to put processes and methods in place to incorporate more attention to detail skills when necessary. The core has not changed, but in effect, the candidate compensates for the deficiency situation by situation. At the end of the day, the preference remains low when it comes to attention to details. In this example, the candidate may not appear to be a perfect fit in the area of attention to details, but by expending energy to meet the job expectations, the candidate has learned to expand his/her capacity and be successful.
Once you have established the performance-based factors, then captured and evaluated the core of the candidate, the interview questions can help you to more efficiently and effectively determine the capacity of the candidate.

Interview Question Types

In the next section, we will take a brief look at three popular interview techniques that may be familiar to you. Keep in mind that if the performance-based concept is used appropriately, each question you choose to ask will be tied specifically to performance as defined by the data in the role.

Situational Interview Style

Situational interviews rely on questions that are also referred to as hypotheticals, “what-if” questions, or scenario-based questions. Candidates are asked to mentally place themselves in a particular situation, and relate how they would react.

Sample: “How would you handle a situation where you are assigned to manage a sales team that despised their last manager?”

The Pro’s and Con’s of Situational Questions

• Can be phrased to reflect the actual work environment
• Allows for the inclusion of specifics within the answer
• May indicate how the candidate thinks they will react in the future
• Candidates’ verbal responses may not be true indicators of their actual actions
• If they have never been in that exact situation, they are only speculating on how they would react
• Answers are difficult to verify
• Candidates hope they would handle the situation in the best way possible, but do they believe their own words?

Situational interviews are best applied in conjunction with other interview techniques, or with candidates who have limited experience, or as a reference to unique situations related to the target role. Situational questions can help spot a game-changer when you incorporate a performance-based angle to the question.

Standard Interview Style

When you want to learn more about a candidate through an informal, non-threatening conversation, standard interview questions are a good tool for the task. The questions have been around for ages, but unfortunately so have the pat answers
Sample: “What is your greatest strength?”

The Pro’s and Con’s of Standard Questions

• They are universal—everyone uses them at one time or another
• Candidates are comfortable with these types of questions
• They are an efficient mechanism for gathering an overview on a particular topic
• Answers to common questions could be well-rehearsed over the course of a career
• It is difficult to compare and differentiate the answers of one candidate to the answers of another
• Question topics may not be relevant to the job requirements
• Answers can be “created” on the spot

Standard interviews are (like situational interviews) best applied in conjunction with other interview techniques. They are also a good option when a candidate has no work experience, or the job requires no experience. If you want to do more than gain general information, a performance-based standard question will greatly improve the value of the interview.

Behavioral-Based Interview Style

Questions asked in a behavioral-based interview are designed to draw information from a candidate’s past experience. The old premise put forth since the earliest days of behavioral interviews says, “The best predictor of FUTURE performance or behavior is PAST performance or behavior.”

Sample: “Tell me about a time in your career when you had to manage multiple projects to meet firm deadlines.”

The Pro’s and Con’s of Behavioral-Based Questions

• The questions are easily related to business activity
• Helps interviewers capture a sense of past work behaviors and past experience
• Answers are generally supported with more information than other types of questions
• A person’s past behavior may not reflect how they would behave today…people change over time
• Prior experience is assumed; interviews to fill roles with “no experience required” are not able to fully leverage behavioral-based questions
• Behavioral questions are often crafted without supporting criteria related to performance targets for the position

Behavioral questions are generally considered to deliver more valid information than the situational or standard methods. However, all three techniques are missing a vital ingredient that makes the candidate’s answers a good indicator of fit, ability, and potential: the performance-based nugget that should be the foundational element of each question. Questions built on performance-based criteria will ultimately provide the most reliable assistance to the interviewer in locating the game-changing talent.


Does this person have what it takes to do the job, or not? Effectively answering this question will save your organization thousands of dollars for each hire. Performance-based interviewing will help your organization differentiate the game-changers from the rest of the crowd.

Author's Bio: 

Jason Taylor is passionate about using sound science and scalable technology to design and create innovative and sophisticated tools that bring a fresh perspective to the selection and talent management field. Annually, the technology tools under Taylor’s direction match several million employees to employers while providing quantified results to board rooms across industries.

As chief science officer at PeopleAnswers, Taylor ensures that his talent assessment software stays ahead of the marketplace with cutting-edge capabilities.

A pioneer in human capital systems development, editors from several scientific research publications distinguish Taylor for his research on web-based selection systems which he has developed. His historical perspective, expertise and track record of delivering bottom-line results to companies of all sizes from early stage start-ups to Fortune 500 companies have established Taylor as a thought leader in behavioral-based technology tools.

Taylor often speaks on talent management and selection technology at conferences across many industries including human resources, retail, hotel and restaurant, real estate and industrial and organizational psychology.

Taylor is an active member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). He earned his Ph.D. in leadership education and development from Texas A&M University.