Get a Quote
Get Started
Get My Background Check
Background checks start as low as $19.95 with no contracts.

Assessing a candidate: Problem, actions, and results

So, how do you find patterns in what candidates leave or offer in their questions, and how do these patterns inform your assessment of him or her?  Ideally you would like for a candidate to answer your question by providing exactly what you asked in the order in which you asked it, but we all know that doesn’t happen.  Surprisingly, most people will answer your question with emphasis on only two of the three items mentioned below.  Your job as interviewer is to delve into the details and ask questions to fill in what the candidate omits.

P             Problem or situation in candidate’s past where they had to use a certain skill
A             Actions or methods implemented to address the problem
R             Result or outcome achieved because of the actions taken

Q:           Describe a time when you had to influence someone you didn’t like.
A:           There was this one customer at my last job who was particularly difficult.  She was usually rude and very impatient and over time she just became one of those people you grit your teeth through helping, and you never really felt like she was satisfied.  My manager was supposed to tell her that her order wasn’t going to get there in time and try to persuade her to let us order a substitute that could get there on time.  We all knew this would not be easy.  Somehow it fell to me—I had to do it.  I just tried to remain calm and not mirror her tone or let my tone get elevated because of hers.  It was difficult, but I did it.

(Problem-oriented) This candidate had no problems painting a colorful picture of the problem, but she skimmed over the actions and never even mentioned the result.  What does that tell you?
What do their responses tell you?

Always P & R (self-initiated)
A candidate that always offers the problem in terms of “I’m the only one who seemed to notice” or “no one else seemed to know what to do, so I…. ” and then goes on to explain the result in detail, skimming over the “A” usually has a lack of respect for management and possibly a problem with superiors.  They clearly have initiative and the ability to see a problem without it being pointed out.  This candidate will be a good problem-solver but may need to develop interpersonal skills to progress further.

Always P & R (assigned)
A candidate who is assigned to solve a problem and then goes on to explain the result in detail, while skimming over the “A” is usually results-focused but lacks initiative.  This candidate will work well on a team and be easily managed, but he or she will need an “empty in-box” to know when the day is over.  Provide them with well-defined goals and a strong manager, and you will have success.

Always P & A (heavy on the P)
A candidate that always offers the problem in colorful detail, whether it was assigned or self-initiated, and then skims over the “A” or actions that were taken to solve the problem and leaves out the “R” usually has little ability to see the big picture or how they affect the company or team as a whole.  They may have little invested in their professional persona and may not be the best problem solver.  They will probably be easily managed and may work well within a team.

Always P & A (heavy on the A)
A candidate that always offers the problem, whether it was assigned or self-initiated, goes into lengthy detail about the actions implemented and all the work that was done to fix it, but leaves out the “R” usually has little ability to see the big picture or how they affect the company or team as a whole.  They will probably be easily managed, work well within a team, and be a good problem solver.

Mostly R
If you are looking for management material, you’ve found it.  When the candidate spends most of the time detailing the results or the overall effect it had, especially if they offer the P and the A in the right order, they truly understand the big picture.   If they initiated the solution to the majority of the problems themselves, this candidate might find it difficult to work on a team unless they are in a leadership role.  If they were assigned problems or a mix of the two, this will be an excellent problem-solver for your team and will eventually seek more responsibility.

Always P, A & R (assigned and self-initiated)
A candidate who consistently offers all three pieces of the answer throughout the interview is either an incredibly articulate, controlled and well-rounded candidate, or is simply well-practiced in interviewing skills.  Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to tell the difference.  If any pattern arises, I much prefer one of the above patterns.

The only one trick I know, I mean if you really care which one you are dealing with, is to add an accountability question to the mix or something unexpected that causes an emotional answer.  When a person is well-versed in interviewing skills, they tend to have canned answers ready to go.  You can challenge that by asking a question that should have an emotional tie to the answer, with corresponding facial expressions. For example, “Tell me about a time when you admitted making a mistake and accepted responsibility for it.”  The actual answer is not as important as the physical connection to the emotion being described.  Canned answers have been rehearsed so many times that genuine emotion won’t accompany the answer.  Remorse? Embarrassment? Regret?  Does the candidate display any physical signs of these?  Or does the candidate look like they are simply recalling history?  Either way, this candidate is a gem and could have immense potential if the job requires good communication, presentation, sales, public speaking or leadership skills.       

In order for hiring managers to be effective they must understand which qualities and behavioral characteristics are necessary for each individual position, as well as the desired experience and hard skills.  It’s one thing to hire someone who is ready to fill the position at hand—it’s quite another task to effectively aid in the growth and success of your company.  Assessing if the candidate fits the requirements of the position and if they might be a cultural fit is something most hiring managers are well-trained to do.  However, it takes behavioral interviewing skills to assess personality types, honesty, emotional intelligence, integrity, adaptability, organizational awareness and relationship management.  Assessing these soft skills can help you better determine their role in the company’s succession planning, place the employee to build stronger teams and departments, and better manage the entire life cycle of the employees.  Hiring managers that have these skills are invaluable to their organizations.      

Join our Newsletter

Sign up for our monthly roundup of HR resources and news