Are Recruiters Headed For Interviewing’s OK Corral?

Carol Quinn has an interesting theory that recruiters are about to be ambushed at hiring’s equivalent of the OK Corral.

“Interviewers haven’t changed their techniques,” says the CEO of Hire Authority, a recruiter training firm. “But the job seekers have. They’ve been studying. Applicants have beefed up their ability to really look good.”

It’s her feeling that over the last couple of years, as recruiter ranks have been thinned by the recession, those left behind have had neither the time nor often the budget to improve their interviewing skills. On the other hand, job seekers, with nothing but time, have gotten better.

“There are so many sources catering to these hungry job seekers looking for a paycheck that they don’t have to look very hard for help,” says Quinn. As a point of illustration, Quinn told me that several months ago she came across a tweet pointing to a collection of videos of recruiters using behavioral interviewing techniques with a candidate. The candidate’s responses, she says, “were spot-on.”

“Go to the bookstore. Go to the library. Do you have any idea how many hundreds of books there are on interviewing? You can get all the behavioral questions and all the answers,” says Quinn. “Everyone can look like a top performer.”

Quinn teaches a style of interviewing she calls motivation-based. It’s a system that seeks to identify high-achievers by unearthing their internal drivers and examining their passion for the job and for achieving goals.

Sound like behavioral interviewing? It is, at least in part. The differences are more subtle than they are revolutionary.

The example she offers is of the fairly stock question, “Tell me about a time when you satisfied an irate customer.”

“Every person can tell you about a time like that,” Quinn says. Instead, her motivation-based method would finesse the question along these lines, “Tell me about a specific time when you satisfied an irate customer. How you did it and what you got out of it.”

That may not sound like a big difference, but it does kick things up a notch. The “how you did it and what you got out of it” part isn’t as amenable to a formula. It also has the benefit of surprise, and that is something every job seeker wants to avoid in an interview.

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Being prepared, even for mediocre performers, isn’t hard when the Internet is swarming with interview coaching videos. In one, entitled “How to Answer Questions at a Job Interview,” among the bits of advice is this: “You want to be honest, but not too honest.” Another, How To Ace a Job Interview,” gives the A++ answer to this other stock question, “Why do you want to leave your job?”

On YouTube alone there are 21 videos with the title “How to ace a job interview.” And dozens and dozens more on the same subject.

But it would seem that a being well prepared as a job seeker is a positive. Quinn doesn’t doesn’t disagree with that, but she sees that as a minimum.  “I have found that the people who come in well prepared and interview well aren’t necessarily going to perform well in the job,” she says.

A few years ago, before the behavioral Q&As were all over the Internet, interviewers schooled in the technique could get beneath the veneer to see more of the individual. Now, Quinn suspects, recruiters are going to be more easily fooled by polished job applicants and wind up hiring people who aren’t going to perform as well on the job as they did in the interview.

Her advice to recruiters is to focus equally on the motivation, attitude, and passion of the candidate as on their skills. “Candidates don’t fake specifics well. Go after details and pursue how they responded to challenges, especially impossible obstacles.

“High performers achieve better results despite the obstacles.,” she says. “Low performers think the obstacles are responsible for not achieving the high performance.”

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


14 Comments on “Are Recruiters Headed For Interviewing’s OK Corral?

  1. I agree candidates are better prepared in the techniques of interviewing. However, if we are doing our jobs as recruiters and search consultants we should be able to spot the “canned” answers. In addition, we should be probing to identify the source of their responses, ie. whether they are “canned” or personally developed through experience.
    It is typically simple to determine if the candidate has the skills, experience, etc. to do the job based on the interview and employment history, the more difficult factor is can he/she perform in the specific role given the corporate culture and nuances of the organization. This is where we earn our keep.

  2. Simply put a professional search consultant or recruiter should be an expert in interviewing. If I can’t add value to clients by identifying achievers, then I shouldn’t be in the business.

  3. John, this is an extremely and timely article as I have found that candidates are better prepared for interviews. There is a big distinction between motivation based interviewing and behavioral based interviewing. I am familiar with both tools, having taken the MBI program. There is a huge difference.

    I have used the MBI program and found that it is extremely effective in better understanding the candidates and, if used properly, is an extremely valuable resource needed for making proper hiring decisions.

  4. My 2 cents worth of comments —— I’m a headhunter for over a decade before assuming my current operational role. I agree with Carol but I’ve always known behavioral interview to follow this format

    S – Scenario
    A – Action taken
    R – result (sometime I add another item if the result is ‘nagative’ – what did you learn from this episode? I even ‘taught’ candidates to volunteerily ans this if they’re quizzed on a situation where the R (result) is negative)

    It should not stop at S (scenario) and if it does, recruiters have not employed bahavioral interviewing accurately.

  5. IMHO, there is no such thing as a ‘canned response’ to a behavioral interview question if you ask it correctly and if you do not settle for an answer that does not detail a situation or task, an action and a result. If you are getting ‘canned’ responses to the questions you are asking, you are not asking the right questions.

    Also, there is nothing revolutionary about her “how you did it and what you got out of it” follow up question. The “how you did it” would be the action described above and the “what you got out of it” would be the motivational piece that any good interviewer would ask. A good interviewer is able to combine behavior and motivation into the interview in an effective way.

  6. As someone who has introduced the use of MBI as the sole interviewing tool for a Fortune 10 company, I can say that MBI and behavioral-based interviewing are like day and night. Behavioral-based interviewing ask questions that allows the candidate to provide examples of things they have done. Even the best answers only identify the candidates’ skills and knowledge. These factors, while important in the performance of a job, are only tools. And a tool is only as good as the person using it. This is where MBI strongly differentiates itself from behavioral-based interviewing. The technique MBI uses is asking a behavioral-based questions that includes an obstacle. It’s the obstacle part of the question that determines the candidates’ motivation (the M in MBI), and motivation is what it’s all about! A candidate can have all the skills in the world, but if they don’t have the self, or internal motivation, to use those tools, it’s like buying an expensive power daw and never taking it out of the box. Carol Quinn’s interviewing process is not something she just dreamed up. It’s based on a part of psychology called, “Locus of Control (LOC)”. We all have an LOC. What MBI teaches interviewers is how to identify candidates with a tendency for “internal locus of control” or what most people call self-motivation and those candidates with an “external locus of control tendency” or lack of self-motivation. Those candidates with an internal LOC tendency are the ones, both in their interview responses and in the real work-a-day world, that are going to work to overcome the mulitple obstacles they face everyday. The candidates with an external LOC tendency are the ones who’re going the throw up their hands and say,”I can’t do that” or “That’s impossible” or make some other type of excuse for why that can’t do many of the assignments and other tasks they are given in the routine performance of their jobs. No one is all internal or external, but in a set ofwell designed interview questions, an MBI-trained interviewer can determine which candidates will routinely gert results and which wont. Oh, and by the way, those same questions let’s a trained interviewer assess those inmportant job-skills at the same time their assessing locus of control.

    One other comment, in addition to assessing locus of control, MBI-trained interviewers know how to look for career-fit. They know how to find each candidate’s “motivation steering wheel”, that thing we all have in our heads and hearts that steers us towards what we are good at doing and want to do more of. This assessment enables the interviewer to sort the job seeker who just wants a paycheck (and that’s not an altogether bad thng, we all gotta eat and pay the bills!) from the job seeker who really has a passion for doing the position for which they are interviewing. The combination of knowing how to identify that self-motivated candidate who’ll routinely overcome the obstacles and challenges all jobs have and that really loves doing what your openings requires makes for a new hire who will far exceed any candidate with just the tools to do a job. I highly recommend any one interested in learning more about MBI to contact Carol Quinn at

    Neal Squyres
    Manager, Western Hemisphere Resourcing Operations (retired)
    BP Americas

  7. Back in the mid-90’s when I served on the Employment Management Association national board of directors, Carol wrote an article for the EMA REPORTER magazine. In that article I used a quote – “Applicants are learning more about getting a job than interviewers are learning about hiring” – for a number of presentations (always with credit to Carol). And it still holds true today! Especially with your hiring managers.

    By incorporating other tools such as assessemnts to compliment (and prepare) for more effective interviews, this increased the opportunity to learn more about candidate motivations and values that will eventually drive their thinking, judgements, choices, engagement, and therefore results. Having used numerous tools along the way, the Hartman-Kinsel Value Profile (based on a deductive science called Axiology)is the most effective tool I’ve found that shows a person’s true value structure including their attention in critical thinking conditions. By providing this insight, it’s easier to prepare and execute interviews targeted specifically to their motivations and values compared to what is critically needed for success in the role (assuming that success is well defined!).

  8. I too have taken Carol’s MBI course and can tell you that it is different than behavioural based interviewing. While it shares some of the similarities in that it draws on an applicant’s history, there is more to the Motivational Based Interviews. I have interviewed for many years and thought I was fairly good at it; but this tool helps to identify those who will perform in the role better than anything I have used previously. Job seekers are definitely learning how to ace interviews – the beauty of MBI is that it takes the interviewing process to a new level.

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