Using SPIN Selling in the Interview Process

In my article in January, A Sales Lesson for Recruiters, I wrote about how to apply a popular sales technique, SPIN Selling (pioneered by Neil Rackham) to recruiting. Since that time I have received numerous questions regarding how this method might also fit in with behavioral-based interviewing (BBI). Although the SPIN technique does not replace BBI, the two are extremely effective when used in conjunction. Before describing how to integrate the two techniques, let’s first take a quick review of SPIN. SPIN is a method of asking questions that allows you to identify needs and develop an urgency to address those needs. For effectiveness, the questions fall into a particular order, as follows:

  • Situation questions focus on facts, or the current situation. For example, “Tell me about your current position.”
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  • Problem questions begin to identify the areas of dissatisfaction. For example, “Are you satisfied with opportunities for career growth with your current employer?”
  • Implication questions focus on the effect if the problem goes unresolved. In recruiter speak, “What effect has this had on your ability to advance professionally?”
  • Need/pay-off questions focus on the outcome if the problem were resolved. For example, “Suppose you had regular opportunities for skill development, what could that do for your career growth?”

So, how does this method fit with BBI? In behavioral interviewing, the primary objective is to understand whether the candidate has demonstrated the required skills and hone in on the candidate’s motivators. In SPIN, however, the objective is to fully understand the extent of the needs and develop the candidate’s motivation to make a change, enabling you to better position your opportunity. When first presented with this technique, many recruiters shrug and say they’re already using SPIN, they just didn’t have a name for it. But on further examination, they begin to realize that they typically get to the Situation and problem questions, but stop short of implication and need/pay-off questions — which are really the heart of SPIN selling. It is the implication and need/pay-off questions that are the driving force behind developing the motivation to make a change. Combining the two methods is much less difficult than it sounds. Think about a typical interview. Most recruiters start by verifying and expounding on the basic facts surrounding the candidate’s employment situation. These are the “situation” questions. This also fits in to the early stages of a behavioral interview. The typical interview continues by gathering information regarding the candidate’s tasks, actions, results, etc. As the interview progresses, you begin to focus on the motivational factors, also known as “hot buttons”. This dovetails nicely into the SPIN process by focusing in on the details of any dissatisfactions that were uncovered. Behavioral interviewing stops here, and so do most recruiters. At this point you’ve accomplished your objectives by identifying the candidate’s skills and motivators. Now all you have to do is position your opportunity. The interview is over and you’ve done an excellent job, right? Wrong! Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling states, “Questions persuade more powerfully that any other verbal behavior.” Adding the implication and need/payoff questions are just what can make your interview exceptional and ease the need to “sell” the opportunity. Once the areas of dissatisfactions (problems) are uncovered, begin to ask questions that address the outcome if the problem is not addressed. “Implication” questions help build the seriousness of the problem, motivating the candidate to make an employment change. Finally, “need/pay-off” questions get the candidate to specify the pay-off of making an employment change and accepting a position with your company, thereby reducing future objections. There are two things to consider when incorporating SPIN into your interviews. First, be selective in using the method. If you know that you aren’t interested, there is no need to spend a great deal of time on SPIN questions. Second, as you begin to identify problems, ask yourself, “Is this a problem my opportunity can solve?” By using the two techniques you can create an interview process that can identify the skills and needs of the candidate and pre-close the candidate or let them down gently. Finally, by taking the time to truly understand the needs, as well as the skills, of the candidate, you decrease objections and you develop stronger, more lasting relationships, which inevitably distinguishes the most successful recruiters.

Kimberly Bedore ( is a consultant and public speaker who develops and implements staffing solutions for clients, resulting in increased efficiencies and significant cost savings. She uses her wide range of recruiting experience to provide companies with a wealth of information related to sourcing and sourcing strategies, recruitment training, and the implementation of solutions and metrics that enable a higher degree of staffing effectiveness.


3 Comments on “Using SPIN Selling in the Interview Process

  1. Our recruiters are finding much success by using the SPIN sales techniques and it integrates perfectly with our behavior based interviewing process! I agree that it’s the implication and needs pay-off questions which is the new skill for some recruiters and it’s what attracts candidates to the opportunity.

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  2. Hello MS Bedore,

    I was very interested in your series of articles about incorporating the SPIN methodologies into headhunting and recruiting. The methods do work better than most people can even imagine and I have seen it first hand. I worked briefly at a firm that utilized the SPIN model on both Recruiting and Account Management. I subsequently finished my contract with them and due to nondisclosure reasons I was not allowed to keep my forms. I was wondering if you had a candidate profile form or knew of one I could copy. I am currently in the process of designing one of my own; however, I wanted to hear from professionals in our business who practice these methods with success.

    Any assistance in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you for your time,

    Roland T. Matte
    Senior Account Manager / Recruiter
    Systems Alliance Inc.
    P 410-584-0595 Ext 224
    F 410-584-0594
    C 443-742-9611

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