Type into search: “Tell me a time when–interview questions” and it will yield over 9,000,000,000 search results!  No wonder it’s so easy for today’s candidate to be prepared for your interview.

A good interviewer knows to ask the standard question “tell me a time when you… (You can fill in the blanks).  An excellent, thoughtful and well-trained interviewer knows to ask those same exact questions, yet knows how to build upon those responses by digging deeper.

Start with a basic question of “please tell me about yourself.” This is your time to encourage the person to speak and for you to carefully listen to how they construct their thoughts, perceive themselves, take responsibility and overall communicate.

Rose Fiorilli, Founder & CEO of Rubicon Advisory, an executive coach and advisor to senior executives and entrepreneurs says: “As an executive coach, when I initially assess and prepare senior candidates thinking about transition, I pay a lot of attention to whether or not they can tell a clear, concise and compelling story about themselves first, and that’s even before we address specific situational questioning about their background, skill sets and experience.  Interviewers should look for less of the usual ‘pitching’ and instead encourage a more genuine “telling of the story.”

When hearing a storytelling response, pay careful attention to how they present themselves.  Take note on how they use the word “I” versus “we.”  Look for a good blend of both words.  The “I” will indicate what they may have personally achieved, the “we” will help you understand how collaborative they are in their professional conduct.  A heavy leaning towards the word “I” could give you pause about their ego and their ability to share responsibility and/or achievements; a heavy leaning towards the word “we” could give you pause in how much they individually accomplished.

A candidate’s initial answers must be further probed.  When a candidate gives a response of what they did, then it is your responsibility to ask exactly what their role in the situation was, under what time line, with what budget and with what sort of help.  If you are looking for quantitative answers (sales goals within sales roles–as an example) you need to not only understand the actual numbers, yet understand how the numbers were reached, compared with budget, compared with other sales people and compared against other calendar years.  Control the interview.  Ask further questions, from the answer you have been given.

Sloan Gaon, the CEO of PulsePoint says: “The challenge and then the opportunity with situational interviews is to get the candidate to share deeply about their prior experience.  Most candidates tend to stay at 30,000 feet.  My goal is to get them to 5,000 feet so that I can properly assess their fit within our organization.  This requires me to keep the conversation going and I do so but being very succinct in my follow-up questions by using words like “tell me more” or “go a little deeper here.” I will also use a word that the candidate uses when responding and repeat it with a question.  So if someone is talking about a difficult boss, I will say “difficult” in way of a question to try to glean more about what was so difficult.  Getting deeper is the only way to properly assess a candidate and the right fit.”

It could also be beneficial to approach the interview in other ways.

Kerry Bianchi, the COO of Collective says:  “I like to ask candidates how peers, managers, clients or subordinates/mentees would describe them.  By asking them to answer from someone else’s Point of View it usually shifts the conversation dynamic out of the “script” they may have mentally prepared to a moment of reflection that often reveals to me how much self- awareness, personal objectivity or humility they have.”

Chances are you are looking for problem solvers in your organization–most companies are; so when you ask the question: “tell me a time when you faced a difficult situation in your work,” you are not only looking for the situation to be discussed, yet you are looking for how the problem was resolved.  And again, when given a response, delve and ask for more information.  Try to understand if the candidate was the problem solver or the actual problem itself.  Ask questions about: “what sort of recognition did you achieve?”, “how did management perceive this situation?” “how did your peers react?” and “what were the results?”  This sort of questioning will give you a well-rounded understanding of the candidate’s history.

The time spent interviewing a candidate is crucial, so good questioning matters!  Let thorough storytelling interviewing be your approach for understanding your next potential hire.  Keep in mind, that the candidate’s initial responses to your questions are just the beginning of understanding their successes, failures, motivations, principles and values.