A Candidate’s Background & Experience Are Irrelevant

Just to clarify, I said “irrelevant.” I didn't say “not important.”

Since most people have been taught interviewing is about the candidate's dbs background and experience, the interviewer tends to ask a lot of questions about the past. For example, “What have  you done in this area?”  or ” Have you ever done _____?”  Those trained in behavioral interviewing will just simply take those same questions and convert them into an example. For example, “Give me an example of where you have done X” or “Tell me about a time when you had X as an issue?”

All of this may be good stuff to know, but the fact is you really don't care about any of this. The fact is when a candidate shows up on Monday morning, you no longer care about all of the things they have done. You only care about one thing, whether or not they can do the job you are hiring them to do. That is all you really care about. Nothing else matters anymore. They may have the best background and all the right experience, but if they can't do your job, then you really don't care about their background and experience.

Have you ever hired a person that had all the right experience, interviewed well, had all the right answers, their resume read like the job description, and when you hired them they fell flat on their face? This has happened to just about everyone.

Why does this happen? I contend it is because the person's background and experience are not primary indicators of their ability to do your job. These are at best secondary and more often than not misleading indicators. Yet, these are the indicators that most hiring managers rely on.

Instead, let's focus the interview on the primary reason for interviewing, “Can they do your job?” This is the focus behind the Success Factor Hiring Methodology.  The key to a successful hire is having a process that puts the candidate in the job BEFORE you hire the candidate. It is not about determining if the candidate's background and experience fit.

This is why we believe behavioral interviewing falls short. It was once a quantum leap forward in how interviewing was performed. However, in our opinion, it too has run its course. Great interviewing is more than getting examples of the past. It is about doing your job. The tag line for behavioral interviewing, “past performance is an indicator of future performance” isn't always the case.

In our hiring methodology training workshops, we teach how to change the focus from the person's background and experience, to how will they adapt those to your job. If they can't adapt to your company and your position, then they may be a great X but they aren't the right X. That is generally what goes wrong when we hire a person with all of the right background and experience and then they fall flat on their face. The candidate wasn't able to adapt their background and experience to your company and your position.

So how do you put the candidate in the job BEFORE you hire the person?

  1. Stop asking questions that start with “have, what, have you, tell me about a time when, etc.” These are all fine to know but they should be used for probing after the example and not for the example. That is a huge difference. The famous, Who, What, When, Where and Why questions are for probing deep and not for opening questions.
  2. How questions should be used for the opening question. One of the biggest issues we face when working with hiring managers is getting them to shift to asking “How” questions. After that you can then begin probing with the five W's. For example, “How would you decrease costs by 10%?” “How would you increase gross margins by X%?” “How would you go about implementing a complete systems upgrade of our ERP system?” “How would you increase market share in your territory?” Then probe deeply with the five W's.
  3. Now the interviewer is shifting the interview from background and experience to having the candidate explain how they would apply these to do the job. If the candidate can't apply their background and experience to the new job, then one has to question whether or not they are the right person regardless of background and experience.

The reason most interviewing fails is because it is easy for a candidate to talk about their experience. Some might even embellish in this area. It is significantly different  to explain how they would apply those experiences.

You can evaluate your hiring process for free. Just download our 8-Point Hiring Methodology Assessment Scorecard. This will  help you to identify the strengths and weaknesses in your hiring process. CLICK HERE to download.

Are you committing one of the “10 Biggest Hiring Mistakes?” This research study is available to download for free. If you are committing one of these ten, it is not hard to fix so that it doesn't happen again. CLICK HERE to download the summary.

For more information on workshops that will ensure you put candidates in the job BEFORE you hire them CLICK HERE.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard


About the Author

Brad Remillard is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  1. Hi Brad..
    To be honest i’m not a recruiter specialist nor an HR practitioner..
    but the article subject you wrote in Linkedin lured me and it was a nice reading thoroughly..

    due to some reasons, i have interviewed some people and i guess i did behavioral interviewing totally 🙂
    just for the case, i’ve downloaded the Scorecard and 10 mistakes..
    thanks for that..appreciate intellectuality expression of you guys..

    i do have a wonder though..
    perhaps if we could provide any research reference somewhere..
    where someone actually measures behavioral interviewing success rate and “fell flat on the face” rate
    this point of thinking will then be completely hit the rock..

  2. Having at a former employer interviewed job candidates, and my work there — EMC Engineering — being quite hands-on, I tended to ask candidates practical questions that would show what they knew, and how they figured things out. What is this? What does it do? How?

    I understand one is not allowed to make a candidate actually show expertise by doing something. But that’s how I got my first job out of the Army in 1983; asked permission to play with the receivers. Figured it right out.

  3. Hi Brad,

    As a recruiter for OpenView Venture Partners and its portfolio companies, I tend to take a similar approach to interviewing candidates as I have found it is the approach that often can separate the “qualified” from the “ideal” candidate. During interviews, candidates are generally able to offer great examples when you ask behavioral questions beginning with “Tell me about a time that you…” (And as you mentioned, it’s the specific examples that hiring managers want – and rely on.) I prefer to get a specific example and then also follow-up with “If I were {client, colleague, sales prospect, etc}, HOW would you {handle XYZ situation}…” to really get a sense for how the candidate could/would perform in the role. I often find that many candidates struggle with this part, and conversely, sometimes candidates that couldn’t offer a strong past example, are actually able to offer a great how-to answer which can be quite revealing to their undiscovered talent. It’s this answer that truly allows gain great insight to how the candidate thinks and can make me the most confident to recommend them for a position.


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