They said what?! Can they walk the walk after the interview?

They said what?! Can they walk the walk after the interview?

The dreaded job interview. These days, both the interviewer and the interviewee are being assessed. Labor shortages and low unemployment rates have given many candidates a certain bravado during interviews. It’s common to hear about candidates texting in the middle of an interview and showing up late or not at all. When they do show up on time and are present during the meeting, it can be difficult to assess what they will bring to the job.

Here are four signs to look for to see if a candidate is all talk or if they can walk the walk.

Interview Redirection

Ever have a candidate launch into a story about their glory days at a previous employer? Sharing lengthy details about a big project they spent a lot of time on is a common response, even if it’s completely unrelated to what was asked. The more details in the story, the more likely they’re redirecting and avoiding the original question. As an interviewer, it’s important to redirect the candidate’s redirection.

Follow up their response with “that was a great story about xxx, now about the question.” It’s possible they were inspired to share their story because the question reminded them of it. If they can follow it up with relevant information it’s quite possible they’re able to do what they say they can do.

Another common interviewee tactic is to avoid answering an uncomfortable question. If you ask someone to describe a time they missed a deadline, many people will say they always turn in work on time. It’s possible they haven’t ever missed a deadline; however, a lack of response doesn’t help you filter through your candidates.

If a candidate has a brief answer that avoids your question, redirect them with something more open-ended.

For instance, you could ask them what they would do if they missed a deadline. A slight change in wording will take some of the pressure off of the candidate and allow them to explain their thought process for dealing with the situation. In the end, what you’re most concerned with is how they’ll work with you. Their previous office environment could have caused them to respond in a different way than they usually would.

Memorized Answers

Today’s candidates are more prepared than ever. A web search for “top (industry) interview questions” will reveal millions of results with guidelines for answering.

Spending a few minutes studying excellent responses can make an average candidate appear exemplary, even though their real talent is memorization.

With the candidate pool so educated about interviewing, they know what interviewers want to hear. Younger generations switch jobs every 3.2 years; they’ve had no choice but to become professional interviewers. Asking for examples and specifics will help you determine if the candidate is all talk.

Unique questions will also lead to authentic candidate responses. Ask questions specifically related to the position for which they’re interviewing. If the manager is over-bearing and critical, see how they respond to that. If the team likes to brainstorm new processes during a gaming session, are they up for it? Does your team have to work outside, no matter the weather? Ask them what their ideal day looks like. If they talk about getting coffee and kicking back in the A/C, they probably aren’t a good fit. On the other hand, if they talk about loving hiking and helping rebuild their neighborhood park, they may be the right person for your position.


Professional job seekers (aka job hoppers) know how to tell great stories and woo an interviewer. Some interviewers are looking for a self-assured candidate. For example, hiring a foreman requires a candidate with strong leadership; however, there’s a fine line between confidence and overconfidence.

When the interview focuses on specific behavioral questions, it’s much more difficult for candidates to have canned responses.

Regardless, many job seekers have go-to stories that highlight one or two things they’ve done well over the years. To combat this, talk about the job they are applying for, instead of focusing on their past performance. Identify key areas where other employees have struggled to perform and ask how they will overcome these challenges. This knocks them off balance and requires them to think on their feet – a desirable trait for many employers.


Don’t mistake being humble for incompetence. Unless the candidate will be secluded in a cave, they’ll need to work with other members of your team. Giving credit to others is a sign they know how to work well on a team.

On the other hand, someone who talks about their effort without acknowledging the team could be hiding behind a history of poor performance. Again, most jobs require collaboration, it’s only natural their stories and examples include someone else helping them meet a deadline or goal. Dig deeper to learn about their performance when working in a team environment.

If the candidate is blurring the line between humility and incompetence, call it out. Poor performers know they lack the skills to do a great job. Explore their failures and discuss how they’ve overcome them. It’s vital to determine competence during the interview.

Mix Things Up

Avoid traditional interview questions. The idea that past performance is a clear indicator of future success is an outdated way of thinking.

Too often someone isn’t able to perform because of their situation or the company culture. A micro-managing boss stifles the drive of an otherwise motivated employee. Conversely, if someone worked for an employer with little measurement or defined process, it may have been easy for them to “succeed” since success was based on gut feelings.

Look to your existing team and best employees. Find out what they would want to ask a candidate. Most likely, the current team will have ideas that relate directly to the job. Including them in the process will also gain a certain level of buy-in for the new hire. They know who would elevate their team. There’s nothing worse than hiring someone who brings the entire team down.

Quality Hiring Process

A quality hiring process will identify the wrong people for your position, ideally screening them out before you interview them. An ATS (applicant tracking system) will help streamline the interview process for you by storing your interview questions for the position so you have easy access to them. It can also automate some of the more repetitive hiring tasks, such as screening questionnaires.

If you’re having trouble determining if candidates are all talk, you need a more rigorous interview process. The best interviews will be measured and repeatable. There’s nothing worse than forgetting to ask the same questions to every candidate. Use these tactics during your next round of interviews to determine if a candidate is all talk or if they can walk the walk.

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