Here is a behavioral interview question to test whether candidates can handle constructive criticism.


No one likes to receive tough feedback from the boss, but growing and developing at work is often necessary. Your business doesn’t want to hire people who can’t receive constructive criticism. You want people who can bounce back in a positive way. But how do you poll people to see if they can handle difficult comments or not?

Since I literally wrote the book on Hiring for Attitude, I’m going to share with you one of my favorite (and most effective) behavioral interview questions:

Could you tell me about a time when you received difficult comments from a supervisor or boss?

That is the whole question as it should be asked. It is important to note that there is no indication “and tell me how you handled these comments?” Marked at the end of this question. Asking leading questions is one of the biggest mistakes recruiters make. (If you want to test if you can handle these kinds of job interview questions, take this quiz titled “Could you pass this job interview?”“)

This straightforward, non-leading open-ended question, posed as written above, is great for revealing someone’s true attitude to how they receive difficult feedback (i.e. reviews constructive) for two main reasons.

First, the rudimentary nature of this behavioral interview question requires the candidate to reveal how they define “difficult feedback”. And it’s a good thing. Because imagine someone saying “My boss criticized me for being 10 minutes late every day.” You are likely to hear this and say to yourself, “Really? Being told to get to work on time is what you consider constructive criticism? Here you have already learned that you and the candidate are not on the same page as to what constitutes true constructive criticism. Besides learning that this person may have issues with punctuality, also valuable information to have, this is your first red flag that you might not want to hire this person.

Second, because the question is about a time when the candidate received difficult feedback (and NOT a time when they responded / made a change because of / etc.), It is entirely up to the candidate to respond to this. question. And since comment resistant people don’t tend to have a lot of experiences to share about all the times they have heard and treated difficult comments positively, the way they respond is going to produce a wealth of information. As for people who understand the value of constructive criticism, they will also show up in the way they answer this interview question.

Now, having a good job interview question is important. But just as important is knowing how to write down the responses you get. Because what is the point of giving a test, and the interview is a test, if you do not have an answer key that allows you to accurately mark this test.

When i wrote Hiring for attitude, I devoted an entire chapter to developing and using Answer Guidelines. Essentially, the answer guidelines provide examples of right and wrong answers to your behavioral interview questions. Hiring managers who use answer guidelines are well aware of what high-performing and low-performing people look like when answering these questions. And it prepares them to assess candidate attitudes toward feedback consistently and accurately.

Let me show you how it works by explaining some concrete answers (good and bad) to our behavioral interview question “Can you tell me about a time when you received difficult feedback from a supervisor or ‘a boss ? These examples come directly from the Answer Guidelines developed for one of my clients, a major distributor of telecommunications equipment.

This was considered a “wrong” answer:

“The best example was when I was reprimanded for a goal that was not met during the term because someone else was preventing me from completing the task. I was quite angry as I had spoken to my manager about the problem on several occasions and I was basically told: “this is how people are and there is nothing going to be done about it. topic “. It is truly unfair that no matter how much someone jeopardizes a project or a client, they will not be reprimanded or terminated. It’s even worse when I’m blamed even though I wasn’t the one causing the problem.

Why is this considered a wrong answer? One word: blame. Blameers are very responsive personalities who simply won’t accept responsibility for anything. When things go wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. Blameers aren’t people who usually respond constructively to difficult comments.

It’s also a red flag when a candidate doesn’t choose to talk about a time when they’ve successfully embraced and implemented change in response to difficult feedback. Of course, you won’t hear this if your question leads the candidate to talk about the one time in a million they “successfully adjusted to difficult comments.” This is why our interview question, as awkward as it may seem at first glance, remains open.

Now let’s turn things around and look at what this customer considered a “good” response:

“My boss let me know that I had been a bit short with a client. Granted, he was a difficult client, but I understood exactly what happened, when it happened and how I contributed to the situation. I knew exactly what I said that was wrong. Although it bothered me to hear these comments, I accepted my boss’s words. I enrolled in a conflict resolution course offered at a local college and learned a lot about how to develop anticipation and awareness, which gave me greater control over potentially difficult situations. It actually had a real impact on my life, even outside of work. But at work, I made sure this was the only time my boss had to give me this type of feedback.

Why is this considered a good answer? First of all, it is very precise, indicating that it is probably not fictitious (the candidate has probably really experienced this). Second, the candidate embraced the comments they received and made a real effort to change in response to those comments. This person didn’t just say “I’m sorry” and perform the movements. They demonstrated how they made these comments a personal project by enrolling in a conflict resolution course. They took charge of the necessary changes. The top performers want to tell you about their successes; it’s just what top performers do.

Whether you create response guidelines or use some other type of response key, learn what the top and bottom performers in your organization look like when they answer the interview question: “Could you please tell me?” talk about a time you got tough feedback from a supervisor or boss? “And then in the next round of interviews, go ahead and test your candidates by asking the question and listening carefully to the characteristics of high and low performance in the answers you get.

Mark Murphy is the NY Times bestselling author, founder of Leadership IQ, a leadership training speaker and creator of the leadership styles assessment.

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