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Should you prompt and probe in job interviews?

While conducting job interviews, selection panels are frequently torn between whether to probe or prompt the job interviewees.  Sometimes, members of selection panels become confused about the differences between these two approaches to job interview questions.  This article clarifies the issues for selection panels. 


Probing to gain more information during job interviews

Often, when asking an applicant questions in a job interview situation, you want or need more information than you get at first. This may be for any of a range of reasons including nervousness on the part of the job applicant, the question is not as clear or specific to the applicant as it might be to the interviewer, the applicant assumes we know what they are talking about (so does not provide an explanation) or the applicant may simply not know how to respond.

It is up to the job interviewer to give the applicant the opportunity to present the knowledge and information they have during the job interview.. So this is where an interviewer might probe or prompt but what is the difference and how does it affect the assessment of the applicant?

Probing is asking follow on questions to gain further response so as to achieve a more specific or detailed understanding of the applicant’s depth of knowledge or more detail on the actions they are describing. The interviewer is looking for the applicant to unpack the detail in what they are talking about. Probing questions might be:

  • Can you explain more about the specific steps you took to understand the customer’s complaint?
  • You said that the new program was a success. What measures did you use to determine its level of success?
  • Can you tell me about the topics you covered in the report to satisfy the client’s request?
  • Can you explain your reasons for that approach?

These questions have in common a desire to find out specific details during job interviews.  This is the level of information an interviewer requires to best arrive at meaningful and assessable information about a job applicant. Probing questions arise in a situation where the interviewer would like a more detailed response so they usually cannot be planned. As an interviewer, it may be helpful to be ready to probe if necessary by being familiar with some questions you might draw on. These could include:

  • Please tell me more about that
  • Can you give me some more detail about that
  • Can you tell me how you did that
  • Can you tell me what you did next
  • Can you give me an example of that kind of action?”
  • Can you explain more about your reasons for arriving at that decision?
  • What was your justification for saying that?
  • What were the impacts of that action or decision?

Probing is about following the topic and asking open questions to gain a deeper understanding. This will provide the interviewer with qualitative information.


Prompting to help applicants during job interviews


Prompting is something quite different from probing. Prompting is a questioning technique often used to nudge an applicant in the right direction. It is used when the interviewer can see that the applicant does not understand the question or does not have the knowledge or experience on which to draw to respond. When the applicant has been given the opportunity to present more information and this is not working, an interviewer may resort to prompting.

Prompting is providing a more obvious direction to the applicant when it is apparent they are unable to respond appropriately. This can relieve the tension of an applicant who might understand that they are not providing the required response. Prompting often follows probing. Prompting questions are usually narrow, leading or closed questions.

These might be examples of prompting questions:

  • So the annual data would be found in which report?
  • Given you record the documents in the system as they are received, where might you go to research what information is available?

Interviewers should be very careful to note the responses to prompting questions as they often provide information to an applicant rather than gain it from the applicant. The interviewer should be careful in how the responses to prompting questions are considered or assessed.  It is important to be equitable in using prompting questions to ensure that no applicants gain an unfair advantage during job interviews.


Probing and prompting are two techniques that job interviewers can use to gain more information from the job applicant or to share further information to enable them to perform to the best of their ability.  Both approaches should be employed during job interviews in an equitable way.

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