Archives for October 2012

Queen’s IRC: A Diamond Celebration

On October 12, 2012, the IRC commemorated a diamond milestone: 75 years of industrial relations at Queen’s University. Among the distinguished guests at the celebratory event were Queen’s University Principal, Daniel Woolf, and former IRC Directors, Carol Beatty and Don Carter. In addition, several Queen’s faculty members, IRC alumni, facilitators, and staff were also in attendance. The afternoon provided an opportunity to reflect on the IRC’s history, its accomplishments, and the many individuals and organizations that have been instrumental in shaping the Centre’s journey.

IRC Director, Paul Juniper, began his talk by acknowledging the contributions of his team: “We wouldn’t have had 75 years of achievements without an excellent staff.” He also discussed the IRC’s national presence: “I’m proud to say that last year we were able to offer programs in Victoria, Calgary, Banff, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Kingston, and St. John’s, Newfoundland. The issue we are facing right now is not one of demand, but one of capacity.”

Principal Daniel Woolf congratulated the IRC on its success. “I’m particularly thrilled with the fact that theory and practice have come together so well at the Centre,” he commented. Referring to the IRC as a “Queen’s University jewel,” Principal Woolf said: “I am delighted that the Centre has grown and prospered under its Directors and has become not only a Kingston feature but a national institution.”

According to Principal Woolf, “the IRC’s next 75 years are going to be even better.” Indeed, the IRC’s newly launched Advanced Human Resources Certificate and programs in Succession Planning, Strategic Grievance Handling, and Managing Unionized Environments are examples of the exciting changes underway at the Centre, as it continues to target the professional development needs of human resources, labour relations, and organizational development practitioners across Canada.

>>View the Video from our celebratory event

>>Download our Commemorative History of the past 75 years.

Leadership Conversations: Insights into Organizational Change

Organizational change is a constant factor in the business world and plays a significant role for organizational leadership. On a daily basis, organizations are challenged to improve their business performance and take on new and exciting projects, often as a result of a change in strategy or as a way to increase business effectiveness. Change is increasingly becoming an important part of what leaders do, and communication and conversations are essential to both leadership and organizational change (Marshak, 2002). Not only have change initiatives been on the rise, but the importance of managing individuals through change has been gaining importance (Applebaum, Berke, Taylor, & Vazquez, 2008).

Public and private sector organizations are rethinking their mission, values, and operations against a new 21st century environment (Cinite, Duxbury, & Higgins, 2009). They are looking for opportunities to restructure and transform themselves to take advantage of the opportunities of a globally connected world in which people, driven by values and equipped with knowledge (Mengis & Eppler, 2008), will collaborate and innovate. Leadership conversations will play a pivotal role in making this happen.

In this paper, I address how leadership conversations influence organizational behaviour and shape organizational members’ mindsets. The paper is a summary, based on my own research (Cowan Sahadath, 2010) and attention is focused on how leaders create and sustain conversations during times of unprecedented change. The reader will see how leaders gain a greater appreciation of how closely their conversational behaviors are intertwined with the creation and leadership of change, business effectiveness, and performance.

What are Leadership Conversations?

To effectively navigate and influence the change agenda (Ford & Ford, 1995; 2008), leaders need to be proactively engaged in focusing, shaping, and influencing an organization’s communication through the spoken aspects of conversations (Scott, 2004). Because conversations are a highly flexible, interactive, and iterative form of communication, employees can ask clarifying questions, deepen certain aspects, and explore the larger context of a specific issue. Compared with written communication formats, people create shared experiences through face-to-face conversations. They use these conversations to build trust and strengthen relationships (Mengis & Eppler, 2008) and to influence successful organizational change by relying on different types of conversations (Barrett, Thomas, & Hocevar, 1995; Ford & Ford, 1995).

In the context of this paper and for our discussion, leadership conversations are the verbal interactions between senior leaders and their direct reports. And, because of this definition, the terms communication and conversations are one and the same. The paper will also advocate that the experiences of senior leaders (how senior leaders view their conversations) lead to a deeper understanding of how senior leaders effectively use their conversations to provide context and vision, meaning and purpose, and to influence and shape the change process.

Why are Leadership Conversations so Important?

Based on the conceptual work of Ford and Ford (1995; 2008), change conversations, as a communication vehicle, should be thought of as more than producing intentional organizational change. Change conversations can be used as an instrument in managing the process of change and leaders can persuade and influence others to accept new ideas, to change, to follow, and to take action. Within the structure of an organization, leaders at various levels seek to persuade and influence others (Daft, 2005; Raes, Glunk, Heijltjes, & Roe, 2007). A critical role for leaders today is to influence all levels of leaders and staff within an organization. This ability to influence and persuade results in success for the leader and contributes towards the effectiveness of the organization’s change effort.

Communication becomes extremely important to the essence of leadership effectiveness. A leader’s conversations can positively impact and facilitate the achievement of his or her work-related goals, as well as the achievements of others. Effective communication can produce higher levels of organizational affiliation (O’Neill & Jabri, 2007), improve the dynamics within the organization (Pearce, 2008), and create an open and engaged community within the organization. From this perspective, communication serves as the catalyst for change. The work of the leader in causing successful change in an organization is the work of deliberate and appropriate application of language. The leader’s ability to communicate is key in enabling the organization to make changes appropriately, effectively, and efficiently. Kotter’s (1990; 1996) work on communication continues to emphasize that leaders can inhibit or enable change to occur proactively or reactively, dependent upon the manner and tone of the message.

Conversations are Much More Than Communication

Historically, communication has been seen as a part of the change process, a tool with which to communicate what is going to change, how it is going to change, and who it is going to impact, either positively or negatively (Johansson & Heide, 2008). When conversation has been used as a tool within the change process, it typically is used to prepare people, increase understanding of the change, and sustain change. It has also been used to gather feedback on the change and enable behavioural and attitudinal changes. What comprises both the communication of change as well as the change itself, is the myriad of conversations that change managers and recipients have with each other for and about the change. It is in these conversations that vision, possibility, and opportunity are created, people are engaged and mobilized, and problems or breakdowns are resolved.

That communication plays an important role in change is not a new idea. Numerous writers have stressed the importance of leadership communication (Kotter, 1996; Lewis & Seibold, 1996), even to the point of suggesting that change may be seen as a communication problem that can be resolved by having people understand the change and the role they play in its implementation. In this context, communication is understood as a tool for announcing, explaining, and making a case for change as part of preparing people for its positive and negative effects (Svennevig, 2008). As Ford and Ford (1995) have argued, and others have shown (Barrett, Thomas, & Hocevar, 1995), successful change is a product of using different types of conversations at different times. Leaders may not realize they have a conversational pattern or that altering it can have significant implications for change.

Researchers throughout the 1990s and early 2000s (Daft, 2005; Kotter, 1990; Lewis & Seibold, 1996; Raes, Glunk, Heijltjes, & Roe, 2007) outlined the importance of the leadership and communication connection as a process of persuasion by which one induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leader and followers. This notion was further supported as one of the critical aspects of leadership—the ability to influence others—particularly through communication and conversations. However, today’s work environment is more diverse, more complex, and characterized by constant change. As a result, leaders face different and more difficult challenges when influencing followers.

Study Reveals Insights

In my study of transformational change leadership within a large energy company (Cowan Sahadath, 2010), leaders’ change conversations were categorized into five progressive types of leadership conversations: (1) strategically intentional; (2) catalyst for change; (3) mindful; (4) build shared commitment; and (5) guide the change. I found that transformational outcomes could be achieved by leaders through understanding audience perspectives and when leaders adjusted their conversations to enable more shared meaning, context, and understanding. This knowledge is critical to providing greater flexibility for leaders in order to respond faster to changes in their business.

Senior leaders (often referred to as the executive, senior leadership, or senior management) are generally the team of individuals at the highest level of organizational management, reporting to the CEO, who have the day-to-day responsibilities of managing and leading a corporation. In my work, I explored the verbal interactions between senior leaders (i.e., the participant group in my study) and their direct reports (the next level of management often referred to as middle managers).

This qualitative study investigated the variations in the way senior leaders experience their conversations during times of organizational change. It was an approach that uncovered how senior leaders experience, understand, and ascribe meaning to a specific situation or phenomenon. Based on key insights from my study, I will describe how leaders viewed their conversations and the direct contribution those conversations had on supporting changes and cultivating new opportunities for the organization.

Study Reveals Business Value

Leaders within an organization have various intentions and reasons to communicate: to provide information, to implement a change, to influence and motivate employees to perform better, to make decisions, to reward and recognize, to resolve conflict, and to coach and counsel. Knowing their conversations are instrumental in influencing the relationships and behaviors of their managers provides insight into:

  1. The role of conversation as a critical mechanism for planning communication implementations during change.
  2. The role conversation plays in affecting the outcome of an organizational change initiative as essential to providing greater flexibility for leaders in order to respond faster to changes in their business.
  3. The extent to which change conversations can help to decrease anxiety, increase motivation, and support the adoption of the behaviours or activities needed to achieve the desired outcome.

Additionally, my study provided an opportunity for senior leaders to:

  • Voice what they attribute to the value of their leadership conversations in moving the organization toward or away from its business goals.
  • Gain an appreciation of how their conversations profoundly change relationships.
  • Express and focus on what is important to them as leaders orchestrating change.

Implications for Practice

The practical implications of this research for future improvements in leadership conversations, organizational change, and change leadership are many. The following table summarizes the opportunities for leaders and change management professionals to reflect on and apply practical approaches to help assess individual business situations.

Leadership Conversations Leadership Practical Applications
Senior leaders perceived leadership conversations:

Five Categories

– Leadership conversations are strategically intentional

– Leadership conversations are catalysts for change

– Leadership conversations are mindful and purposeful

– Leadership conversations build shared commitment

– Leadership conversations guide the change

Building Leadership Capability:

Leaders/Change Leaders

– Leadership conversations construct a new organizational understanding of organizational change goals

– Advancement in development of leadership development and organizational change strategies

– Creating space for conversation

– Organizational change management professional advances

Types of Leadership Conversations To help leaders assess their conversational pattern and to leverage conversation as their primary method of communication during organizational change, I developed a series of conversation worksheets (excerpt from Cowan Sahadath, Creating Conversations for Change, unpublished) designed to support, facilitate, and reach a deeper level of understanding around the types of conversations held during organizational change. A sample of questions from the worksheets is included below with each insight from my research. These questions were created based on my research conclusions. Reviewing these questions may lead to new ideas about what you might consider doing differently to get value from the change conversations you lead.

Strategically Intentional Many researchers have suggested that change is produced in and through conversations and discourse (e.g., Barrett et al., 1995; Ford, 1999; Heracleous & Barrett, 2001; Marshak, 2002), and the most influential conversations may be those that occur at the level of everyday conversation (Barrett et al., 1995). These interactions are the primary mechanism available to managers for affecting change. Leaders in my study described their understanding of conversations as purposeful efforts, where talk is about determining how people think about and respond to organizational changes.

Leaders articulated that their conversations need to be carefully crafted, structured, and linked to business objectives to influence the change needed. Whether focusing on leadership conversations as well-planned and structured, or executed purposively to create understanding and influence behavior, this category focused on preparing people for change, and gathering feedback on the change in order to enable behavioural and attitudinal changes. The following questions will help planning those conversations:

  1. Have you considered whether you have all the information needed for this conversation?
  2. Do you understand what values are reflected in your own position?
  3. Do your managers share your understanding of the change?
  4. How do you communicate and have those change conversations with your managers?

Catalyst for Change Conversations about change create opportunities for vision and possibility, people engagement and mobilization, problem discovery, and resolution. The challenges facing leaders go beyond determining what needs to be done differently. Conner (1993) stated that effective leaders are capable of reframing the thinking of those whom they lead, enabling them to see that significant changes are not only essential, but also achievable. Leaders must also address how to execute these decisions in a manner that has the greatest possibility for success. If organizations change when people begin to talk and think differently (Barrett et al., 1995), then leaders need to focus on shaping discourse and providing opportunities for dialogue. If change is truly about discourse, then the most powerful intervention depends on the everyday conversation that leaders initiate.

Leadership conversations, as a communication vehicle, are significant in order to begin a process of creating broader opportunities for organizational understanding. The following questions may facilitate delivering conversations to create opportunities for a new mind-set, and act as a framework for thinking about and leading complex change:

  1. How have you changed the culture so that managers are not focused on status quo?
  2. Are you spending more or less time working together with your managers?
  3. How have you become more adaptive? Who do you involve? How do you involve your managers?

Mindful Awareness Using conversation as an effective communication method requires leaders to use their conversations purposely. This occurs when leaders openly discuss their awareness of what they are saying and the impact of their words. Further, conversations are purposeful and framed, and go where they need to go, based on the variety of audience perspectives and interests. To help leaders use conversation in this manner, the following questions are intended to expand one’s comfort zone, to create circumstances for developing mindfulness, and for acting mindfully:

  1. Has your relationship with managers changed over the past two years?
  2. Do you interact differently with your managers than you had two or three years ago?
  3. What do you do differently today as a leader that you didn’t do five or ten years ago?

Building Shared Commitment The results of this study suggest a clear shift towards skills that are tied to relationships and managing change, seeking to involve other people in the process, building important relationships, and working across boundaries to collaborate effectively. The development of these skills is critical to providing greater flexibility for leaders in order to respond faster to changes in their business. To create an environment that facilitates the new skill sets for leaders, an organization must change its systems and the way it operates to allow people to collaborate and work more interdependently. In this study, leaders approached their conversations authentically, and managed to build understandings around the common vision for the organization.

The following questions may provide an opportunity to build understanding and commitment to current goals, future possibilities, develop a genuine relationship with teams, and connect accountability through this dialogue:

  1. Are you emphasizing the need to change the culture and to listen to and engage with your people because you think engaged employees will be more productive?
  2. As a leader, how do you affect what people in all aspects of your business do, how do they get the message?
  3. Culture change is something that companies talk about but often don’t actually achieve. How are you thinking about changing the culture?

Guiding the Change My study revealed that leadership conversations guide an organization in achieving something significantly or fundamentally different from what they have done before. When leaders share the values and vision with their teams, and when everyone collectively understands the key drivers and the strategies that are being employed to address them, everyone can be collectively committed to the major strategic efforts of the organization. In this context, communication is understood as a tool for announcing, explaining, and making a case for change as part of preparing people for its positive and negative effects. The study found that leaders do realize they have a conversational pattern and that altering it can have significant implications for change. Questions to consider:

  1. What are some of the strategies you use to discuss business priorities and values?
  2. In what ways do your goals reflect the business goals?
  3. What have you done over the past year to keep your managers/employees informed about how the business is doing?

Building Leadership Capability

Researchers and practitioners have come to understand leaders, leadership, and leadership development in many ways. The implication that future leadership development can provide a more informed understanding of leadership as a practice, involves new skills in collaboration, teamwork, and innovation required to achieving business objectives and results.

I indicated previously that the results of this study suggest a clear shift toward skills that are tied to relationships and managing change, seeking to involve other people in the process, building important relationships, and working across boundaries to collaborate effectively. Skill development in this area is critical to providing greater flexibility for leaders in order to respond faster to changes in their industries. To create an environment that supports the development of new skill sets for leaders, an organization must change its systems and the way it operates to allow people to collaborate and work more interdependently.

Opportunities for leadership development may involve:

  • Challenging assignments that take leaders out of their technical expertise and into a business that involves a broader range of people across the organization.
  • Connecting less experienced leaders with those who already practice participatory management and provide aspiring leaders experiences to actively learn on a day-to-day basis.

Creating Space for Conversations

The results of my research suggest that there may be more conducive approaches to helping to develop organizational opportunities that enable moving from conversation to conversation, and knowing when to create opportunities for spaces for conversations. To clarify, creating space occurs when a leader supports an environment that allows for comfortable, profound conversations, as a way of building opportunities for others. A responsibility for today’s leaders is to create space for their managers, a space where distinct businesses and people in the organization come together and have meaningful conversation; a space in which people can generate new and different ideas. Questions leaders might ask to explore the overall change that is occurring in the organization:

  1. Are the types of conversations you have with your managers during times of organizational change building a common understanding of the facts about the change?
  2. What role does your communication efforts play in engaging your managers in key change initiatives?
  3. In leading an organization through change, what questions do you think are important to ask?

Change for Change Management Professionals

The main contribution of my research for practitioner purposes is in highlighting the need to transform the way change management professionals approach communication efforts for senior leaders. There are new avenues to explore for leadership development and for effective organizational change management. It seems that leaders are aware that conversations are a way of intervening strategically. Findings indicate that there was unexpected discovery among my participants that suggests opportunities for executive leadership development (i.e., increasing the ways that a leader employs leadership conversations) and understanding of the multiple ways that effective leaders make meaning of leadership conversations. To be able to adopt the best change implementation strategy, leaders and change agents need to understand the complexity of forces involved when a large-scale change is implemented and know the multiple ways leaders make meaning of leadership conversations to have the greatest impact.

The more organizational change management professionals understand about the influence of leadership conversations on an organization and its leadership, the more they can contribute to the organization’s success.

Changing the Conversation

A deeper and broader understanding of how senior leaders experience and interpret their leadership conversations is a significant contribution to understanding the complex organizational change in the business world today and plays a significant role for organizational leadership. On a daily basis, organizations are challenged to improve their business performance, and take on new and exciting projects, often as a result of a change in strategy or to increase business effectiveness. Change is increasingly becoming an important part of what leaders do, and communication and conversations are essential to both leadership and organizational change success.


About the Author


Kathy Cowan Sahadath  is a Program Manager at Hydro One Networks Inc. in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Her current position involves supporting the increasing number of strategic organizational change transformations in the company. She specifically addresses the people side of change at all levels of the company, working in concert with business leaders, project leaders, and with change teams. Their aim is to improve the company’s overall organizational capacity for managing change, by developing and mentoring change leaders from within the business and supporting them as they take on change-related assignments.

Kathy’s professional education includes an undergraduate degree from the University of Waterloo in Psychology, an MBA in Project Management from Athabasca University, a Masters of Arts degree in Human and Organizational Development from Fielding Graduate University, and a PhD in Human and Organizational Systems specializing in the area of organizational change and leadership also from Fielding Graduate University, in Santa Barbara, California.

In addition to Kathy’s corporate responsibilities, she is involved as a volunteer and board member with the Project Management Institute, Project Research Institute, Toronto Forum on Organizational Change, The International Council on Organizational Change, the Academy of Management, and the Association of Change Management Professionals.


Appelbaum, Steven H., Jonathon Berke, Joe Taylor, and Jose A. Vazquez. “The Role of Leadership During Large Scale Organizational Transitions: Lessons from Six Empirical Studies.” The Journal of American Academy of Business 13, no. 1 (2008): 16-24.

Barrett, Frank J., Gail F. Thomas, and Susan P. Hocevar. “The Central Role of Discourse in Large-Scale Change: A Social Construction Perspective.” Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 31, no. 3 (1995): 352-372.

Cinite, Inta, Linda E. Duxbury, and Chris Higgins. “Measurement of Perceived Organizational Readiness for Change in the Public Sector.” British Journal of Management 20, no. 2 (2009): 265-277.

Conner, Daryl R. Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail. New York: Villard Books, 1993.

Cowan Sahadath, Kathy. “Leading Change One Conversation at a Time: A Phenomenographic Study of Senior Leadership Conversations.” PhD diss., Fielding Graduate University, 2010.

Cowan Sahadath, Kathy L.”Creating Conversations for Change.” Unpublished.

Daft, Richard L. The Leadership Experience. 3rd ed. Toronto: Thomson South-Western, 2005.

Ford, Jeffrey D. “Organizational change as shifting conversations.” Journal of Organizational Change Management 12, no. 6, (1999): 1-39.

Ford, Jeffrey D., and Laurie W. Ford. “The Role of Conversations in Producing Intentional Change in Organizations.” Academy of Management Review 20, no. 3 (1995): 541-570.

Ford, Jeffrey D., and Laurie W. Ford. “Conversational Profiles: A Tool for Altering the Conversational Patterns of Change Managers.” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 44, no. 4 (2008): 445-467.

Heracleous, Loizos, and Michael Barrett. “Organizational Change as Discourse: Communicative Actions and Deep Structures in the Context of Information Technology Implementation.” Academy of Management Journal 44, no. 4 (2001): 755-778.

Johansson, Catrin, and Mats Heide. “Speaking of change: three communication approaches in studies of organizational change.” Corporate Communications: An International Journal 13, no.3 (2008): 288-305.

Kotter, John P. A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management. New York: Free Press, 1990.

Kotter, John P. Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.

Lewis, Laurie K., and David R. Seibold. “Communication during intraorganizational innovation adoption: Predicting users’ behavioral coping responses to innovations in organizations.” Communication Monographs 63, no. 2 (1996):131-157.

Marshak, Robert J. “Changing the language of change: how new contexts and concepts are challenging the ways we think and talk about organizational change.” Strategic Change 11, no. 5 (2002): 279-286.

Mengis, Jeanne, and Martin J. Eppler. “Understanding and Managing Conversations from a Knowledge Perspective: An Analysis of the Roles and Rules of Face-to-Face Conversations in Organizations.” Organization Studies 29, no.10 (2008): 1287-1313.

O’Neill, Alan, and Muayyad Jabri. “Legitimation and group conversational practices: implications for managing change.” Leadership & Organization Development Journal 28, no. 6 (2007): 571-588.

Pearce, W. Barnett. “Toward a New Repertoire of Communication Skills for Leaders and Managers.” The Quality Management Forum 34, no. 4 (2008): 4-7.

Raes, Anneloes M. L., Ursula Glunk, Marielle G. Heijltjes, and Robert A. Roe. “Top Management Team and Middle Managers: Making Sense of Leadership.” Small Group Research 38, no. 3 (2007): 360-386.

Scott, Susan. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a time. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 2004.

Svennevig, Jan. “Exploring Leadership Conversations.” Management Communication Quarterly 21, no. 4 (2008): 529-536.

Behavioural Interviewing: Hiring Effectively for the Future

With 18 years of experience as an HR professional, I have observed that most organizations realize that a strong recruitment plan is crucial for the success of any business. Efficiently recruiting and hiring the right candidate is critical in today’s competitive market. One technique that has become widely used in the recruiting process is the art of behavioural interviewing. Based on the concept that future performance can be predicted by previous experience, behavioural interviewing, if structured properly, can be one of the most effective recruiting tools available. In this article, I will draw on my experiences with designing and conducting behavioural interviews to provide some recommendations for practitioners considering this form of interview in their own workplace.

Gaining popularity in the mid-to-late seventies, behavioural interviewing is designed to reveal the extent to which a potential candidate possesses the core characteristics suitable for success within the organization and the position for which he/she has applied. In contrast to traditional interviews, where the applicant is asked how he or she would respond to hypothetical situations, the behavioural interview requires the candidate to provide detailed descriptions of past experiences. The amount of detail provided allows the interviewer to gather a more accurate evaluation of the candidate’s behaviours related to the desired behaviours for the available position.


To conduct an effective behavioural interview, I suggest that the recruiter:

  • Identify competencies required for the position
  • Develop questions that sufficiently assess a candidate’s qualifications for the role
  • Ask clarifying questions to ensure that you’ve correctly understood the responses
  • Refrain from asking leading questions during the interview; practice active listening
  • Document responses during the interview, noting key words
  • Create a summary of the session following the interview

I elaborate on each of these recommendations below.

Identify Competencies

The key to the success of the behavioural interview is in the preparation. Prior to conducting the interview, the recruiter will need to do some homework. Having a thorough understanding of the company culture and the organizational environment is of great importance when designing this style of interview.

Reviewing and analyzing the job description to determine the characteristics and competencies that correlate to successful job performance is the initial step. Reviewing the positive behaviours of previous incumbents in the position and speaking with other staff and management who are knowledgeable about the position can also provide important insight on the attributes needed for top performance in the future.

Develop Relevant Questions

Once the desired behaviours/competencies have been identified, the next step is to develop the interview questions. I suggest focusing on the top four to eight desired behaviours/competencies and preparing at least three to five questions per competency. This will likely ensure that the candidate will always have an experience to describe.

Maintaining control of the interview is also critical. While recounting a story about their past, the candidate may be nervous and may stray from the information that is important. Keeping the candidate on track is essential for capturing the necessary details for future assessment. The following questions are some examples of competency-based, situational questions that I have used in past interviews.

Client Service

  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer. What exactly did you do to manage the situation?
  • Have you ever completed a task or assignment that your manager was not satisfied with? How did you handle the situation?
  • Tell me about a time when you feel you provided service for a customer over and above your required duties.

Interpersonal Skills

  • Describe a situation in which you were involved in a conflict. What did you do to resolve the situation?
  • Have you ever had an opportunity to work on a project where you were a team lead? Provide me with the details of the project that you were involved with and how you set up and motivated your team.
  • Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a co-worker. How did you deal with it?


  • Have you ever pursued a learning opportunity on your own time to increase your professional knowledge?
  • Describe a situation in which you were presented with multiple tasks to complete in a short period of time. How did you prioritize your workload to meet all of the demands?

Change Management

  • Have you ever experienced a major change in your organization? Describe in detail how it affected your role and how did you deal with it?
  • Describe a time when you assisted co-workers through a difficult work-related change. What were the steps you took to ensure that the change was successful?


  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a very difficult decision.
  • Give me an example of when you took time to make a decision and it paid off.

Communication Skills

  • Tell me about a time where you had to present your ideas in written form.
  • Have you ever had to deliver difficult feedback to another individual in the workplace? What did you do to prepare for the conversation?
  • Provide an example of a time that you had to present very complex information. What was the response from your audience?

These questions are structured in a manner that encourages a candidate to explain and elaborate on his or her previous experiences more in-depth. The list is by no means definitive. It provides a sampling of behavioural interview questions that, of course, can and should be massaged, rephrased, and tailored to each position. Further examples of behavioural interview questions are available on Queen’s University’s human resources website (

As a reminder, once the questions have been developed and refined, the same series of questions should be utilized throughout the recruiting process to maintain fairness and consistency.

Ask Probing Questions

The candidate’s response to each question should include a detailed description about the situation requested, the action they took in the situation, and the results achieved. If the candidate does not provide sufficient detail, then you can probe deeper by asking some of these questions:

  • What exactly did you say?
  • And then what happened?
  • Who else was involved?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • How did this situation affect your next project?
  • Why did you choose to respond in that manner?

These types of probing questions will assist the candidate in providing clear and concise descriptions about their experiences.

Refrain from Leading Questions

During the interview, refrain from asking leading questions, so that you do not influence the candidate’s responses. As a result, the candidate will provide you with actual experiences, as opposed to providing you with responses that they think you want to hear.

Document Key Words and Compile a Summary

During the interview, the focus should be on the candidate and his or her responses. Brief key words and phrases can be documented; however, a complete summary of the responses should be compiled immediately after the interview to ensure that all relevant information is captured.

Benefits of Behavioural Interviewing

Perfecting the technique of behavioural interviewing allows the employer to gain a more holistic understanding of the candidate, based on the experiences shared. When a candidate details how they have behaved in the past, the interviewer can more accurately assess if those behaviours will meet the needs of the organization and the requirements of the position. Behavioural interviewing also encourages candidates to provide honest answers, as the questions require factual responses, not hypothetical assumptions. From an equity perspective, behavioural interviewing questions do not differentiate candidates based on sex, race, religion, nationality, age, gender, or marital status.

Predicting future performance is obviously a very difficult task; however, when successful, this interviewing process can promote a harmonious working environment and prevent future personality differences in the workplace. Whether your organization is utilizing this technique currently or it is in the developing stages, it is my view that perfecting this technique will assist HR professionals in minimizing hiring mistakes and allow us to hire effectively for the future.



Queen’s University Human Resources, “Sample Interview Questions,”


About the Author

Brenda Grape is an HR practitioner with 18 years of experience. Her first career role was as a recruiting supervisor for a firm in Toronto. This position provided extensive exposure to the interviewing process and the variety of techniques available. After six years, Brenda moved to an HR generalist role, where she expanded her human resources skill set. As her career developed, she then joined a leading-edge global organization as an HR advisor. In addition to providing support to all aspects of HR management, she continued to be involved in recruitment. It is here that Brenda had the opportunity to utilize and perfect the behavioural interviewing technique. Brenda is currently working for the IRC as a research assistant.

Career Assessments: An Overview

Is there an organization today that isn’t thinking about how to become more effective, efficient, economical, and equitable? Whether large or small, private, public, or not-for-profit, unionized or not, employers’ goals in this competitive global marketplace are all similar: to engage individual employees, to inspire teams to attract and retain satisfied clients, and to be profitable and sustainable.

Employers may be challenged by business needs changing faster than employees’ skills, clients looking for more innovation, managers who aren’t engaging their teams, or employees who are denying or resisting change. While many employers showcase employees, their human capital, as the competitive advantage in strategic plans and annual reports, not all offer the comprehensive training and development or succession planning programs needed to support such claims.

Employees may be challenged by evaluating the pros and cons of a job versus a career, failing to recognize what they’d be interested in doing let alone good at, wanting more purpose in the work they do, or lacking any kind of formal career plan.

I contend that career assessments are viable tools that can help to match employee goals with organizational goals and add measurable value to both employers and employees throughout their relationship. Effective recruitment needs process; unfortunately, career assessments and background checks are the two elements given short shrift in the recruitment process. I think assessments are an upfront investment that ensures the best candidate is hired, placed in the right role, and supported to do the right things well. If recruitment isn’t done well, the impact of every subsequent HR dollar (i.e., on-boarding, training and development, succession planning, and retention) is reduced. In this article, I outline some of the types of career assessment tools that exist, their criteria, who benefits from them, and why, when, where, and how they should be conducted.

Types of Career Assessments

Regardless if you’re an employer or an employee, it is important to know what you need or want the assessment or test to provide as an outcome before you invest in and commit to it. A plethora of assessment tools exist. Below are a few examples.


  • Observes and measures a person’s actual behaviour.

Cognitive Ability

  • Assesses a person’s aptitude or potential to learn quickly, think logically, solve problems, use verbal or mathematical reasoning, and perceptual abilities, such as speed in recognizing patterns.


  • Assesses attitudes and experiences related a person’s honesty, dependability, trustworthiness, reliability, and pro-social behaviour.


  • Measures general intelligence.

Job Knowledge

  • Uses multiple choice and/or essay questions to evaluate technical or professional expertise and knowledge required for specific professions. When one qualifies for a professional designation (e.g., Accounting, Engineering, Human Resources, etc.) this is generally the approach that is used.


  • Measures personality traits like extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to new experiences, optimism, service orientation, stress tolerance, emotional stability, and initiative. These traits are particularly important in team-based workplaces. Personality tends to be a complex combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors.

Physical Ability

  • Requires candidates to actually demonstrate strength, balance, speed, etc. Emergency Medical Services, Fire Fighters, and Police employ such tools.

Work Samples and Simulations

  • Measures specific job knowledge and skills, as well as more general skills, such as analysis, interpersonal, and organization. The simulations involve performing an actual task like creating a document in Word.

Individual Psychological Assessment

  • Consists of professionally developed and validated measures of cognitive abilities, leadership style, and personality, among other things. Typically they have been validated for current positions in accordance with legal and professional guidelines.

Career Assessment Criteria

It is imperative to ensure that the career assessment tool is valid, reliable, bias free, administratively fair, and linked to a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR). These concepts are outlined below.


  • The assessment measures what it claims to; otherwise, it’s difficult to accurately interpret and apply the results.


  • The results are consistent when the person is retested over time (e.g., every three to five years).

Bias Free

  • The assessment does not adversely impact a certain demographic (i.e., age, gender, race, etc.) or present barriers or prejudices that restrict access to employment or subsequent movement within the organization once hired.

Administratively Fair

  • The assessment or test should be based on the principles of administrative fairness. For example, it needs to be:
    • Clearly defined as to scope, autonomy and accountability
    • Easily accessible and understood
    • Inclusive rather than exclusive
    • Non-discriminatory
    • Consistently interpreted and applied
    • Flexible enough to accommodate individual differences
    • Explained in context
    • Subject to appeal


According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (, a BFOR is “a standard or rule that is integral to carrying out the functions of a specific position. For a standard to be considered a BFOR, an employer has to establish that any accommodation or changes to the standard would create an undue hardship.”

Who Benefits From a Career Assessment?

There’s no question that both the employer and the employee benefit from a career assessment.


  • Streamline the recruitment, training and development, and/or succession planning processes.
  • Hone in on key abilities, behaviours, characteristics, skills and/or traits that are known to lead to success in the role (e.g., some assessments will benchmark individuals to average and high performers in a specific role).
  • Present information that may otherwise be hard to find.
  • Treat all candidates consistently in a fair, competitive-comparative model.
  • Minimize the actual and opportunity costs of on-boarding, training, development, succession planning, and retention initiatives by investing in the most qualified people.
  • Increase the likelihood of making the right hiring decision.
  • Increase employee engagement and productivity, which, in turn, leads to increased client satisfaction and loyalty as well as organizational sustainability or profitability.
  • Save money over the long term through higher productivity, focused training and development, lower absenteeism and turnover, fewer severance packages, and lower re-recruitment costs.


  • Become more confident of who they are, what they’re interested in, and where they’re most likely to be successful.
  • Take charge of their own careers, rather than depend on the employer’s career development program (if offered).
  • Make more informed decisions whether they pursue a job or a career.
  • Establish a strategic path with clear goals.
  • Clarify what work-life balance means to them.
  • Become more self-actualized.
  • Save money over the long term by pursuing the right certificate, diploma, or degree, and maximizing return on related costs (i.e., tuition, books, living expenses).

The two prime reasons for employers and employees not opting for a career assessment are the actual expenses and opportunity (i.e., time) costs. When you consider the benefits outlined above, the return on investment of choosing an assessment far outweighs any initial objections. Assessments really can and do often lead to win-win solutions.

Why Conduct a Career Assessment?

Assessments provide an objective approach to supplementing information from other sources to help the employers make the best hiring decision and the employee make the best career decision. The better the decision, the more likely the employee is to be positioned for success both in the shorter and longer terms and the greater an employer’s return on investment.

When Should a Career Assessment be used?

Assessments can be introduced at a number of milestones in the employment process, including initial recruitment, training and development, or succession planning. During the recruitment process, assessments are recommended following the identification of the top two candidates. If #1 declines the job offer, then the #2 candidate is at the ready. For training, development, and succession planning, assessment results provide excellent background for coaching, mentoring, and personal growth.

Where Are Career Assessments Conducted?

Assessments can be conducted on-site (either at the employer’s or facilitator’s venue) or self-administered on-line. Interpretation of results is usually best when discussed face-to-face, but Skype, phone, and e-mail can also be considered, if more practical.

How Does One Choose the Most Appropriate Career Assessment?

Each person you consult is likely to champion a particular tool. Some assessments combine a number of the factors cited above. Over the past seven years, I’ve tracked the career assessments people have tried before they come to me. Currently my list is at 55 examples and growing. Reflect on the assessments you’ve offered or taken. You’ve likely tried at least one of Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, DISC, Kolbe Concept, Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Predictive Index, Strong Interest Inventory, or True Colours.

I’d recommend that you clarify what behaviours and traits have led to success in a particular role in the past and research possible assessments and tools that will help you confirm them in prospective candidates.

  • Do you need a cheap and cheerful model to filter out high numbers of candidates for more junior roles? Check out the free, on-line, and self-administered tools through government programs and independent suppliers.
  • Do you want a more comprehensive model for a lower number of candidates for more senior roles? An individual psychological assessment may be more appropriate. This typically involves a fee, is “live,” and is interpreted by a certified practitioner.

Fortunately, the days of “test batteries” that took days to administer and interpret are no longer necessary. New tools can be quite effective, efficient, and economical.


As discussed in this article, there are a number of career assessment types, criteria, and factors to consider when conducting a career assessment. Selecting the assessment that will best meet your needs is critical. While career assessments are an investment, I believe that they can be effective, efficient, and economical resources for both employers and employees.



Canadian Human Rights Commission, “Bona Fide Occupational Requirement,” last updated August 18, 2011,


About the Author

Lee Anderson

Lee Anderson has been the Principal of Lee Anderson & Associates since 2000. Her practice focuses on Career Assessment and Coaching, Organizational Effectiveness, and Strategic Human Resources Management. She cruised through her corporate career having taken a number of assessments but never quite got around to consolidating the data into a strategic career plan. She wishes she’d been more proactive sooner. She is a certified practitioner of the Pathfinder Career System to which she was introduced in 2005. It has had a profound effect on why she became certified, how she facilitates Pathfinder, and what impact Pathfinder has on clients.

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