Winning the Face-to-Face Interview by Learning How to ‘Lead the Witness’


 Skip Freeman

Author – “‘Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets: The Rules of
the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!”


In “‘Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!,” I make the following statement, right up front, in the Introduction & Overview:

“. . . as we enter the new decade, there actually are TWO sets of rules being used to play the (hiring) game:

  • The old rules most candidates think hiring companies still play by; and,
  • The new rules that the hiring companies are actually playing by.”

Unfortunately, many of the new rules are designed not only to put as many “road blocks” and other barriers/obstacles as possible in the path of today’s job seeker, they also are specifically designed to eliminate as many job seekers as possible, as quickly as possible. In this blog, I am going to tell you about a method/approach I use effectively with my recruiting firm’s candidates to circumvent these obstacles, a method/approach that gives these candidates far more power and control than most think they have over the direction and pace of the face-to-face interview. This method/approach is known as “leading the witness,” and it can help you WIN during the face-to-face interview too!

Before we examine the “leading the witness” method/approach, though, let me briefly illustrate the width and depth of the chasm that currently exists between how today’s job seekers think the hiring game is played and how it actually is played by companies, by directly quoting from the “purpose statement” featured in the human resources manual of a very large Fortune 500 company:

“The purpose of the face-to-face interview is to further narrow (emphasis mine) your initial group of applicants by learning as much about them as you can in a relatively limited time.”

Notice anything missing in this human resources “purpose statement”? Not one single word is mentioned
about “determining the best candidate for the job”! Not one! Contrary to what many, if not most, job seekers today think, companies do not seek to identify the best candidates as quickly and as efficiently as possible during any stage of the hiring process, including the face-to-face interview. Rather, the emphasis is primarily on excluding as many candidates as possible, as quickly as possible, in order to “narrow” (the company’s word, not mine) the initial group of applicants.

There’s even more. The manual goes on to state: 

“Some job seekers are very well rehearsed. They know how to anticipate or deflect difficult questions. Therefore, try to formulate questions that cannot be anticipated in advance by the candidate. Make sure your questions get them to do 70% of the talking.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how corporate America views the “hiring game,” and this is how it is played
by them! So, if you are to be successful in today’s “hiring game,” you definitely need to be well prepared and know how to “play” to WIN!

Despite the fact that many hiring companies are on the “alert” for “well-rehearsed” candidates, it’s
nonetheless vital to keep in mind that the well-rehearsed job seeker will be far less likely to be excluded than those job seekers who are either ill prepared or not prepared at all.

What Hiring Managers Really Look for in a Candidate

There are essentially FOUR things that every hiring manager wants to know from you, the job candidate,
whether or not they are skilled enough to ask the right questions to elicit this information:

  • Can you DO the job?
  • Do you WANT to do the job?
  • WILL you do the job?
  • Are you a good CULTURAL FIT? 

So, no matter what questions are actually asked during the interview, brand yourself strongly by dropping “nuggets of wisdom” into your answers that address the four key areas of consideration mentioned above. (Obviously, it is not necessary to address each and every one of these four considerations in ALL your answers!) This, of course, is the essence of “leading the witness.” Let me give you an example of how this works.

Suppose you are interviewing for an executive sales position and the hiring manager asks you the following question:

“Why would you consider leaving your present job?”

An honest answer, as well as one quite likely to be given by most candidates, might go something like this:

“I like my current company and it has been good to me. But I am becoming concerned about the direction of the company. We are six weeks out from the start of our new fiscal year. We don’t even have our budgets or goals yet for next year. Also, there have been some downsizings recently so I am concerned about career potential. So that is why I am looking and would consider leaving my current company.”

Ostensibly, this is a pretty good answer, right? Wrong! In my professional experience this is exactly the type of answer that is more likely to get you eliminated from further consideration, and rather quickly at that! Suffice it to say at this point that the answer throws up a whole bunch of “red flags” for the hiring manager, e.g., you are apparently more than a little dissatisfied with your current company’s inability to properly plan ahead, you’re obviously quite anxious and concerned that your head might soon be on the “chopping block,” etc., etc., etc.

A far better answer to this question, and one that employs the “leading the witness” method/approach,
i.e., getting the hiring manager headed in the direction you want him/her to go with the interview, as well as one that begins addressing the four important areas of consideration mentioned above, is this one:

“With my current company I have called on both industrial and manufacturing facilities as well as had some experience in distribution. Additionally, I have hiring and firing responsibility over a team of 34 people. It is not so much that I am looking to leave my current position as I am very interested in the opportunity with your company. I understand this is an expansion position. With my background in building high performance teams and driving new business—we were up 28% last year, by the way—I believe I can bring to you the skills in developing the value-added solutions that you deliver to your customers, in order to keep their operations running efficiently and safely.”

Let’s briefly dissect this answer and see how (and why!) it begins to brand you effectively by addressing
the four key considerations virtually all hiring managers make (even though they might not consciously be aware of it!) when selecting candidates.

Can you DO the Job?

Prior to the face-to-face interview you should prepare yourself by asking (and answering!) the following types of questions (by no means an exhaustive list):

  • What exactly is the specific nature of this job and what would a hiring manager likely want to know about and see in a successful candidate for the position?
  • What does your research reveal about the qualities a successful person in this role would need to have?

Then, of course, you will brand yourself as someone who can, indeed, DO the job by dropping in the
aforementioned “nuggets of wisdom,” e. g., “I have called on both industrial and manufacturing facilities . . . have . . . experience in distribution . . . hiring and firing responsibility over a team of 34 people. . . .” (Let’s assume that this portion of your answer encompasses a number of things you learned (or inferred) during your research that the company wants and expects in a person filling this position.)

Do you WANT to do the job?

There is a truism in hiring: “When hiring, look for both skill and will.” CAN you do the job? relates to “skill.” “Will” is addressed by this question: Do you WANT to do the job?, as well as the next question, WILL you do the job? Therefore, it is vital that you formulate, beforehand, some specific “nuggets” to include in your
answers to the hiring manager’s questions that demonstrate you do, indeed, WANT to do the job. In this case, you will have accomplished that goal by including the following in your answer: “I am very interested in the opportunity with your company. I understand this is an expansion position.”

WILL you do the job?

Time and time again people have been hired who seem to “want the job” only to show up and never actually DO the job! In today’s economic environment, hiring managers certainly can’t afford to make that mistake, and they don’t make it often, either. So take every opportunity to weave stories and comments into the interview about the times you have worked nights, weekends, overtime, etc., to get the job done. And don’t wait for a question such as, “Tell me about a time when you were overdue on a project and what you did about it?” to show them you will do the job. Proactively—and appropriately, of course—weave your stories and comments into the conversation.


Be advised: People hire people who tend to be very much like themselves (and their co-workers). You
should therefore carefully study the company’s website, news releases and media stories (if any) about the company, to begin getting a “feel” for the company’s culture. Also network with professionals at that company who are in your LinkedIn network. Make every attempt during the time available to you to learn
about the culture of the organisation and then brand yourself as a “cultural fit” by, again, citing proactive
examples and telling relevant stories.

Let’s refer back to the “improved” answer to the question of “Why would you consider leaving your
current company.” The portion of the answer that begins addressing the “cultural fit” issue is this one: “. . . I can bring to you the skills in developing the value-added solutions that you deliver to your customers, in
order to keep their operations running efficiently and safely.” (This type of statement could simply be a careful rewording of a statement you found in the company’s annual report!) Certainly, the statement suggests that you at least have an elementary understanding of and appreciation for the company’s culture.

And, finally . . .

Based upon my professional experience of dealing with many job candidates for many years, I
know that, to most job seekers, learning to effectively employ the “leading the witness” method/approach during job interviews (it can also be effectively used in telephone interviews, as well as face-to-face interviews) can seem to be a rather daunting task, at least initially. “It feels too ‘phony,’ ‘too contrived,’ it feels too much like ‘game playing.'” (I’ve heard all of these initial comments from job candidates we coach!) Well, it isn’t “phony,” and it isn’t “contrived.” It is, however, very much like “game playing” because, as I’ve stated repeatedly in forum after forum, hiring is a “game,” and like any game, if you intend to WIN, you had better learn how to “play” effectively! Embracing and effectively utilising the “leading the witness” method/approach can help you do just that.



Skip Freeman, author of “‘Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!, has successfully completed 400 executive search assignments in just eight years, consistently placing him in the Top 20% of all “headhunters” in the U.S. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals in industry, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.

A distinguished graduate of the United States Military Academy, West Point, he is a lifelong student of leadership, people and the principles of success. While serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Chemical Corps, he also earned a Master of Science degree in Organic Chemistry from The Georgia Institute of Technology and a Master of Business Administration degree in Marketing from Long Island University.

Visit or contact Skip at his book website,