Tough Interview Questions for Managers: How Do You Approach an Employee About a Performance Issue?

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

One of the realities of being a manager, a director, a VP, or a leader in an organization is that periodically you have to deal with performance issues. Here are a few talking points to hit if you were asked the question about how you’d approach an employee about a performance issue. In the video, I mentioned an SHRM post about this issue. You can read the article here:

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How would you approach an employee about their poor work performance? I’m Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter. And let me tell you how to answer this tough interview question. I’ll have a link to a page at the SHRM website, because they really go into more detail than I’m going to, but the concepts are going to be the same.

Number one, don’t procrastinate. The longer you wait, the more that they start building a case that this was not important to you to bring it up to them. And number two is for some people that are waiting for this conversation. And they’re waiting for you to actually talk with them. So when you do actually talk with them, avoid the chitchat because, frankly, they’re sitting there waiting. They know something’s up. And the chit-chat just delays the inevitable. So, get right into the conversation.

In preparing for the conversation. Number one is you have some talking points that you want to cover. Number two is you give them an appraisal of their  performance at the beginning of the conversation and give them a couple of minutes to read it and digest it so that in this way, you’re on the same page, and they’re on the same page. Give specific examples. Bring up issues, of failed expectations and failed performance. Folks, don’t focus on their intent. The fact that they’re trying is irrelevant. The fact that you don’t think that they care is irrelevant. This is all about performance, not their intentions here. Why this is happening isn’t important is that it’s happening. So avoid that. Don’t give them any excuses.

So the SHRM article gives the example of, ‘it’s probably just as much our fault, or my fault as it is yours.’ And I know that’s because you’re trying to cushion the hard blow. But what winds up happening is, then your firm or you have an accountability problem that gives them a defense in case you have to terminate them.

You also want to be aware of any biases you have. And thus, you’re not focusing on code words that indicate, for example, labeling someone as too emotional or too rigid. They use the example of an employee who yelled and then failed to meet her deadlines. Thus, the behaviors are unacceptable. The interpretation of why the behavior occurred is irrelevant.

Listen to them; take some notes of some of the things they say. And then, in conclusion, clarify your expectations for what they should be doing going forward. Set specific objectives and talk about when you will meet next to review them.

Again, the goal is to be clear in your communication. AInd if you need to have an HR person with you at that time, by all means do so. So if you’re asked these questions, these are the points to hit on in your answer. I think one of the things that you would start off your answer with is no one likes to be in this situation. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes people are not performing and you can’t avoid the conversations because all that happens is other people pick up that you’re tolerating mediocrity or worse, and then they start to wonder why they have to do so much. And that sets you up for a conversation where you hit on some of these major points.

I’m Jeff Altman, I hope you found this helpful. My website is Go to the blog. Go exploring. There’s just gonna be a lot there to help you. In addition, if you’re interested in one on one coaching, you can schedule an initial free discovery call or schedule time for a coaching session so I can help you. At the site, you’ll find out about my courses, books and guides. You can do that there. And and don’t forget to connect with me on Linkedin at

Have a terrific day and most importantly, be great!

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Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with over 2400 episodes.

Are you interested in 1:1 coaching, interview coaching, advice about networking more effectively, how to negotiate your offer or leadership coaching? People hire me to provide No BS career advice whether that is about a job search, hiring better, leadership, management or support with a workplace issue. Schedule a discovery call at my website, 

My courses are available on my The courses include ones about Informational InterviewsInterviewing, final interview preparation, salary negotiation mistakes to avoidthe top 10 questions to prepare for on any job interview, and starting a new job.

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