Why Behavioral Interviewing Still Works

This column is authored by Andrew Armstrong, Managing Partner at KickStart Search Engine Marketing

behavioral interviewingBehavioral interviewing is a method of screening a job candidate that predicts on-the-job behavior by asking him or her for repeated and specific examples of past job performance. Because it has existed for more than 30 years, some in the human resources industry question whether it remains an effective screening tool. While the answer to that question is a definite yes, interviewers must realize that today’s job-seekers have become savvy to this style of interview. That means that obtaining an accurate picture of the candidate requires a slightly different approach than the traditional behavioral interviewing techniques.

The Problem with Typical Behavioral Interview Questions

In a December 2014 article of Forbes Magazine, the author argues that traditional behavioral interviewing is structured in such a way that the interviewer gives away the expected answer. Some examples of common behavioral interview questions include:

  • Give me an example of a time when you had competing priorities and how you resolved the situation. This assumes that the candidate managed the situation successfully.
  • Please provide details of a time that you successfully challenged someone’s position and got him or her to see things your way. Again, the key word here is successfully. No candidate who really wants the job is going to admit that he or she has no such examples. It’s easy enough to make something up.
  • Think back to a time you felt bored at your job and explain what you did to change your responsibilities or cope with the monotony. The presentation of this interview question leaves out the possibility that the interviewee learned to passively accept the situation.

Simply rewording these questions to make them more open-ended can yield entirely different responses. For example, using only the first half of the first question “Tell me about a time you had competing priorities” leaves the person free to answer in any manner he or she sees fit.

Restructuring the Behavioral Interview

Preparation on the part of the interviewer is essential to elicit the most helpful responses. This starts by coming up with a list of skills and traits required for success in the position. The person leaving the position is a good one to ask. If it’s a newly-created job, ask employees who will work with the new employee what they feel are the most important attributes for the position. From there, the human resources professional can develop a list of questions.

It’s important to vary the questions between what the candidate feels he or she does well versus what he or she could do better. Asking questions in a new way rather than what job-seekers have come to expect is essential as well. This involves a process of discovery with every candidate. Once the interviewee has answered a question, the interviewer must be flexible enough to tailor unique follow-up questions. As stated above, asking behavioral questions in a more open-ended way will yield more useful results.

Perhaps the greatest take-away in this new approach to the behavioral interview is that the human resources representative must continue to probe with every answer to uncover a predictable pattern of behavior. A candidate who can’t provide examples to statements he or she just made may not be telling the truth. This is obviously someone the company would want to avoid hiring.

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