The Pros and Cons of Behavioral Interviewing

May 11, 2017 Jennifer Way

Behavioral interviewing, for those not familiar, is a method of questioning that requires the respondent to answer with a story of how they handled a specific circumstance. It’s designed to get the candidate to reveal how they responded to a real life work situation so we can understand how they might respond to a similar situation if they were hired.

What are the inherent pros to this interview style?

  1. We get real-life examples to help us assess how someone will perform in the future. I love behavioral interviews —I never tire of hearing the stories people tell and what they did or didn’t do to solve a problem. There is always something we can learn from what a candidate states or doesn’t state in an interview answer.
  2. We can get into deeper detail than other interview questions. With a couple of probing questions beyond an initial response, you can reveal some important details about a candidate that may not come out in other interview formats. For example, you can get specific details about a candidate’s real contribution to a project, or find out how they dealt with an unpredictable circumstance.
  3. The focus storytelling enables almost all candidates to interview more effectively.   Let’s face it: Interviewing is scary for most people. Some people will always be better storytellers than others, but it’s in every human’s DNA to be able to convey a story. Even candidates who are naturally shy or introverted —tendencies that inhibit their ability to sell themselves — can come alive when you ask them a behavioral interview-style question. It is much more comfortable and easy for a candidate to tell you a story than respond to a firing squad of questions.

Behavioral interviewing isn’t a perfect method, however — it has weaknesses which often become all too apparent when it comes to the actual asking of the questions.

Consider the following to keep your behavioral interviews on track:

  1. Questions must be designed with behavior in mind. Behavioral interviewing is certainly the best predictor of future behavior, but if we don’t design the questions correctly, the information we receive may not enable better decision making. Even if you think your behavioral questions are designed perfectly, consider whether they will elicit the behavior you are seeking to measure.
  2. Don’t ask leading questions. If you tell the candidate what you are trying to discern before you ask the actual question, it’s like giving them the answer on a test. For example, making a statement like, “Team work is very important here” before you ask a question about a candidate’s work experience on a group project is a bit leading. They already know what you are assessing.  Try to stick to questions without leading with qualifying statements.
  3. The interviewer must still control the interview. Asking this level of open-ended questions (questions that require a thoughtful answer beyond a simple yes or no) can send you “down a rabbit hole” in many situations. Candidates are nervous in interview situations and have a tendency to ramble on or focus on details that are not relevant to the information you are seeking. You must be able to re-focus the discussion and stay on track.
  4. The storytelling technique is another excellent way for an interviewer to relay information to a candidate. Candidates, like anyone else, have a tendency to hear what they want to hear as opposed to what you intend them to hear. If you want to make a point they will remember, consider telling anecdotal stories that will help a candidate truly understand what the position is about and what kinds of results you are looking for.

All in all, behavioral interviews are still one of the greatest leaps forward in the history of recruitment, but that doesn’t eliminate the responsibilities that come along with conducting this type of interview. When using behavioral interviewing techniques, be direct and upfront to ensure a quality interview.

Learn how to avoid making bad hires that could cost your business

Jennifer Way is a human capital management consultant with more than fifteen years of global recruiting experience. She specializes in serving high volume recruiting environments with innovative solutions that address three areas: executive/strategic recruiting, recruiting process, and recruiting technologies.  

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