Say Goodbye to Hiring Guesswork: A Quick Guide to Behavioral Interviewing

When it comes to hiring, the last thing you want to do is guess whether a candidate is a good fit or not. By using behavioral interviewing techniques to tap into the way candidates think, you can get the real scoop and make smarter hiring decisions.

In many ways, the recruitment process can feel like a fact-finding mission.

Hiring managers and founders typically meet and speak with dozens of candidates, undergo several rounds of interviews and assessments, and perform myriad background checks — all to achieve a singular goal. Uncover as much evidence as possible to make a well-informed decision about whom you should (or should not) invite into your company’s inner circle.

Unfortunately, that fact-finding process isn’t exactly foolproof. There are unscrupulous candidates who are better at lying about their credentials than they are at actually performing their jobs. Even the most diligent recruiters can miss red flags if they’re not asking the proper questions.

Thankfully, there is one tactic that recruiters and hiring managers can use to circumvent those issues — behavioral interviewing.
At a high level, a behavioral interview is a line of questioning that gathers information on how a candidate handled a specific situation, action, and end result. Question topics can run the gamut, but the benefit of asking them is that they typically provide critical insight into a candidate’s analytical thinking skills, problem solving abilities, ethics, and initiative as well as personality traits.

The more you are able to diversify your questioning to achieve a balance of moderate scenarios with challenging ones, the broader the insight you will gather. The idea is to try to fully understand how candidates have responded to roadblocks, opportunities, accomplishment, and failure in the past, because behavioral interview techniques are backed by the theory that previous experience is often a good indicator of future performance.

For more reasons why behavioral interviewing is the “right way” to conduct a job interview, watch this video from Michael Mauboussin, author of The Success Equation, from Harvard Business Review.

Sample Behavioral Interviewing Questions

In order to best evaluate a candidate’s competencies, you should create a pre-determined set of questions with specific competencies and traits in mind. Doing so will ensure that you get the right information — in the right context — to make compliant and fully informed hiring decisions.

Below are some sample behavioral questions that you might ask for specific competency categories:

  • Accountability and leadership: “Please describe in detail a project that you were responsible for. How did you carry out the project and what were the end results?”
  • Agility: “Tell me about a project that did not go according to plan. What corrections did you make and what were the results?”
  • Communication: “Describe a time when you received information about a project or work related item that was critical to success. How did you share the information with the team? When did you share the information?”
  • Critical thinking and decision making: “Describe the steps you go through to make an important decision. Please provide an example.”
  • Efficiency and organizational skills: “What is your process for prioritizing responsibilities? Provide an example. What could you do to be more efficient?”
  • Persistence: “Tell me about a time when you got results when others tried and failed.”
  • Working effectively with others: “Tell me about a time when your team was veering off track and you were instrumental in bringing the team back in focus and on track. What did you do to ensure there would be no more derailments?”

Generally speaking, behavioral interview questions will start with open-ended phrases like, “tell me about a time when,” or “describe a circumstance in which.” Regardless of the wording you use, be sure to encourage interviewees to give you answers that go well beyond single word or single sentence responses.

For more sample behavioral interviewing questions, see this post from @talentdiva Adrienne Graham.

5 Tips to Avoid Screwing Up Behavioral Interviews

Of course, behavioral interviewing is only a helpful candidate assessment technique if it’s done right — and there are plenty of ways to get it wrong.

Here are five common blunders you have to avoid in order for your interviews to be effective:

1. Don’t Lead Your Interviewees

When you preface questions with detailed information, you are basically tipping candidates off on exactly how you want them to respond. For instance, an example of a leading question might be: “Collaboration and agility are a big part of our culture. Tell me about a recent project that you collaborated with your team on, and how you adapted when the plan/situation changed.” Candidates with half a brain will likely tailor their answers to ensure they fully address collaboration and agility.

2.>Avoid Generalities and Probe Deeper

For each behavioral interviewing question, follow the B.A.R. (Background, Action, Results) method for candidate responses. Be sure that candidates are explaining the background of the situation, what action was taken, and what the outcome was. If a candidate does not give you all three B.A.R. criteria in his or her answer, ask probing questions to get the detailed information.

3. Stay Away from Hypothetical or Theoretical Questions

It might seem helpful to know how someone would handle something if they faced it, but you really want to know how they have already handled it. For instance, a good question to ask might be: “How have you explained a complex technical problem to a non-technical audience?”

4. Don’t Accept Answers that Are Not in First Person

Again, you want to know how the candidate handled a situation, not how their peers, co-workers, or bosses handled it. Do not allow candidates to take credit for the actions of others. Ask what the candidate’s direct role was in getting to the result. What specifically did he or she do? If a candidate is using “we” rather than “I”, you may find they were not as much as individual contributor as they make it seem.

5. Avoid the Temptation to Fill Silence

When you ask behavioral interviewing questions, make sure you give candidates ample time and opportunity to recall an event. If that takes a minute or two to do, that’s fine — but do not fill the void for them by rephrasing the question or offering leading information.

Bottom Line

The first time that you execute a behavioral interview, it may feel awkward, especially if a candidate flounders — and that’s okay.

Over time, you will become more comfortable with the technique and it will be easier to pinpoint potential pitfalls that could undermine the information you gather from candidates. And as your behavioral interviewing techniques improve, so too will your ability to identify — and hire — candidates who best align with your needs and culture.

Take the Next Step: Download the Free eBook

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  • Assemble and manage a successful, high-output talent team
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We Want to Hear from You

Does your company currently use behavioral interviewing? What advice would you offer to other founders and hiring managers who aren’t using it?

Photo by:  internets_dairy

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