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Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Behavioral Interview

on Wed, 03/13/2013 - 01:31

As Joan hung up the phone, she was excited the recruiter from a prestigious, multi-national corporation had arranged for her to come in and interview the following week.  After the excitement wore off, nerves set in.  Joan firmly believed she had the skills required to fill the role but it had been awhile since she had to interview for a job.  Joan was nervous also because she had always dreamed of working for this particular corporation and now finally she had the chance to interview. 

Joan set about preparing for the interview by researching the latest news about the company, going over the company web site, doing Google searches on the people she was about to meet, writing down the main reasons she applied for the job and why she believed she was qualified to fill the role.  She also memorized responses to anticipated questions such as, ‘why are you interested in working for our company?’ or ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’  What Joan didn’t prepare for was a barrage of behavioral interview questions.  Despite arriving on-time, well-groomed, armed with knowledge to share she was blindsided when lobbed with the question,

‘Tell me of a time when you had to take initiative to develop an innovative project to achieve better results.’ 

Unknowingly Joan let out a soft yet audible,


The interviewer may as well asked her what was the square root of pi. Try as she might, Joan simply could not recall an example to provide from her past work history that suited the question posed at her. 

Like a deer in headlights, Joan froze. 

Joan just couldn’t let this opportunity to interview end on such a sour note.

Joan thought.

The recruiter remained silent.

The lights grew brighter, the clock ticked louder, suddenly Joan pulled out her imaginary bag of scenarios and told a tale that made her character at work the heroine in the end.  The recruiter appeared to buy the tale. 

Recruiters and Hiring Managers, how many times has this scenario played out in your office?  Hopefully the answer is never but the reality is if you incorporate behavioral questioning in your interview you probably get a few fibbers, hemmer’s and hawer’s and a decent amount of those that try to answer the questions as accurately as possible. 

Before proceeding, for those not familiar with behavioral interviewing it is a type of questioning that requires the candidate to answer with a story of how they handled a specific circumstance.  The questions are designed to elicit 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. 

Behavioral interviewing has grown to great popularity within practically any healthcare related work environment.  Financial firms seem to enjoy using behavioral questions as do a percentage of major corporations.  Companies such as STAR, KeenHire and ZeroRiskHR offer training and certification in behavioral interviewing.  Several years ago I worked for a mid-sized rural hospital where the recruiters could only ask behavioral questions.  The interviews would last a minimum of one hour and afterwards we had to create a chart based on the candidate’s responses.  The chart indicated whether or not we could move forward in the interviewing process with the candidate.  It was painful to watch candidates struggle so hard to answer such challenging questions and have to draw up stories to explain their responses. 

There is value in asking one or two behavioral questions as they do challenge the candidate but when too many of these type questions are employed it can interfere with the candidate being able to fully verbalize their capabilities for the role they are interviewing for.  Behavioral interviewing allows us to dig deeper into the candidate’s employment experiences as well as letting us get a better understanding of their communication skills.  It is important to ask the right type of behavioral question that is designed to draw out the skill or predictor of future behavior that you are looking for.  A lot of my clients are interested in finding candidates that have a strong analytical mindset.  One of my favorite behavioral questions for the analytical mind is,

“Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem.  What did you do? What was your thought process? What was the outcome? What do you wish you had done differently?” 

A more simpler version would be to ask,

“What steps do you follow to study a problem before making a decision? Why?” 

Responses to this question that are simple in nature such as, “I ask my manager for assistance” do not reveal an analytical mindset.  Candidates that break down their problem solving process with details such as research, where they research, co-workers that assist and questions they will ask of the co-workers, etc… prove that they know how to take apart an issue and find a resolution.  To find your correct behavioral interview question do a Google search with the following keyword string : behavioral interview questions type 

Behavioral based interviews holds merit and value however I have found that using a combination of interview questions is most effective in setting the candidate at ease and thus allowing them to better verbalize their capabilities. For setting the tone I like to start off with  traditional interview questions.  Traditional interviewing revolves around asking a series of questions which typically elicit straight-forward answers centering on education, qualifications and the experiences of the candidate.  Traditional interview questions are excellent for laying a foundation of what to expect from the candidate.  Following are some typical traditional interview questions:

·         How many years do you have working as a (any title here)?

·         What is the largest team you have been a part of ?

·         Do you have experience working with other cross-functional teams – if so which departments have you worked with?

·         Do your current job duties require that you interact with suppliers?  Approximately what % of your overall job duties involve customer interaction?

·         What are some of the job duties at your current/last position that you enjoy the most?

·         What are some of the job duties at your current/last position that you least enjoy?

·         Why did you apply to this job?

Opening the interview with a conversational tone will set the candidate at ease allowing the interviewer to segue towards more probing questions as well as bringing a sense that the interview is flowing smoothly.  For second and final interviews technical, situational and job related questions should be incorporated.

As hiring managers and recruiters our goal should be to find the most qualified candidate to fill the role in the shortest amount of time possible.  We shouldn’t wield our small amount of power to see how difficult we can make the questions so we can find out how effective the candidate is at interviewing or answering questions, I think Joan and a resounding number of job seekers would agree.  

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