Ah, the behavioral-based interview; what a beautiful thing it is! It has been getting more and more praise and attention over the years, and nowadays, forms at least a part of every interview process out there.
But what is it that makes it so great? And why has it been getting so much praise and attention? Let’s start with a short definition to get us off on the right foot before we dig into the reasons why we love the behavioral-based interview.
What is the behavioral-based interview, anyway?
I’m sure you’ve all heard about it, I’m also sure you all kind of know what it means, right? But just to clear the air, a behavioral-based interview is an interview (usually for recruitment) that aims to identify a candidate’s past experiences in certain situations, under the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
Some example of behavioral-based interview questions include:
- Tell me about a time when you (had to work with a difficult co-worker)…
- Give an example of (a time when you had to make an unpopular decision)…
In general, the questions usually are related to overcoming of challenges, the achievement of goals, or how a certain task was carried out.
An interview can be entirely behavioral-based, or only partly, and of course, as with any other practice in the world, has its strengths and its weaknesses. Despite its shortcomings, however, we still love the behavioral-based interview, and I’m going to tell you why you should, too!
Reason #1 – Understand the candidate in front of you
Sure, you have their resume and they were referred to you by a very good reference, but what do you really know about the candidate you’re interviewing?
Asking behavioral-based interview questions allows you to understand the candidate a little better; their motivations, how they take on challenges, how they work within a team, and how they hold up under pressure.
Of course, you won’t be able to understand what they’re all about from one situation and one example, so make sure to address an issue with more than one question to find a consistent pattern. This is the time to let your creative side shine! You might even want to consider a hiring test to help you prepare.
Reason #2 – Dig a little deeper
We all know that person who can talk for hours when asked a simple question. We also all know that person who answers questions with a simple, concise, to-the-point answer, without any elaboration. Ideally, you wouldn’t get such an extreme candidate, but you never know what potential is hiding behind their talkative or discreet exterior.
Behavioral-based interview questions really allow you to dig a little deeper. Because they’re open-ended questions, it allows the candidate to tell you about the situation, the context, and the reasons why the results were what they were.
Just make sure you redirect the candidate to the question if they seem to have drifted off topic, and be sure to probe the more discreet candidates to get a little more insight on the circumstances.
Reason #3 – Allows for answers with a broader scope
What if you have a recent graduate with no previous work experience in the field? What about a person who is switching fields of work? And what about the great employee who is looking for a promotion to a managerial position without ever having to actually manage people?
We all had to start somewhere. We weren’t born with degrees and 5+ years of experience. So how can you evaluate these candidates? With behavioral-based interview questions, of course!
Behavioral-based interview questions are not as specific as other interview questions, and allow a candidate to draw on their own unique experiences depending on their pasts.
Take this question, for example: “Tell me about a time when you weren’t certain you made the right decision and then had it openly challenged. What did you do?” In this case, while the question is the same, the recent graduate will probably tell you about his experience with a group project during school, while the candidate switching fields will tell you about her experiences in a previous job, and the candidate looking for a promotion will tell you a story about being on the committee of a non-profit organization.
The do’s and don’ts of a behavioral-based interview
As already stated, the behavioral-based interview is not perfect, so here are a few pointers to make sure you’re doing it right:
- Probe or redirect a candidate to fully understand the context,
- Ask more than one question for a specific issue to find a pattern of behavior,
- Ask if, after looking back, they would have done anything differently – Learning implies a change in behavior, and it is very likely that the individual has learned from their past mistakes. Don’t assume they didn’t learn from their experiences (or that they did, for that matter!),
- Have a pre-established guide of what is considered a good, average, and bad answer – just because their answer was smart or they are naturally charismatic people doesn’t mean they are the right person for the job. Have a guide to ensure the validity of your interview to help you avoid common recruitment bias.
- Ask irrelevant questions – Nothing is more frustrating to a candidate than an interview question that is irrelevant. Don’t let a great candidate slip through your fingers!
- Not allow the candidate time to gather their thoughts – Sure, good candidates are well-prepared candidates, but reflection takes time. Make sure the candidate feels comfortable and has the time to think back to previous experiences. It’s okay to take the time to think!
- Base your hiring decision on one example of one situation – They might have gotten it right in one situation, but that might not always be the case!
- Ask different candidates different questions for the same position – Reliability, reliability, reliability!
Just as with everything else in business (and life!), there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nothing is perfect, but if you’re careful, you can get most of the good without having to deal with a lot of the bad and ugly of interview mistakes! Why not start with an interview checklist to make sure you’re on the right path?