Behavioral Based Interview Questions

Behavioral interviewing is the most effective way to determine if a job candidate is a good fit for your open role.  In contrast to traditional and situational interview questions, behavioral based interview questions elicit the type of responses that give hiring managers real insights about a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.  In a recent blog post we covered the role that behavioral based interview questions can play in your hiring strategy and three questions in particular that would help uncover useful information about job candidates beyond the canned answers that have become a mainstay of interactions between employers and job seekers.

Still, in spite of having for years utilized behavioral based interview questions when seeking to fill a role, many hiring managers continue to struggle with finding employees who are both technically qualified and culturally suited to the company’s work environment.  With that in mind we will explore some common behavioral interview pitfalls and how to overcome them.

In 2012, Leadership IQ, a consulting firm that specializes in employee engagement and leadership training, published a study that found 46% of new employees fail in their first 18 months on the job and of those 46%, the vast majority of them failed not because they were unqualified, but because what Leadership IQ calls “attitudinal reasons.”  In essence it is not a lack of technical skill that causes these employees to falter, but qualities or lack thereof that are less tangible and more difficult to assess in a job interview like coachability, emotional intelligence, and temperament.

Talent Intelligence has covered extensively the ramifications of hiring the wrong person into a critical role.  The cost of a bad hire can reach as high as 200% of the employee’s base salary, to say nothing of the costs that are harder to quantify such as customer dissatisfaction, reduced product/service quality, and suppression of workplace morale.

Behavioral based interview questions can go a long way in helping employers avoid making the wrong hiring decision by probing job candidates about real, concrete actions they have taken in the past, which happen to be the most reliable predictor of future behavior.  Unlike traditional interview questions that are overly broad and situational interview questions which deal only in hypotheticals, behavioral based interview questions require candidates to dive into the specifics, allowing the interviewer a more genuine peek inside the interviewee’s work style. Unfortunately, hiring managers cannot simply shift to the behavioral interviewing method and call it a day.  Only by employing best practices in behavioral interviewing is it possible to truly minimize the risk of bringing a new person into your company.  Next time you find yourself with a vacancy at your company, try these relatively simple tactics to get the most out of your interview process.

1. Shoot for the middle ground between specificity and generality.

Whenever you conduct interviews for a vacant role, it is inevitable that you will speak to candidates of varying backgrounds and experiences.  It is important that each question be general enough that you can ask it of all candidates.  At the same time it is important that each question not be so generalized that you struggle to get detailed answers.

2. Guide candidates through STAR.

Not every applicant is going to be well-versed in behavioral based interview questions or the STAR method – Situation, Task, Action, Result (see 3 Must Ask Behavioral Based Interview Questions to learn more about the STAR method) but that doesn’t mean they are not the best fit for the job.  Help these candidates out by walking them step by step through the question.  Ask them about the situation they found themselves in; what steps they needed to take to resolve the situation; how they went about accomplishing those steps; and what outcome their actions resulted in.

3. Use open-ended questions.

One of the biggest pitfalls of behavioral interviewing is the dreaded leading question. For example: “Tell me about a time you were given a difficult task and how you made it work.” Problem solvers will naturally explain how they resolved an issue without being prompted.  Problem bringers will stop short at telling you about the difficult situation they found themselves in.  You want to know if you are interviewing a problem solver or a problem bringer.

4. Never leave your vacancies to chance.

Interview questions, behavioral based or not, can only take you so far.  To ensure that you always have a strong pool of candidates to consider, it is critical to continually and proactively network with talent outside of your company.  Not only will this help you find the right candidate at the right time and avoid disruptions to business continuity by making hiring decisions quickly and with confidence, but it will allow you to measure your employees against those of your competitors.