While some folks dread interviewing, arguing that the process is largely unscientific, poorly predicts future performance, and requires excessive coordination and negotiation, I happen to quite enjoy it. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have both interviewed at a number of solid companies and conversely, interviewed many accomplished candidates for roles where I've worked as well as a professional in the staffing world. Thus, I wanted to combine both my interviewee and interviewer experiences to explore a crucial and growing component of interviewing—behavioral interviewing.
A plethora of researchers far more credible and knowledgeable than me have shown that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Behavioral interviewing, as opposed to traditional interviewing, leverages this fact by asking questions about specific past experiences. It’s far more difficult for a candidate to lie about a past experience than a theoretical “what would you do situation.” False examples quickly fall apart when subjected to additional questioning. If your employer does not practice behavioral interviewing, it’s making a huge mistake.
Maybe you support behavioral interviewing, but aren’t sure of how to implement it. Last year, I had the opportunity to play a major role in standardizing the behavioral interviewing across a client of ours at SHCS as a hired Talent Coach Consultant. First, we identified what qualities we wanted to evaluate e.g. communication/collaboration, influencing without authority, conflict resolution, then tailored questions to these attributes. There are so many behavioral interview questions out there that you must anchor your approach on specific qualities first. This also provides consistency during evaluation.
Conflict resolution questions are some of my favorite behavioral questions, as they reveal how candidates react to negativity and adversity in the workplace. One question I ask is, “Tell me about a time when you got off on the wrong foot with someone important at work, or tell me about a time in which you had to work with a difficult coworker or team.” Examples of follow up questions range from “Why didn’t you engage the person’s manager?” to “How has your relationship developed and is it still challenging today?” Some of my personal red flags are when a candidate says he or she went directly to the other person’s manager and reported the issue instead of working directly with the person to try resolving.
For a 30-45 minute interview, I usually try to ask about two behavioral questions, spending a lot of time digging into follow-ups. For an interview panel in which multiple people are interviewing an onsite candidate, it’s helpful to assign each person a single competency to evaluate. This allows each interviewer to develop expertise in asking this type of question and gauging the quality of answers.
Aside from revealing competency from previous experiences, behavioral questions also demonstrate a candidate’s ability to organize, structure, and communicate effectively. I’ve evaluated candidates before who were undoubtedly bright, but unable to organize their answers in an easy-to-follow manner. Since these questions target specific experiences, they force candidates to get into nitty gritty details. Vague, high-level answers tend to be a warning sign.
While I mentioned earlier that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, behavioral interviewing is not without its blind spots. I was once on an interview panel for a critical role that I would work closely with. We interviewed a number of candidates, and one particular candidate stood out above the rest. He had the technical chops, seemed like a great cultural fit, and was energetic and excited about the opportunity. He earned top marks across the board with everyone on the panel. We extended an offer and he joined soon after.
A few months into working with him, I discovered some unexpected challenges. He had difficulty delegating tasks and was becoming a bottleneck as a result. We also had some fundamental differences on certain key initiatives, and I was frustrated because I had demonstrated more familiarity with the teams and processes we were working with. In time, it came to light that this person was struggling in other areas as well, and other people in the organization had noticed and were sharing direct feedback. A while later, a coworker and I circled back together and acknowledged we had made a mistake during the interview evaluation process. We confused energy for activity, and activity for results.
While behavioral interviewing still isn’t perfect, it’s by and large the most rigorous, structured practice out there. If implemented correctly, you should see a dramatic difference in the quality and consistency of evaluating candidates and hiring the best people for your company.