Written by Deepa Barve
These days, you’ll find tons of online resources that share all sorts of advice for candidates about how to ace a behavioral interview. Yet oddly enough, recruiters often only receive a simple template with a list of standard “behavioral questions.”
But here’s the catch for recruiters: What you do with the interview answers is far more important than the questions, themselves.
Make The Most of Behavioral Interviewing
To get more value from every interview session, keep these three tips in mind:
1) If at first the answer doesn’t succeed, ask, ask again
Behavioral interviewing is based on the belief that past behavior is a predictor of future performance. The keywords here are “past behavior.” Too often, candidates have a tendency to respond to questions hypothetically. But that only tells you what they think they would do (or think you want them to do) in a particular situation. It’s not what they’ve actually done in a similar situation.
If candidates can’t think of a past example, broaden the parameters of the question. Suggest they provide an example from their personal life instead of a professional example. You could also try rewording or paraphrasing the question to help stumped candidates respond appropriately.
2) Know your ideal answer before you ask the question
Interpreting responses to behavioral questions can be tricky. These questions are typically multidimensional, so the answers can be complex and misleading. Some candidates are also adept at this sort of interviewing, and have practiced the art of sounding eloquent while avoiding an authentic, relevant answer.
Each specific behavioral question is typically meant to assess a particular skill. Having a good idea of what you’d like to hear (similar to creating an ideal performance profile) will help you hone in on the competency or skills you’re assessing.
For example, consider the question, “Tell me about a time when you’ve failed at work.” Answers may range from “I’ve never failed” to some version of, “I’m human and I’ve made many mistakes.” Candidates may describe a mistake with negligible impact or reveal details of a huge blunder.
Ultimately, the actual mistakes they made don’t matter. But how they reply does.
The ideal response should include three components: 1) details of the mistake, 2) remedial action they initiated to correct it, and 3) steps they took to prevent it from happening again. The third element — the “applied learning” component — is most important. Very few candidates actually cover the second or third aspects of an answer, unless they’re prompted.
3) Dig deep to make this conversation really count
Prior to an interview, you’ve probably sifted through volumes of resumes and profiles to find a few candidates worth getting to know. You might have also invested time in intermediary steps such as phone screens to create a short list of candidates that seem worthy of a behavioral interview. So make every moment count. Ask follow-up questions to probe deeper. And ask clarifying questions to understand the context surrounding a candidate’s examples.
Be curious, but don’t interrogate. Make it a conversation. Assure them there are no right or wrong answers. Some answers may not impact a hiring decision, but may simply indicate areas where training or coaching are required. Don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, seek complete and accurate information that can ultimately inform your hiring decisions.
Above all, aim to disarm job candidates. After all, you’re trying to get a glimpse of how they behave outside the interview setting. If you’re committed to finding the right talent this way, then it’s worth conducting these interviews right.
What are your thoughts? Have you tried any of these three behavioral interview techniques? What else do you recommend?
(About the Author: Deepa Barve is Sr. Recruitment Leader at SSOE Group, an architectural and engineering consulting firm. Deepa has more than seven years of recruiting experience in engineering, healthcare and hospitality. Her career advice articles are also featured at www.examiner.com.)
(Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from Brazen Life, with permission. Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, it offers edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work. Be Brazen!)
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