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What's the Point of Behavioral Interviews?

Posted by Margot Nash on September 28, 2013

Whether your company embraces it, or you've done some online research,  you have probably heard about behavioral interviewing. It may just seem like another fad that hiring managers are being pressured to endure, but behavioral interviewing tactics can add value to your interview process and also reduce bad hiring decisions. Instead of asking the typical interview questions like "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" candidates are asked questions that dig into their past and discover their previous responses to real-life situations.

behavioral interview

What are Behavioral Interviews?

In a behavioral interview, candidates are asked to think of a time when they experienced a specific situation. They are then asked to describe how they handled that situation. Most behavioral interview questions begin with "Tell me about a time...", "Give me an example of when...", "Describe for me...", etc. This encourages the candidate to tell a story about how they behaved in prior work situations.

How do you conduct them?

For example, a candidate may be asked to think of a time when they experienced an unethical situation and then describe how they handled it. The goal of these type of questions is to dig into the candidates past in order to learn how they will behave in the future. If you simply ask someone how they would react to an unethical situation in the role they are applying for, they are likely to give you the answer you want to hear. They also may genuinely want to do the "right" thing in the future, and tell you exactly how they would handle it in a perfect world. However, a person is almost guaranteed to repeat past behavior.  Despite wanting to do the right thing the next time they face an ethical dilemma, a person who failed to do the right thing in the past is likely to continue to respond to ethical situations in the wrong way.

Another example is asking a candidate to think of a situation where they had to complete an unpleasant task or project, and then talk about how they completed it. Every job imaginable will involve unpleasant tasks (some jobs have more than others), and any good employee is going to be able to push through and get them done well. A not so great answer may be that they pushed off that task until the end of the day, or pushed the task off on someone else. Whereas a great answer would be that they made sure to give it 100 percent, even if they didn't enjoy the task because it was their responsibility to get it done, and they wanted to do it well.

Overall, the goal of behavioral interviewing is to learn about how a candidate previously responded to a situation that will be presented to them in the job they're interviewing for. Whether you want to know how they manage urgent or unexpected tasks, difficult situations with coworkers, goal setting, or even failure, behavioral interviewing will give you the insight you need to decide whether your candidates have the competencies to succeed in a position with your company.

Think that behavioral went well? Make sure the candidate's past is in line with what they say by conducting reference checks! 

reference check, how to do a reference check

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Margot Nash

About the Author

Margot Nash is Hireology's VP of Product where she integrates her experience in psychology, selection consulting and recruitment into Hireology's platform. As a self-proclaimed "selection junkie," Margot has a true passion for understanding the psychology of success and is determined to pioneer a shift in the way businesses approach the hiring process.