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Three Steps to Conducting Effective Behavioral Interviews

In his classic analysis of the success of top-performing companies, Good to Great, Jim Collins writes, “To build a successful organization and team, you must get the right people on the bus.” The interviewing process plays a critical role in finding the right passengers. Hiring and training a new employee involves a significant investment of time and money. A bad hire wastes these resources, sending you back to square one. As a hiring manager, you need an interviewing strategy that helps you accurately assess whether a candidate is a good fit for the position. Behavioral interviewing is a great place to start.

What is Behavioral Interviewing?

“Behavioral interviewing” has a trendy ring to it, but it’s just modern jargon for a technique that has been around for several decades. In contrast with unstructured, conversational interviews, behavioral interviews involve asking the candidate to walk you through concrete examples of their past behavior in certain scenarios. This strategy assumes that history repeats itself, and that a candidate’s past behavior is a strong indicator of his or her future performance.

Why Use Behavioral Interviewing?

Every hiring manager has a story about hiring a candidate who knocked everyone’s socks off during the interview – only to find that that employee’s only real skill was being awesome in interviews. Many HR departments have turned to more scientific methods to improve their chances of finding someone who will actually be awesome at their new job. Organizational psychologists have conducted experiments to determine the correlation between a candidate’s performance in an interview and later success on the job. They then compared correlation rates across different styles of interviews (other styles include situational and relational). Researchers found that structured interviews provided a strong indicator of future job performance.

How to Conduct a Behavioral Interview

  1. Identify the skills and traits that lead to success in this job role. You should consider what made the last employee who held this position so successful (or unsuccessful, as the case may be). Talk to the people who will be supervising the new hire and find out what their ideal candidate would be like.
  2. Develop your list of questions. A good behavioral interview question is general enough to work for candidates with varying backgrounds, but specific enough to encourage them to go into detail about their process and their actions. For example, if you’re looking for someone who will take initiative in the workplace, asking for an example of a time when he or she initiated a project at work will yield a more useful response than asking, “Do you have initiative?”
  3. Vary your questions. There should be a balance of questions asking about what the candidate has done well in the past as well as what could have been done better. A question about mistakes (i.e., “Tell me about a time that you tried to accomplish something and failed”) can tell you far more about a candidate than that old chestnut – “What are your weaknesses?”

More Resources for Hiring Managers

There’s lots of advice out there for job seekers about how to best prepare for an interview. Although they are in a slightly more nerve-wracking position, that doesn’t mean that being on the other side of the desk is a piece of cake. Successful interviews require careful preparation from both parties. Here are some resources you may find helpful:

Sample Behavioral Interview Questions from Quint Careers
How to Conduct a Job Interview from Inc.
Selecting Top Talent from Vubiz
The Three-Dimensional Interview from VisionPoint

Have you found behavioral questions useful? Do you have a story about a candidate who was Dr. Jekyll during the interview process, but morphed into Mr. Hyde once hired? What are your tips for conducting an effective interview? Let us know in the comments.

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