Behavioral-based interviewing is commonly used at companies to hire the right candidates. Unfortunately, it is also commonly fraught with pitfalls that prevent employers from getting the best results. Here’s what not to do in behavioral-based interviews:
Don’t Be Too Broad
There is a place for broad behavioral-based interview questions, but the majority should be developed through an intimate understanding of the needs for a particular position. Questions must be derived from a specific understanding of the KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities), competencies, and experiences needed for a particular role.
Imagine you ask a sales candidate to explain a time they grew the market share in their territory, for example. They’re likely to share the most memorable or impressive example. Maybe they cold-called a large number of buyers and networked at every trade show they could attend.
That type of extroverted shotgun approach might have worked well with one type of product, but what if the role they’d fill at your company would require more of a laser focus? It might instead demand a salesperson who spends time in the field with end-users to understand their specific needs.
Those two scenarios would call for two very different skill sets, approaches, and people — and a broad question won’t reveal whether a candidate can deliver on those specifics. Instead, the behavioral-based interview question should address the very particular type of behavior needed rather than a general outcome.
To craft specific questions, start by asking yourself: What are the particular skills needed for the role? What are the top three competencies necessary for success in it? And, most important, what do you want the person to accomplish in their first, second, and third years on the job?
Don’t Over-Focus on Past Success
Past success is one of the best indicators of future success. That’s why most carefully tailored behavioral-based interview questions should aim to reveal past actions that led to past successes.
However, while past success should be the primary focus of an interview, the second-best indicator of future success is past failure. Asking candidates how they reflected upon and learned from failure can bring more powerful and telling results than focusing on successes alone.
A humble, thoughtful, and driven person will be introspective and turn their failures into future success. It may take more effort for interviewers to drill down and understand how candidates have learned and adapted from their failures, but those experiences of failure, coupled with a strength of character and emotional intelligence, can show you how well a candidate will overcome challenges and succeed in the future.
Don’t Give Away the Answers
Candidates must understand the requirements of the role. Share details about responsibilities and expectations, but don’t share too much about what it will take to be successful. A qualified candidate will be able to relate a similar experience to future success factors without a lot of detail.
Consider our previous example of the sales position that required spending time with end-users to learn about the details of their needs. In that situation, the interviewer should ask the candidate to share an experience when they worked with a particular type of product (e.g., highly technical or with a narrow application in a certain industry) without asking them to share a situation when they engaged in a particular behavior.
The key is to not give away the behaviors you’re working to uncover. Be clear regarding the product and its application, but don’t say too much about what it would take to land a sale. The right candidate should be able to develop a strategy for success on their own
Finding candidates that will be successful in the role is what it’s all about. Ask specific behavioral-based interview questions that focus on the outcomes of their past experiences (both good and bad) and give candidates the space to describe the details of what behaviors they engaged in to drive that outcome. That’s how to gain a deeper look into candidates’ true qualifications for open positions.
Shawn Miller leads the People Solutions Services practice area at Morrison, serving clients nationally in industries such as agribusiness, manufacturing and processing, distribution, healthcare, and nonprofit. His focus areas include strategic planning facilitation, compensation planning, outsourced and interim HR management and advisement, compliance, change management, and succession planning.