Monday, January 10, 2022

Ask Behavioral Interview Questions

Actions to take: Aside from basic factual questions, such as scheduling, use exclusively behavioral interview questions during your hiring processes. 

Last week's post about how interview questions fail ended by describing two goals. Your interview questions need to: 1) separate good candidates from great candidates, rather than good from bad, and 2) give us real information about the candidate's on-the-job effectiveness rather than relying on the candidate's ability to sell themselves. 

Behavioral interview questions are the easiest, most reliable way to achieve these goals. With these questions, we ask a candidate to relate a specific experience that actually happened to them. It almost always starts "Tell me about a time when you…" Examples:

  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with the team's plan. What was the situation, what did you do, and how did it turn out?
  • Tell us about a time when you had to solve a complex problem on your own. What did you do, what resources did you consult, and what was the end result?
  • Tell me about a time when you had many competing priorities and not enough time. What challenges were you faced with, how did you navigate them, and what ultimately happened?

Behavioral interview questions are the only questions where we learn about candidate's actual work behaviors rather than the candidate's opinion of themselves. Virtually every other interview question hands the reins over to the candidate. How do you define "success"? What would you do about an angry customer?  What is your greatest strength? Rather than judging the candidate's effectiveness ourselves, these questions say to the candidate, "You judge your work, and then tell us about it." This kind of questioning doesn't screen for excellence. It screens for bravado. 

Behavioral questions succeed where others fail. Past behavior is highly predictive of future behavior. The way someone did something is likely to be similar to how they will do a similar thing in the future. This fact is well established in psychological literature. The effectiveness of behavioral interview questions is similarly well established. 

But you don't need scientific studies to understand the success of behavioral interview questions (though it is nice to have them). Just think about how you want the decision-making process to go during an interview. Do you want to hear a series of factual examples about the candidate's work, then judge for yourself how effective those behaviors would be in your work environment? Or do you want to let the candidate self-assess, then describe their opinions to you?

If you are not already using behavioral interview questions, there is good news. It is a simple matter to add them to your lineup. To create them from scratch, just take a list of the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the job, and form questions around the most important ones. For instance, independent problem solving might be important for the job. A behavioral question that screens for independent problem solving might run thus: "Tells us about a time when you had to make an important decision without guidance from superiors. What was the decision you faced, what factors did you consider, and what was the outcome?" 

You can also transform just about any interview question into a behavioral question with very little work. "What is your greatest strength?" becomes "Tell us about a time when you had to use your greatest strength at work. What was the situation, why was your strength particularly useful for that situation, and what was the result?"

When you shift to behavioral questions, your hiring process gets a lot easier. Gradations between candidates will become clear. Bad candidates' answers will lack content and the weakness will be obvious. Excellent candidates' answers will have a level of detail that can't be matched by average candidates. Excellent employees have a deeper understanding of their jobs and a more nuanced rationale for their on-the-job decisions. By asking behavioral interview question, you will be able to tease out those nuances. An easier hiring process means better hiring decisions, and better hiring decisions mean a stronger workforce.

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