Behavioral Interviewing Done Well

Behavioral InterviewingYesterday I wrote about how behavioral interviewing can subtly slide off the rails, resulting in a less-than-accurate understanding of how your candidate might act when hired. Yet, as I noted, behavioral interviewing is considered one of the best ways to predict whether a job candidate will be a good fit for a role.

The evidence suggests that we should keep behavioral interviewing around as a technique. So what are some best practices to make sure it is as effective as possible?

The Base Question

Behavioral interviews are intended to learn what a person has done in the past. Therefore, the base question should be some form of “Tell me about a time when you . . .”

Customizing the Ending

The ending of that base question will of course vary depending upon the job for which you’re interviewing. You can ask people to describe a particular type of quality or skill, or you can inquire into more job-specific tasks. For example, tell me about a time when you:

  • Showed leadership with a team
  • Used communication skills to persuade someone
  • Debugged a software program

The qualities you ask about should be aligned with the key roles, responsibilities, and attributes necessary for success in the job position.

Scoring with the STAR Method

The STAR method is a specific way of scoring a behavioral interview response. It also provides a way to ask value-neutral follow-up questions. In the STAR method, the interviewer makes note of the Situation or Task the interviewee faced, the interviewee’s Answer to the dilemma, and the Results of the interviewee’s actions.

This format helps the interviewer make sure the interviewee is responding with an actual situation, and offers the opportunity to probe as follows: “Can you tell me more about the situation that led up to your action? Give me more detail about what you did. What were some of the outcomes of your behavior? How did your actions resolve the problem you described?” These prompts all elicit more information without necessarily leading the candidate toward a particular type of answer.

Looking for Analogues

Most strong job candidates will come up with a situation that’s similar to the one you’re asking for if they don’t have anything in their background that perfectly fits. Maybe I’ve never formally managed a team, but I can respond to the behavioral question about leadership by referencing how I influenced my peers or captained a big project.

That said, not all people interview well, and nerves can strike even good candidates. You can use follow-up questions to try to get the interview back on track if someone is blanking on a response to a behavioral interviewing question or poorly explaining the link. Some examples:

  • Maybe you can think of a time outside of work when you’ve exhibited this behavior/quality/trait?
  • It’s ok to think broadly about [leadership/creativity/problem-solving].
  • If I asked one of your colleagues how you’ve handled this type of situation, what example do you think he or she might give?
  • Can you explain how the situation you described shows the behavior/quality/trait?

It takes time and practice to get better at behavioral interviewing, but it can be worth it if it helps you pick the best job candidates for your roles. Personally I like that it offers people the chance to share stories, which makes for a more engaging and personal interview. What are your best interview tips?