Job Interviews, Behavioral Questions, and Accurate Predictions

Job Interviews, Behavioral Questions,Fast food’s got me thinking.

Having recently both interviewed job candidates and interviewed for a new job myself, I’ve had interview tactics on the brain. One commonly recommended way to interview people is behavioral interviewing–asking them to describe how they have handled a situation in the past. The idea is that the best way to understand how a person will behave in the future is how they behaved in the past (this article says it is about 55% predictive, which is pretty good).

What I’ve found happens in many real-world interviews is that interviewers try to come up with questions that mirror the job being sought; candidates may not have experienced quite those situations, and therefore answer based on what they think they would do, since they can’t say what they did do.

Answering about what you would do is exactly what we don’t want, according to research on how people forecast their future attitudes and behaviors (not to mention their predictions for what fast food they’ll eat!).

In the best case, candidates can identify analogous situations that have similar underlying dynamics to the one described by the interviewer. This allows them to give answers that reflect the same type of approach they might use in the new job. In the worst case, candidates might default to the “I would,” which we know may not be very accurate at all.

I’m not sure there’s a solution to improving behavioral interviewing, at least not a practical and efficient one. I do know that as an interviewer, I try to listen for what candidates did do and give it more weight than what they would do (although I do value hearing solid plans for the future). As a candidate, I try to draw on actual experience as much as I can and explain where my experiences might be different from or similar to the job I’m seeking. I’m not 100% successful in either case, but I’ll keep trying.

What are your favorite questions to ask in a job interview? To answer?