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Everything You Need to Know About Behavioral Interviewing Questions

Behavioral Interviewing Questions Have Gotten a Bad Rap

Despite being a key element of one of the most valid, evidence-based methods for gathering information to make a hiring decision, some people don’t like to use behavioral-based interviewing questions. As someone who has trained hundreds of leaders in behavioral interviewing skills, I’ve heard all the objections: “This is too much structure.” “I’ve got great intuition about people, so I don’t need this.”

I’ve seen thought leaders on LinkedIn serving up hot takes about how behavioral interviewing removes the human connection from the interview. They say candidates have canned answers anyway, so what’s the point?

In a competitive labor market, it’s tempting to remove structure from the process in favor of speed. So why should you use behavioral interview questions? And what are they? Behavioral interview questions are used in structured interviews to get candidates to provide specific examples of their past job behavior. This is based on the premise that past behavior predicts future behavior.

You may hear behavioral interviews called “STAR interviews.” And while the goal of behavioral interviewing is to gather a complete STAR (Situation/Task, Action, and Result), there’s so much more to it than that. We shortchange the value and impact of behavioral interviewing by thinking it’s simply asking questions to get STAR answers.

In addition, some people get behavioral interview questions confused with situational interviewing questions. While both focus on approaches to a specific scenario, behavioral interviewing differs in one important way. Behavioral interviewing focuses on what a candidate has done. In contrast, situational interviews ask hypothetical questions about what a candidate would do.

Asking about hypothetical scenarios is almost always less effective than behavioral interviewing. These questions lend themselves to answers that sound good but may not reflect the candidate’s actual approach. If your goal is to see whether a candidate has the knowledge about what to do, these questions are fine. But they won’t predict performance.

Additionally, a disadvantage to hypothetical questions is that the analysis of the candidate’s response is subjective. There’s no way to judge the outcome. But with behavioral-based interview questions, you can judge how effective the action was by the result or outcome achieved.

Why We’re Not Naturally Good at Sizing Up Other People
Most of us think we’re good at sizing up other people. We trust our intuition to make quick decisions about others. But here’s the bad news: we’re actually not very good at it.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2019 book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, he describes some of the problems with our approaches to making sense of strangers:

1. We default to truth. This means that our default position is to expect others to be truthful. Only in the face of overwhelming evidence do we begin to doubt.
2. We rely on transparency. Transparency is the belief that how people present themselves on the outside provides a reliable window to the truth of who they are.

Because we default to truth, we naturally struggle to assess the accuracy of what candidates share. I’d like to think that few candidates outright lie in an interview. But it’s understandable that they might stretch the truth to cast themselves in the best light.

And because we expect transparency, we overestimate our ability to read others and accurately interpret their spontaneous, off-the-cuff responses. But how can we be sure that how people present themselves on the outside during an interview really shows us who they are?

Read more, including example behavioral-interview questions, in DDI’s blog.

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