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Andrew Armstrong

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How to Use Behavioural Interveiwing Effectively


Behavioural interviewing has been around long enough now that both human resources personnel and job seekers are well aware of it. In theory, the premise of behavioural interviewing is quite promising. The interviewer asks a series of questions to elicit a clear picture of how the interviewee performed in previous job situations. Unfortunately, the strategy becomes less effective when the interviewer presents the questions in such a way that the interviewee knows the expected response. Examples include:

  • Give an example of a time when you successfully ended a disagreement between work peers and got them to see your point of view.
  • Walk me through the steps of a time that you overcame a difficult challenge on the job.
  • Tell me how you successfully prioritise your workload when you receive requests from multiple managers.

What all of these questions have in common is that they only ask the candidate for examples where he or she completed something successfully. The person knows this and will not offer examples that may put certain skills in a questionable light. Leaving the questions more open-ended can elicit an entirely different response. For example, “Tell me about your different priorities at work” doesn’t assume that the person has mastered the art of multi-tasking or knows how to determine which assignment takes precedence.

Other Potential Issues with Behavioural Interviewing

Many job seekers and even some human resources representatives complain that this interviewing style promotes fear instead of helping to determine the best candidate for the job. The questions make some people so nervous that they don’t perform well in the interview and therefore don’t get the job.

Another common criticism is that behavioural interviewing focuses too much on what the candidate did in past jobs. Many argue that a simple reference check could yield much of the same information.

Finally, the last common criticism of the technique is that it has been around for about 30 years now. This allows candidates to rehearse answers ahead of the interview. It can also make for a poor connection between the person giving the interview and the one answering the behavioural-based questions.

Behavioural Interviewing is Still Effective with a Few Tweaks

Some job candidates pre-rehearse responses to typical behavioural interview questions because they know exactly what to expect. To avoid this, those conducting a behavioural interview should focus on a discovery process instead. This means tailoring questions to individual candidates based on their previous answers and information presented on their resume. The interviewer should feel confident enough to request clarification to help get a clearer picture of the person applying for the job.

It’s important to structure interview questions in a way that does not give away the expected answer. This allows for a more natural discovery of the candidate’s competencies and personality. Another possibility is to ask the same basic question in different ways to see if the job seeker remains consistent in his or her responses. The goal is to uncover a pattern of behaviour to determine if it would be an asset to the company in the open position.

When an interviewer takes the time to improve his or her techniques, it helps to weed out candidates who say only what he or she expects to hear. This benefits both parties in the long run.

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