Video: Problems With Behavioral Interview Questions


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Everybody is familiar with behavioral interview questions. And in general, the idea behind them is good. Basically, you ask about a past situation that somebody faced as a way of predicting future behavior. All good. That's fine, but there is a major problem with behavioral interview questions in the way that people ask them.

Let's take an example: Tell me about a time that your boss gave you an assignment that you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete and how you overcame that? Now, okay, that's pretty typical as far as behavioral interview questions go. Tell me about a time you faced X, Y, Z, and then how did you overcome that? Now, here's the problem. When you ask behavioral interview questions like that, you've just given away the answer because of those little words at the end, "and how did you solve it?"

Think of it this way. There are two kinds of people in this world, problem bringers and problem solvers. Problem bringers, when you ask them about a problem, they tell you immediately about the problem. But problem solvers, when you ask them about a problem, they tell you not just about the problem, but automatically they tell you how they solved it. What this little trick means is that you never have to ask anybody how they solved a problem because when you just ask them about the problem, problem solvers automatically tell you.

If you ask the question, "Could you tell me about a time that your boss gave you an assignment that you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete?" Problem bringers are going to say, "Ugh, yeah, happened all the time, that's why I'm interviewing with you guys." But problem solvers will say, "Oh, yeah, actually we had an issue last week where a customer called and asked me to do something. I had no idea how to do it, so here's what I did. I found somebody in the company who did know how to solve it. I reached out to them. They gave me the answer, and then I learned how to do it myself so that the next time I wouldn't face this problem." Differentiation between problem bringers and problem solvers is where behavioral interview questions pay off.

When you think about your behavioral interview questions, you want to make sure you don't give away the answer. Another example would be, "Could you tell me about a time you faced competing priorities and how you overcame them," or, "Could you tell me about a time you solved competing priorities?" Either one is equally bad because what they say is, “I presume that you did solve competing priorities.” Instead, what we want to ask is, "Can you tell me about a time you faced competing priorities?" And then stop talking. Don't add that little part at the end that says, "...and how did you overcome that?" Same with “Could you tell me about a time you adapted to difficult change?" I don't want to presume they adapted to difficult change. Just ask "Can you tell me about a time you faced a difficult change?" Because now problem bringers are going to say, "Ugh, there's change all the time, the whole thing is change and we are never able to establish a rhythm." Okay, this versus a problem solver who's likely to say, "Yeah, we actually faced some difficult change two months ago when we implemented some new technology. Here's how I solved it."

Just remember, when it comes to behavioral interview questions, do not give away the answer because if you do you've just made it easy for the problem bringer job candidates to sneak right past you.

Posted by Mark Murphy on 26 September, 2016 Behavioral Interview Questions, Hiring for Attitude, Video | 1 comment
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  • John Edmiston - October 04, 2016

    Thanks- this is also a great help for people looking at how to do well in an interview- just a perspective from the interviewer’s perspective, rather than the interviewee’s. Be a problem solver!

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