Why Behavioral Interview Questions Fail

Why Behavioral Interview Questions Fail

Traditional behavioral interview questions don’t produce the intended results.

The typical questions I’m referring to begin with…

  • Tell me about a time...
  • Give me an example of...

They aren’t necessary bad questions, they just aren’t used correctly by many interviewers. When used incorrectly failure occurs most often because the question is asked out of context. Here's why.


Here's an example: Let’s suppose the interview is for a senior level Sales Management role where the typical candidate will have 10 - 20 years of experience. The interviewer asks, tell me about a time when you had to handle a difficult client.”

These Questions Need Context

The candidate now must quickly think through all their years of sales experience.

  • What does “difficult client” mean?
  • Which example should I choose that matches the “difficult client” scenario the interviewer has in mind?
  • What are the typical “difficult client” situations most common to this client, their product, current customers, etc.?

This question is being “asked in a vacuum”, i.e. out of context.

Until relevant context is provided, examples and specific circumstances often becomes more difficult for the candidate as they accumulate additional years of experience.

Here’s What Happens

The Interviewer Expectations Are Incorrect: Part of the challenge involves the interviewer expecting an immediate answer and the candidate having to guess at the context and think through many years of experience and provide a relevant answer, all in the span of a few seconds.

The Candidate Chooses a Less Relevant Example: I’ve then subsequently discussed that same candidate’s interview with the interviewer and be told the “candidate’s example wasn’t what they were looking for.” Sometimes, the interviewer complained the candidate couldn’t think of a relevant example, when in fact they did have relevant experience.

The Interview's Assessment is Flawed: Sorry interviewers, that's your fault, not necessarily the candidate’s fault. Yes, I realize a candidate can ask for more specifics, and maybe you’re testing to see if they do, but an interview is not supposed to be a “guessing game.” It’s supposed to be a give and take business discussion in its best format.

Qualified Candidates Are Overlooked: If you as the interviewer accepted an answer that didn’t match the context around the reason you asked the question in the first place, you’re not doing your job! It’s your job as an interviewer to provide enough context around what you’re looking for to re-direct the discussion until you do get relevant information. Sometimes this means the candidate’s background isn’t the right match, but other times you’ll discover with the right guidance you get much more relevant information on which to base your evaluation for a suitable match to your job.

This leads me to a solution that solves this problem and uses better forms of behavioral-based questions.


Map Interview Questions to Success Factors

You begin with the end-in-mind and map Your Questions to Specific On-the-job Success Factors

Create a Performance Job Description: High job performance, sometimes referred to on-the-job-success, can be defined for any job. It usually is five to eight performance outcomes, some of which have two to four sub-objective outcomes. Often it can be defined by documenting what the best people DO (not have by way of skills and years of experience) that clearly demonstrates above average performance.

It essentially is a document that answers this question, “what would this candidate have to accomplish for me to say at the end of six to twelve months, I made a great hire!”

You will never be able to conduct an accurate interview unless you know what these outcomes are! If you aren’t measuring that in your interview, you’re measuring the wrong things. It’s what the candidate DOES with their skills and experience, not the fact they have a minimum number of years of experience.

Therefore, first define successful job performance before you interview. To learn more about  Performance-based Hiring method contact us using this link.

Give the Candidate Performance Expectations Early: Provide the candidate with information about the job to include what these successful outcomes are that you’re looking for. This provides the critical context for your specific job. This helps the candidate think though their years of experience and choose the most relevant examples. It improves accuracy for the candidate and the interviewer.

It’s your job as an interviewer to provide this critical guidance, not cause the candidate to guess at the information you need!

Conduct a Performance-based Interview

Use the Performance-based Hiring Interview: Your behavioral questions at this point can be reduced to just to three basic questions coupled with one technique to get extraordinarily accurate information.

I’ll write more about this style of behavioral questions in a future post, but for now here’s a summary.

Question one identifies significant accomplishments. As you conduct work history review for each job ask, “what do you consider your most significant accomplishment?” Then apply a fact-finding, peel the onion behavioral questioning technique to dig deep into this accomplishment(s). Do this for both individual and team accomplishments. I can provide a source for these type of fact-finding questions, just contact me using the information below this post. 

Question two asks for relevant experience. Choose the critical success factors for your job, as described above. Using the example above add context to your question. For example, “if you became our new Sales Manager, we have a particularly difficult customer that you’d be responsible for. This is a high value customer that produces over $1 million in revenue, but now they’ve become very upset with us. While they love our products, it seems that our customer service has fallen far short of their expectations. Give me an example of dealing with a similar situation and tell me how you handled it.”

Now you have context and a much better platform on which to carry on a discussion. You would then apply fact-finding questions to dig into how they handled this in the past. An additional benefit is that the candidate now has a better understanding of an important element of the job.

Question three: ask the third question as a follow-up, “if we were to hire you, how would you go about handling this challenge?” Then carry on a real give and take discussion about what they would do and how they would do it.

Why behavioral interviews fail...use Performance-based Hiring instead #hiring #interviews #behavioralinterview

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