How To Ask Behavioral Questions For Better Interview Results

by | May 6, 2021 | Media & Resources | 0 comments

Brad is the Chief Executive Officer of PerformancePoint, an author, a speaker and a consultant with more than 25 years of experience.

Would you get in a car if there was only a 14% certainty that it wouldn’t crash? How about skydive with a parachute that only had a 14% certainty of opening? Most of us would say no. And while 14% isn’t a lot, it would be ludicrous to bet on those odds. Right?

But the truth is, many companies take that bet on a daily basis. Not only do they place all of their chips on the magic number 14, but they do it with a colossal degree of misplaced confidence. Studies have shown that “unstructured interviews have an r2 of 0.14, meaning that they can explain only 14% of an employee’s performance.” That leaves a considerable margin for ambiguity regarding a major decision, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

What do I mean by that? When companies make a new hire, they are putting all of their chips on the table. An unparalleled amount of time, energy and financial resources are required to integrate new team members. Let’s talk numbers. Typically, companies lose one-half to two times an employee’s salary with a bad hire.

Essentially, making a bad hiring decision on an employee with a $50,000 salary can potentially lose the company anywhere between $75,000 to $100,000. This does not even factor in all of the lost time, productivity, diverted resources or potential client impact. That’s a lot to risk on a 0.14 correlation coefficient.


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There has to be a more effective way to conduct job interviews. Well, there is, and it’s a strategy called behavioral interviewing. It all starts with the questions.

Oftentimes, interviewers are asking the wrong questions. These questions can be hypothetical, ineffective or even illegal. The questions can provide little information, greatly reducing how useful the interview is.

A few examples:

How would you deal with an angry customer?

This question lives in a hypothetical space and, as such, will receive a hypothetical answer. Asking someone how they think they would react in a hypothetical situation does not indicate how they would really act. They are forced to make up an answer that sounds nice but, when the pressure is on, there is no telling how they will actually handle the situation. An individual might like to respond to an event a certain way but might lack the skills or personality traits necessary to do so. You cannot probe for more information with hypothetical questions either, as you’d only be asking candidates to make up more information.

Do you have a car? Do you have children? Are you married?

I’m going to stop you right there. These are illegal questions and they can land you in hot water quicker than you can say “hired.” These questions are not related to the job and, as such, provide the interviewer with no useful information. Moreover, these questions may often introduce bias into the decision-making process. There is usually no job-related reason to ask these questions, so leave them off your list.

If you were in a race, what car would you drive?

There isn’t a correct answer to a question like this. It forces the candidate to guess what the interviewer wants to hear. When interviewers ask questions like this, they are typically trying to gauge the personality of the candidate; however, interviewers aren’t psychologists and they shouldn’t be trying to interpret subjective questions like this.

Are you trained in Adobe Captivate?

On the surface, this question seems valuable. It mines for information about a job-specific skill. However, this is a yes or no question. Unless the candidate has no knowledge of this skill, they’ll be inclined to say yes. However, you have no way of knowing their degree of experience with the skill. How proficient are they? What kind of projects can they handle?

These are just a few examples of weak but common interview questions. If we want to reduce new hire turnover, we need to change the way we interview. Make the right choice the first time. In order to do this, we need to reformat our interviews to center around behavior-based questions. These questions focus on a singular, past event. They show experience through the lens of a real situation that the applicant has undergone.

For example:

Tell me about a time you were able to lead the group through something difficult.

This is a question that can be verified, you can probe for more information and it isn’t hypothetical in nature. Behaviorally based questions aren’t the whole picture, though. They are simply a component of a larger interviewing strategy.

Behaviorally based questions provide you with information, but you need the right information for the job. Make a structure. Identify what competencies are necessary for the position and then format your behavior-based questions around those competencies.

The question “Tell me about a time you interacted and negotiated with a difficult client” is technically a behavioral question, but it won’t do you much good if you’re trying to hire a social media manager. The question “Give me an example of a time when you had to give a dynamic presentation” is an appropriate question for a trainer or sales representative, but not necessarily for a coder. “Share with me a time that illustrates your ability to follow safety procedures” is an excellent question for many jobs in manufacturing plants, but would not be very helpful for a customer service representative working remotely. Know what you need and aim your questions to fit that need.

And by the way, we have not even begun to discuss interviewing skills, how to probe, how to rate a candidate and objectively making a decision. Ditch the 0.14 and make a safer bet. Interview behaviorally.

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