SmartRecruiters Blog

How Not To Use Behavioral Interviewing!

There are lot of lousy management practices out there. It is astonishing how many of them have taken hold, and how deeply! Even in the awesome companies that are walking the Human Workplace path, we run into crusty and talent-repelling HR and leadership practices that have no place in the modern working world. How did these asinine processes become so popular?

There are lot of lousy management practices out there. It is astonishing how many of them have taken hold, and how deeply!

Even in the awesome companies that are walking the Human Workplace path, we run into crusty and talent-repelling HR and leadership practices that have no place in the modern working world.

How did these asinine processes become so popular?

For a long time many if not most business leaders were in love with junk science. If the latest HR fad sounded like it had a scientific basis, people were all over it.

Behavioral interviewing is a perfect example. When you interview a candidate, what are you trying to do?

You’re trying to learn whether or she can do the job you’re trying to fill. How can you determine that? You can tell them about the job and get their thoughts.

You can hear about relevant work experience they’ve had.

You can share with them some of your current challenges and hear what they  have to say. You can brainstorm together. You can share stories and determine whether the job and the candidate are well-suited to one another.

Behavioral interviewing is a goofy interviewing protocol that doesn’t do any of these sensible things.

Instead, in behavioral interviewing you ask the job-seeker an insulting series of “Tell me about a time when…” questions like these:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to to work with a difficult person.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to solve a tough problem.
  • Tell me about a time when you learned from a mistake.

Imagine that your kid stuffed his sock down the tub drain to see what happened and the sock went too far down. Now the sock is stuck in the tub drain and you have to call the plumber.

When you call the plumber, the plumber is going to ask you “What’s the problem?”

You’ll tell the story of the kid with the sock in the tub. You won’t insult the plumber by asking him or her to tell you about a time when they had to get something out of a tub drain.

Here’s why not: you know that the plumber needs the specifics of your situation to give you a fair assessment of his approach and his fee. You won’t try to hide your problem from the plumber because he can’t respond to your need unless he knows what’s wrong.

It’s no different in the hiring arena. Recruiters and hiring managers who won’t lay out the company’s current obstacles but think they can evaluate a candidate’s ability to surmount those very obstacles are deluding themselves.

If you want to know how a job-seeker will solve a particular problem, you have to explain the problem. A lot of people are too fearful to be that honest. They don’t want to admit to themselves that their company has problems, much less tell a stranger about their difficulties.

There is a tremendous amount of fear in corporate and institutional America and every other country. People don’t want to be honest. Recruiters and hiring managers desperately want to keep the upper hand in the hiring process.

They don’t want to talk about the things that aren’t working perfectly!

What are they so afraid of? The minute they hire someone, that person is going to see all the blemishes and dirty laundry, anyway.

Behavioral interviewing is a crock and a scam but consultants have charged employers millions of dollars to teach their managers and HR folks how to ask talent-repelling behavioral interviewing questions.

Even we who gag at the mention of behavioral interviewing get calls from clients asking us to teach them how to do it!

Meanwhile, every job-seeker over the age of 18 has memorized perfectly manicured answers to the whole list of behavioral interviewing questions. Can you blame them? If you won’t be honest with them, why should they be honest with you?

It’s a new day in the recruiting world. We can open the vault and just tell a job-seeker what we’re actually up against, like this:

Manager: So, Amy, can I tell you about a situation we’re facing and get your thoughts on it?

Amy: Please do!

Manager: Well, we go to about 15 trade shows a year. They’re really fun. They’re a lot of work though, and they’re expensive. By the time you factor in airfare and lodging for ten or twenty employees, depending on the size of the show, plus the booth expenses and all the collateral we ship out there, it adds up.

Amy: And do the trade shows pay for themselves, I hope?

Manager: That’s the thing – we don’t know. It’s anecdotal. Sometimes the leads trickle in over months. Sometimes our inside salespeople are so busy with their regular customers and prospects that they can’t follow up on trade show leads as well as we’d like them to.

Amy: So you’re not sure that the trade show costs are well spent?

Manager: That’s one thing we’d have you work on if you come to work with us. Can you share your thoughts on that issue?

Amy: For sure. It seems to me that the key is tagging each lead based on where it came from. Then you can look at sales each quarter and look at the impact that each show had on sales. I’m assuming these shows are in different cities?

There’s no mystery about whether or not Amy knows what she’s talking about. You can evaluate her answers right in the moment. Some candidates will track with your issues like they’ve  been solving the exact same problems forever, because some of them have been doing just that.

Other candidates could be nice and smart people but they don’t have any experience with or instinct for the obstacles in your way.

For some job openings you might take a chance on a sharp and willing person who’s completely new to the issues you’re dealing with.

For other positions, like the job Amy is interviewing for, you really want someone who knows your movie already.

Guess how you won’t find out whether the candidate knows your movie? You won’t find out by asking dumbass behavioral interviewing questions!

It’s time to relegate behavioral interviewing to the Lousy Manager’s Playbook and start interviewing people like human beings. It’s time to be real in job interviews and talk about the real projects and problems your team is struggling with.

That’s more respectful of your candidates, gives you a better read on each person’s worldview and thought process, and builds a relationship between you and the candidate — the very things you want.

Junk the behavioral interview script, look your candidate in the eye and say “Let’s talk about my kid and his sock in the tub drain!”

This article was written by Liz Ryan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. SmartRecruiters is the hiring success platform to find and hire great people.

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