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Behavioral interview questions: Avoid these three mistakes

Behavioral interview questions: Avoid these three mistakes

Behavioral interviews can reliably identify which prospects have the core competencies needed to get a job done. However, the effectiveness of these type of interviews often depends on the interviewer’s skill in crafting behavioral interview questions and interpreting their answers.

We spoke with three top behavioral interview experts to find out where hiring managers most often go wrong in coming up with effective behavioral questions. Here are common mistakes and their advice about how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Asking unfocused, hypothetical questions.

Asking candidates how they would do something, or “what-if” questions, leaves the door open for them to exaggerate their skills, says Tom Foster, author of Hiring Talent: Decoding Levels of Work in the Behavioral Interview. To avoid such responses, focus your behavioral questions on a specific task that the applicant would perform for your business.

For example, let’s say you need to hire a warehouse manager who does a monthly inventory cycle count, receives stock, places the stock into the warehouse bins, organizes the bins, and rotates seasonal stock. Focus on one task, starting with a general question that establishes that the candidate has performed the task: Can you tell me about a time when you were responsible for the monthly inventory cycle count in a warehouse?

After the candidate explains his supervision of the inventory count, follow up with additional behavioral questions that go deeper:

  • What was your biggest obstacle when counting inventory and how did you overcome it?
  • How many employees did you use to count inventory and how did you balance their time on inventory with other required duties?
  • What would you do if you had a discrepancy in the inventory count?

During the interview, take brief notes using a rating system that assigns a rank of zero to 10 for each response, or simply use a happy face or sad face, Foster says. At the end of the interview process, you can create a matrix: List the candidates across the top, the 10 behavioral interview questions down the side, and the candidates’ ratings filling in the grid. When you do that, it will quickly be very clear which candidate has the job skills, knowledge, and ability to get the job done.

Mistake #2: Handling interviews beyond your expertise.

It’s tough to use behavioral questions effectively when you’re hiring someone with more technical expertise than you possess, says R. Wendell Williams, managing director of ScientificSelection.com in Jacksonville, Florida. Without the right technical understanding, you won’t have a frame of reference for analyzing the job candidate’s answers to your questions.

“If you’re doing a behavioral interview for a tech position, the only person who can ask the questions and interpret the answers is someone who’s an expert in that field,” Williams says. “If what you’re trying to dig into and discover is outside of your expertise, you won’t know how to score the quality of answers.”

If someone in your company has the needed expertise, have that person do the interview. Or have the employee who is leaving ask some technical questions. If not, reach outside your company or ask someone within your personal network to assist.

Mistake #3: Asking about a typical experience versus a best experience.

When you write questions, always ask for a superlative example that allows applicants to talk about their best experiences, says J. Tom Janz, Ph.D., chief scientist at PeopleAssessments.com in Boca Raton, Florida, and author of one of the earliest books about behavioral interviewing, Behavior Description Interviewing: New, Accurate, Cost Effective.

In other words, says Janz, don’t ask a behavioral interview question about the last time someone used a skill. Instead, ask a question about the most effective way they’ve used the skill.

For example, if you’re interviewing a salesperson, don’t say: “Tell me about the last time you had to deal with a difficult customer.” Instead, say: “Tell me about the most difficult client you managed to close a sale with.” Then, you can move on to your follow-up questions:

  • How did that happen?
  • What did you do?
  • Did you involve others to close the deal?

By posing a superlative-based interview question to all candidates, you ensure you’re giving everyone the same opportunity to shine. There’s another good reason to ask superlative-based behavioral interview questions—they make job candidates feel good about the interview experience. Negative questions can have the opposite effect, Janz says.

“Some interviewers love behavioral interviews because they can ask tough questions to reject everyone but the one person they hire,” he says. “They focus on the negative, and that turns off top performers. They’re going to lose them.”

You can get just as much information discussing accomplishments, overcoming challenges, and dealing with disappointment by asking behavioral interview questions such as:

  • Tell me about a time you most wish you could re-do a sales presentation.
  • What happened, and what happened the next time you had a chance to put that insight into practice?

Ask behavioral interview questions to get the best information—and employees

Coming up with effective interview questions requires a little time and effort. But creating correctly phrased questions will set you up to select the best possible candidate. Get help with this and other aspects of your business by signing up for Monster Hiring Solutions, where you’ll get expert recruiting insights, the latest information on hiring trends, and other resources designed to find the best workers.