Misbehavioral Interviewing

Several years ago I was on the interviewee side of the table talking to a hi-tech aerospace firm about a job as a recruiting manager for one of their divisions. After surviving on the corporate recruiter side of the interview table for years I was surprised at how totally unprepared I was for this. I had led teams of recruiters, conducted manager interview training, and had been totally immersed in the Targeted Selection® behavioral interviewing methods published by DDI. Oh, I knew the parameters of their job and how my accomplishments demonstrated skills they needed, but found some of their interview practices leaving me speechless. One director level manager spent about 45 minutes of the 60 we had scheduled together talking to me about himself. Then he looked at his watch, opened a desk drawer, pulled out a stack of paper and said, “Well, I guess I have to ask you these damn behavioral interview questions that HR wants me to use.” I was lost in my own thoughts about how naïve I must have been casting interview training pearls before interviewer swine in my previous jobs. I don’t remember any of my answers to questions beyond that point because suddenly I didn’t want to work there anymore. It was not so much the challenge of making bad things good as much as it was the display of such a total disregard for HR in the culture of that company.

Proponents of behavioral interviewing techniques, which would also include me (I drank the Kool-Aid), have learned through training and personal experience that past behavior usually is a good indicator of future behavior. The numbers that experts use to prove that point is that behavioral interviewing results in a 55% correlation to future performance while traditional conversational interviewing techniques can show only 10%. Relatively speaking that shows a stark contrast, but the scary part is that it is not much better than a coin toss which would give a 50% correlation without the expense of a formal program. The key to successful interviewing is not the technique used but the training of interviewers and their commitment to conforming to a standard. Untrained interviewers asking “manhole cover” questions cannot contribute any meaningful input to the selection process. Taking this to its logical conclusion, if none of the interviewers are trained or committed, you really don’t need to perform interviews. They serve no useful purpose.

When job seekers ask me how to prepare for an interview, the answer is always the same regardless of the style of interviewing. Ironically, it is a mirror image of advice I give in recruiter training about talent selection. To prepare for any interview the type of interview used is only relevant in being prepared and not surprised by anything that happens.

  1. Candidates: Know your resume cold! Prepare your story based on proven accomplishments that demonstrate skills needed by the interviewer. Interviewers: Ask questions to learn more than is on paper and hone in on results that indicate the candidate will fill a need.
  2. Candidates: Know the job description for the position cold! Most will not tell you everything you need to know, so plan to research the company and their products and services. Interviewers: Prepare for the interview and know what you want to learn. Focus on competencies that are needed to perform the job and don’t base decisions on personality, looks or feelings.
  3. Candidates: Ask probing questions that would help you decide on whether or not you want to work there. It is a two-way conversation and they are on trial as much as you are. Interviewers: An important part of what you do is to expose the candidate to the company culture. You should not have to sell them on the job if you can project that the job is worth doing.

The behavioral technique that looks for a STAR in interview questions can actually be used to measure compatibility and potential in any style of interviewing: You must know the Situation or environment that frames the answer to the question; The Task involved in proving an accomplishment needs to be understood; The Action taken in the circumstances of the discussed criteria of the work must be clearly stated; The Result of the action to complete the task is the final proof of competency. Job seekers who are faced with an untrained or uncaring interviewer cannot assume that their opinion doesn’t count. The answer to non-questions can be inserted into the conversation to give them a STAR even if they didn’t ask for it. If that doesn’t work, you probably don’t want to work there anyway.

Image credit: 6kor3dos / 123RF Stock Photo


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