Behavioral Interviewing: Has Been or Never Was?


In a Behavioral Interview, the hiring authority asks questions and the little sheepie job-seeker responds. That’s a great method for an employer who is concerned more with docility than brainpower or creativity.

-Liz Ryan

The Trouble With Behavioral Interviewing


I’m absolutely, positively, terrible at behavioural style interviews.  Let me just get my personal bias out in the open upfront, like any good interviewer should do.  Perhaps it’s just me and I’m terrible at coming up with examples and explaining my thought process.  Maybe it’s the difficulty in translating my duties and performance in the military environment with civilian employment opportunities.  Maybe, it’s as one apologist for behvaioural interviews I’ve read says and I’ve just never had a good one done correctly, the No True Scotsman excuse for poor behavioural interviews.


Or maybe it’s just a bad interview style, that’s not only just a Has Been, but is actually a Never Was?


I’ll be honest, I’ve spent the afternoon scouring the internet for scholarly sources demonstrating support for behavioural interview, and I’ve come up with only few actual studies, based with the highest study size supporting behavioural interviewing of 108 people.  I’ve also found research that was a draw, or within the margin of error with situational interviewing and that which supports situational interviewing.


Behavioural interviewing is based on the premise that “Past behaviour predicts future behaviour”.


Past behavior is not the same as past performance and, worse, it doesn’t come close to predicting future performance.

Lou Adler

Don’t be Fooled: Past Behavior Doesn’t Predict Future Performance


Underneath it all, I do agree with the underlying concept of understanding a person’s behaviours as a way to get to know them, but I’m just not confident after all my reading that behavioural interviewing actually gives you a good grasp of what hiring managers are supposedly looking for.  I’ve noticed most articles and discussions from business owners and bosses seem centered around whether a potential new hire is a good culture fit and if they are going to put in the work at the company and be an All-Star with lots of potential that advances the business.  So, I just don’t think “Tell me of a time you had conflicting priorities, how did you decide what to do and what was the result” will really help you determine if someone’s a good culture fit.


In fact, I feel that way about the majority of behavioural style interview questions I’ve had, they’ve always seemed incredibly difficult to answer, because it seems like they’re always about something that’s a daily occurrence, making no specific example stand out, or they’re about something so ingrained and commonplace it’s impossible to provide what feels like an adequate explanation of your thought process.


The second major issue, as raised by Adler, is that behaviour is influenced by circumstances, not limited to company leadership, situations, the team and the company culture of the previous organization; meaning that to compare behaviour from one example to the next will never be entirely accurate because you’ll never be re-creating the circumstances that influenced that past behaviour.  In my opinion this is especially relevant if you place high importance on company culture as a factor in determining who you want to hire.


Some may ask, why don’t we all just game the system by printing off and answering the most common behavioural interview questions?  And sure, I’m sure many people do that and will continue to do so, and that, I think, just goes to make the interview process less authentic.  But what can you expect but inauthentic, staid interview with dubious success when the majority of an industry relies on inauthentic, staid interview questions?


I mean, really, who are you hiring, a competent professional or a teenage burger flipper, if your interview question is “provide an example of how you manage your time?” and exactly what type of workplace are you running if you need to ask “describe a time you had a conflict with a colleague, how did you handle it and what was the result”?


So what can you do?  What should you do?  To start with, I think it’s super important to have a good grasp of your actual job requirements and day-to-day functions and where it fits into the organization, your job description shouldn’t be a laundry list of drivel designed to hide the fact that you lack the skill to provide training and the capability to build teams.  My take, from my experience being given whomever I was given and being expected to make a functional team from there, is that how you are as a leader and manager is much more important that agonizing over an inherently risky endeavor, judging someone’s character and performance by a few short meetings.



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