The Next Evolution of Behavioral Interviewing

By The Recruiting Division

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Dr. John Sullivan is an HR guru, thought-leader, talent management author, professor at San Francisco State, and engaging corporate speaker. His ideas can be found in major business publications such as BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Fortune, and the Wall Street Journal. He has earned numerous HR titles including “the Michael Jordan of Hiring” and “the Father of HR Metrics.” He’s a corporate advisor to worldwide corporations like Starbucks, Pepsi, Google, Facebook, and McDonald’s. He’s not afraid to take on recruiting’s sacred cows and pick them apart, and he has a lot to say about behavioral interviewing.


The Future of Behavioral Interviewing

Dr. Sullivan believes that behavioral interviewing will evolve into and eventually be replaced by recruiting technology. Virtual reality simulations where employers have candidates perform in real situations of the open positions and telephone and live video interviews. He suggests that some things such as technical skills and physical skills aren’t measured well in an interview, even a behavioral interview, and are better assessed with a work sample.


Common Problems with Behavioral interviewing

Sullivan has seen common problems with the way behavioral interviews are conducted that reduce their effectiveness. Using behavioral interviewing questions that ask about a candidate’s performance in previous situations isn’t effective if they don’t directly relate to specific skills and knowledge required for the position. Not weighting or prioritizing questions used in behavioral interviewing is problematic because all questions are given the same attention in the final rating when the most important questions should receive more weight. When the goal of behavioral interviewing is to find fault with and screen out candidates instead of finding out if they have the right skills, experience, and aptitude to do the job well, employers waste a lot of time and miss out on a lot of good candidates.


Weaknesses of Behavioral Interviewing        

Sullivan explains that behavioral interviewing relies totally on the candidate’s version of how they performed, and that the environment in which they performed is likely much different than your current work environment. He says that much like differing eye witness accounts of the same crime, candidate answers during behavioral interviewing vary greatly due to many factors, including their own perceptions about the work, the extent of their contributions and accomplishments, and how much or little they can relate their performance to the current requirements of the new position. He believes another key weakness of behavioral interviewing is that it’s usually focused on how the candidate performed in the past, disconnecting it from real life relevance to the open position in the hiring company.


Sullivan’s Style of Behavioral Interviewing

Dr. John Sullivan suggests using high-impact questions for behavioral interviewing instead of the usual “tell me about a time when…” questions anchored to the current and future requirements of position and work environment. He says candidates get bored with common behavioral interviewing and lose excitement for the position because they don’t allow candidates to demonstrate their real skills, creativity, and ability to innovate. He says that interviewers need to see candidates show how they will solve problems in the job in their companies to reveal the best applicant to hire.


Questions About Problem-Solving

Questions about problem-solving real challenges in the position allow candidates to demonstrate their true abilities. Sullivan suggests pre-testing behavioral interviewing questions on top performers to be sure they are absolutely relevant to the current job and work environment. Ask candidates to explain how they’d identify problems on the job as it’s been explained to them, along with possible solutions. Ask candidates to explain a specific process that the job deals with and how to identify top areas vulnerable to problems. Give candidates a current real problem that the position has come up against and ask them to explain how they’d address it.


Questions that Demonstrate Forward-Looking Capabilities

Ask candidates to look ahead and forecast how the job will change and evolve in the coming three to five years and how the industry will change in the short and long term. This gives candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the industry and their abilities to plan, how they think outside the immediate work, and how they envision themselves and the company growing and changing.


Questions About Ability to Change and Learn

Business today is different than it was 30 years ago, and just 10 years ago social media was brand new on the recruiting and marketing scene. Modern business has to be able to turn on a dime and quickly adapt to changes in the economy, market, and technology, and requires workers to do the same. To find out how adaptable and innovative candidates are, ask them how they learn and acquire knowledge and skills. Ask them to explain how they’d adapt to real situations that come up in the open position, including how they recognized the need to adapt and the steps taken to change to meet the requirements of the new situation. Ask them to explain how they’d innovate in a specific area of the open position, including the steps they’d take and how it would impact their department and the company.


Ask Candidates to Explain Why They’d Accept the Job

To better understand candidates, ask them to explain what would make them accept the job if offered. Ask them to rank factors influencing them to accept, such as pay, project opportunities, responsibilities, good working relationships, and other factors important to them in their careers. Ask them to explain and rank what motivates them at work, how they like to work with management, and how they like to be recognized and rewarded. Ask them to rank their capabilities to do the job and work in the company, as well as explain any areas they are working on to improve on weaknesses.

Using typical behavioral interviewing questions will result in rehearsed answers rather than authentic, thoughtful answers that employers need for the best hires. Focusing on real problems in the open position and company will produce the kind of real insight needed to properly assess attitude, aptitude, and hiring criteria faster and more effectively than most typical behavioral interviewing questions.


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