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Don’t Make These 5 Common Behavioral Interviewing Mistakes

Behavioral interviewing is a candidate evaluation method that helps you learn about a candidate’s past behavior, so you can better predict their future behavior. If, for instance, you’re looking for a marketing professional, you can ask them to tell you about the most successful [lead generation/email/social media/account-based marketing] campaign they have ever run. Then, you might ask them to tell you about a time a campaign completely failed, and what they would have done differently in hindsight. This can tell you a lot about the candidate’s skills, how they define success, and what it might be like to have them on your team. While no interview technique is foolproof, it’s absolutely worth trying out to determine if it can help you increase your quality of hire. However, it needs to be done correctly if you want to see the best results from using it. Without further ado, here are the most common behavioral interviewing mistakes, and what to do instead.

Coming up with questions on the spot

Going to an interview without a list of prepared questions can cause a slew of issues. First, you may not ask the right questions, either because you couldn’t think of a way to phrase them, or because you simply forgot to ask something important. Second, each candidate will likely be asked a different set of questions, making it difficult to evaluate them all against the same criteria. Third, you may provide a poor candidate experience, either by appearing unprepared or by asking the candidate a question someone else already asked.

What to do instead: Take the time to carefully craft behavioral interview questions that will help you learn whether your candidate is the right fit. Then, create a structured interview process in which each candidate experiences the same process, and is asked the same set of questions. Each interviewer should have designated questions to ask, and understand how to evaluate the answers against the predetermined candidate criteria. This ensures that all candidates are given a great experience and that they’re evaluated on an even playing field—so you can hire the best one.

Focusing too much on skills

A highly skilled candidate can fail if placed in an organization that’s the wrong culture-fit. For instance, a candidate who thrives on constant feedback may not perform well in an autonomous environment where their manager travels frequently. Culture-fit is just as important as skill-fit, and it’s a mistake not to evaluate candidates for both.

What to do instead: Craft questions that are specifically designed to suss out culture-fit. These may be related to your organizational values, as well as team and manager dynamics. If you’re looking for someone who’s detail-oriented, you can ask them to tell you about a time they made a mistake, how they caught the mistake, and what they did to fix it. Follow up by asking what they would do differently in hindsight. You want to see if their past behavior aligns with what you’d expect from employees, and whether they’ve learned from their mistakes.

Asking very specific questions

Including too many parameters in your question can make it challenging for your candidate to find an appropriate response. For example, “Tell me about a time you had to deal with an irate customer, when your supervisor was not available to help, and your shift was about to end.” While many candidates for customer-facing roles have probably helped an upset customer, it’s less likely they’ve done so under those exact circumstances.

What to do instead: Keep your questions simple, and open-ended. Use follow-up questions to dig deeper and learn more about the situation. For example, begin by asking the candidate to tell you about a time they’ve dealt with an upset customer. If they don’t offer the information on their own, ask if their supervisor was available to help, whether they asked for help, and why. Finally, learn about the outcome of that situation, and if there was anything they would have done differently in retrospect.

Failing to sell the candidate

Interviewing is a two-way street, where candidates are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. It’s a mistake to focus only on what you want to get out of the interview, without selling the candidate on why they should want to work at your organization. The best candidates on the market have many choices when it comes to where they can work, and may drop out of your recruitment process or decline your job offer if you’re not mindful of that.

What to do instead: Throughout the recruitment process, learn as much as you can about your candidate’s career motivations. This may include what they liked most and least about each of their prior opportunities, and why they transitioned each time. Use that information to give them a clear picture of how your opportunity fits their needs. Revisit that information throughout your process to keep each candidate engaged—and to increase your chances of successfully closing your top-choice candidate.

Skipping reference checks

Too many organizations rush through the reference check process, or skip it altogether. But when 62 percent of candidates have embellished their skill sets, that’s a mistake that could lead to a bad hire. The candidate could have entirely made up their answer to a question, or could have embellished their individual contribution to a team effort. By skipping reference checks, or failing to ask the right questions, you may find that information out a little too late.

What to do instead: The beauty of behavioral interviewing is that you’re asking candidates to tell you about their past behaviors, which is simple to verify during the a reference check. Put as much thought into reference check questions as you do into your behavioral interview questions. Ideally, your candidate’s references can detail each situation as your candidate told the story, and can verify the results, as well as the candidate’s impact on those results.

Final thoughts

Behavioral interviewing is a solid way to assess candidates for both skill-fit and culture fit, but it’s by no means a silver bullet or a standalone strategy. You should still experiment with different techniques and processes to build a recruitment process that works best at your organization. For example, many organizations build interview processes that include a work sample to better assess skill-fit, and a lunch interview to get a feel for culture-fit. There are many ways to tweak for your process in order to get it right, and behavioral interviewing can be both complementary and impactful as a part it.

Learn more interview best practices in our eBook:Top Interview Tips: The Employer’s Essential Handbook.