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Interview questions can make or break the chances of a candidate getting the job.

That’s why learning how to prepare for an interview with your candidate is so important to ensure that it runs smoothly and that you create a positive candidate experience.

Behavior-based interviews can be one of the hardest parts of hiring to get right, especially if you’re new to the process. By learning how to prepare for an interview like this, you’re well on your way to ensure a positive candidate experience

Most companies incorporate this type of assessment today because soft skills are high indicators for the capacity to grow. It’s a given that the candidate probably did their own interview preparation for whatever you throw at them so you should do yours as well.

Behavioral interviews are based on the logic that how you behaved in the past will predict how you will behave in the future — past performance predicts future performance.

How to prepare for an interview

Make sure you set expectations as part of the interview preparation. It’s important to be transparent — many companies embody transparency as a core value. We think that sharing some type of instruction is the best way to kick off a behavior-based interview.

Start by prefacing, “I’m going to ask you a few behavioral questions that will help me get an understanding of your experience and way of thinking.” Let the candidate know that specific examples, or situations, are preferred. If a candidate doesn’t remember details, ask them to imagine a scenario.

Candidates who aren’t new to interviews like this will know how to respond and probably did their own interview preparation prior to meeting you. You might notice some use methods like STAR as a way to respond in a structured way. Others might take a less methodical, storytelling approach.

The STAR method is a structured manner of responding to a behavior-based interview question — interviewees can describe the specific situation, task, action, and result.

  • Situation. Describe a specific situation that you were in or task that you needed to accomplish. Don’t give a general description of what you have done in the past. This example can be from a previous job, or any relevant experience.
  • Task. Explain the task(s) that you had to complete. What goals were you working toward?
  • Action. Describe the actions that you took to address the situation. What steps did you take? What did you contribute? Don’t describe what the group did when talking about a project. Use the word “I,” not “we,” when describing actions.
  • Result. Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for your behavior. What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results.

Regardless of the candidates’ technique, it’s important not to make them feel rushed — you want to hear their best answers, so make them feel comfortable so that they can have a good candidate experience. By learning how to prepare for an interview like this and doing your own interview preparation prior to meeting with the candidate, you’re not only setting yourself up for success but the candidate as well.

How to conduct an interview

Choose the right questions. In traditional interviews, the Q&A is fairly straightforward. Interviewers ask common questions like what your strengths and weaknesses are? What major challenges have you faced? How would you describe your work ethic?

In behavioral interviews, an employer is looking for specific skills and asks questions that get at how you did behave in a situation, as opposed to how you would behave. How have you handled challenging situations in the past?

To get you started, here are some example questions for how to conduct an interview based on behavior. Make sure to cover important areas like problem-solving, communication, and giving and receiving feedback:

  • Share a situation when you saw room for improvement in your organization. How did you go about it?
  • Share an example of when you got constructive feedback — how did you react to it?
  • What was the last new task or skill you learned? How’d you learn?
  • Share a situation when you weren’t able to keep your word.
  • Share an example of a situation where you missed a deadline. How did you behave?
  • Have you had to convince a team to work on a project they weren’t thrilled about? How did you do it?
  • Share a situation where you had to work particularly hard to persuade someone to your point of view.
  • Describe an issue that involved you having to handle information from a number of sources.
  • Share a problem that requires you to make analysis outside of your own area of expertise.

Watch out for bias

There are different types of hiring bias to look out for.

Confirmation bias. 

People often want to believe they’re right about their instincts and first impression of the candidate. A study done by researchers from Old Dominion, Florida State, and Clemson, found that 60% of interviewers will make a decision about a candidate’s suitability within 15 minutes of meeting them.

Effective heuristics. 

This is when the recruiter makes assumptions about a candidate’s ability to do the job — without carefully examining all of the “evidence” first.

Halo effect

This occurs when the recruiter zeroes in on one positive aspect of a candidate, like if they went to any ivy league school, instead their whole background and experience.

Horns effect.

This is opposite to the halo effect — a recruiter might not be able to move beyond a seemingly negative aspect of a candidate.

Conclusion

As an interviewer, you’re representing the company and also creating an opinion about the company among candidates. What you want is to create a positive impression on your brand and a great candidate experience. Before engaging in conversation, remember that:

  • Candidates talk to each other. If a developer tells their friends about an unpleasant conversation and this information spreads, you could potentially lose candidates.
  • The candidate can come back. There are chances that the candidate gains relevant experience — don’t ruin your chance at building a talent pipeline.
  • The candidate thinks of you as their supervisor. How you behave is being assessed by the candidate.

Doing your interview preparation and learning how to conduct an interview that is behavior based will really pay off as predictability of candidate behavior increases significantly.

Be curious and try to get a clear understanding of the situation, motivation, and actions that were taken by the candidate — remember to focus on key priorities of the job requirement. When making the final decision on who to hire, consider feedback collected from the head (rational brain), heart (emotional brain), and gut (intuitive brain).

Patrycja is a leading advisor in Organizational Culture, People, Strategy and Leadership. She is currently Head of People & Ops at Codility.

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