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Using a Behavioral Interview to the Employer’s Best Advantage


A behavioral interview is only part of a structured interview process, but is extremely important as many interviewers go overboard and either end up alienating candidates or fail to collect relevant behavioral data about the candidate. There is an overwhelming need to collect relevant behavioral data within the limited time span of an interview as well as to keep certain things in mind to make the best use of a behavioral interview.

conducting a behavioral interviewConducting interviews has become tougher than ever before

Behavioral interviews have become all the more tough recently. There are now grooming schools that prepare candidates for interviews, and quite often interviewers face candidates who know how to ace the interview, but are not fit for the job.

It is difficult to discern things with experienced candidates who can even impress CEOs of big companies into hiring them on the spot, and then deliver poor performance on the job. This is why behavioral interviews conducted in an alert and proper fashion have become all the more important. While skills are abundant on resumes, it is the personality and attitude of a candidate that spells out whether the candidate is a fit for the organization or the job role.

A behavioral interview finds that candidate for the employer who fits with the organization and the job role, not only in skills and experience, but also in personality and attitude.

Finding the true meanings behind ‘meaningful labels’ of actions

Sophisticated candidates would often use labels or industrial jargon to describe what they did. Usually, these are their opinions of what they did, or their opinions of how their actions should be conveyed to a prospective employer. Such labels of their actions commonly do not provide accurate descriptions of what they did. An interviewer has to uncover the true actions behind such ‘meaningful labels.’

Consider a candidate saying, “I led the team.” Or, “I applied my skills to solve the problem.”

Candidates are now sophisticated enough to game interview systems and they are aware of cue words like those marked in italics above that work as “meaningful labels” to interviewers who are unaware of the ‘interviewing’ skills of the candidate.

Whenever an interviewer hears candidates using such “meaningful labels” to describe their actions under past situations, it’s time to probe further with three simple questions: “What did you do? How did you do it? Why did you do it?”

The answers to these three simple questions on every “meaningful label” of actions proffered by the candidate must be learned, if the interviewer wishes to gather behavioral data that is truly relevant to the employer and important in making the hiring decision.

What the interviewer needs to keep in mind during behavioral interviews

The problem that often affects interviewers, while trying to find out the truth behind ‘meaningful labels’ offered by candidates, is that they can end up being aggressive, rather than remaining assertive. In a good behavioral interview, the interviewer needs to keep in mind that probes on ‘labels’ may be answered with more ‘labels’ and that is not a surefire reason to jump to conclusions about the candidate.

Both employers and candidates use “meaningful labels” in everyday descriptions of actions, and it might be that a candidate is only behaving as he/she knows how to answer certain questions. The interviewer needs to reserve judgment, and needs to keep in mind that the purpose of a behavioral interview is not to get the right answer, but to find out why the candidate has behaved in a certain manner under certain situations.

The interviewer attains his/her objective in a behavioral interview when he/she is able to gather enough data to be able to predict tolerably well how the candidate would respond in a given situation. This is an ideal objective, of course, but it is what every interviewer strives to attain in a behavioral interview, so that the interview becomes meaningful for the employer.


Richaurd Camp, Mary E. Vielhaber, and Jack L. Simonetti, Strategic Interviewing: How to Hire Good People (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001)