Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Behavioral interviews from the candidate’s perspective

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on February 16, 2010

One of the most important tasks that an interviewer seeks to accomplish when meeting with a job candidate, is to find out if they can do the job from a technical and skills perspective. The second primary goal is to find out if this is someone who would be easy and comfortable to work with and both for the hiring manager and for others of their team.

In both cases, a good interviewer seeks to learn both what the people they meet with do, and how well they do it. But simple self-evaluations can be very problematical and references and recommendations do not necessarily tell the whole story.

Self evaluations are notoriously poor tools for evaluating candidates, as the most skilled and experienced candidates know enough to know their limitations too, so they do not push their positives too hard. They are the candidates who with give themselves a less than maximum evaluation score, and who offer a more nuanced answer as to how well they do their job. The least skilled on the other hand frequently do not know enough to even realize there is a lot they do not know and cannot do. They will score themselves with a 5 out of 5 or even as a 5+ and not know what these scores are even supposed to represent. And this can carry over into cover letters and the bullet points in resumes too.
Recommendations can come from people who know the candidate and perhaps even very well, but still only really know them within a limited context and not know their experience or capabilities for the areas important to this job they are applying for.

Behavioral interviews are a relatively new approach that is designed to get past these limitations, to present a clearer view of who a candidate is and what they bring to the table. And the key to the behavioral interview is in prompting the candidate to think things through and present their thought processes and reasoning on specific scenarios and situations of importance to the interviewer.

• This can mean asking a candidate if they have ever faced some specific issue or problem or situation and if so, how they handled it.
• This can mean asking what they would do if they found themselves having to manage a particular problem or opportunity, and what their reasoning is as to why they would do what they suggest they would do.
• This can mean evaluating a suggested approach and offering alternatives as appropriate.
• This can mean asking the candidate to come up with a plan B where a more standard approach is not working.
• There generally is not single correct answer to any of these questions. The goal is to better understand the level of experience and judgment the candidate shows and how articulately they can present their ideas.
• The goal is to observe the candidate thinking things through and ideally on at least some issues that are relevant and even important to the position being interviewed for.
• This always means going past canned responses when done correctly, though it should always be realistic and real-world too.

From a candidate’s perspective, this is an opportunity to show how clearly you can think on your feet so your analytical skills are very important. Start with the givens that the interviewer presents you with. Ask for clarification if you need to. In this, spotting where there are divergent alternatives based on what you are told in a question can be a valuable, insightful answer in and of itself.

This is not, however, just about analytical reasoning as behavioral interviewing approaches can also be used to test out interpersonal skills and how you work with and communicate with others. Would you seek to solve the problems presented or capitalize on the opportunities suggested as a loner or as an active member of a team? Do you approach the situations you are to discuss ad hoc or do you ask context questions to find out if there are preferred approaches you should at least coordinate your answer approaches with?

Your analytical skills and your technical and hands-on knowledge are important, but it is guaranteed that the interviewer is at least as interested in finding a candidate they can work with as an effective team member, and someone who connects with others and taps into their skills and experience too. They are looking for people who can act independently, but who also will work effectively with and as a part of their organization.

• Ask questions as well as answering them.
• Take any behavioral interview questions you are asked seriously, and even if the scenario seems far fetched or unlikely.
• Watch the expressions and body language of the people you meet with and take that into account as you set the pace and determine the levels of detail in your responses. This way you effectively stay focused on answering the questions you are asked so as to meet the needs of the people asking them.
• And finally, remember there are no single right answers – only better ways of presenting yourself as the right candidate to find workable, effective answers.

My next posting will examine this topic of behavioral interviewing from the perspective of the hiring manager and Human Resources – an approach that any job candidate should understand as fully as possible going into any interview.

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] day before yesterday I posted on behavioral interviews from the candidate’s perspective and yesterday I turned the table on this to examine this same set of issues from the hiring manager […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: