Back in the day, job interview questions were based on an assumption of future performance. “What would you do if your project budget were cut 50%?” “How would you handle a situation in which….?. These conventional and situational questions gave the candidate broad liberties to describe themselves in whatever way they wished, and focused on what the job candidate said they would do given a hypothetical situation. The interviewer’s impression of the candidates was based on assumed behaviors combined with the candidates’ personal and professional references.
Employers are finding that these situational interview questions left too much ambiguity as to the reliability of the candidates’ answers. Increasingly, we see employers using a more sophisticated type of interviewing known as the Behavioral Descriptive Interview (BPI) format because it is widely considered to be a more accurate predictor of on-the-job performance. Based in part on the conclusions found in the 1980s research, Behavior Description Interviewing: New, Accurate, Cost Effective by Tom Janz, Lowell Hellervik and David C. Gilmore (1986) the BDI is believed to produce more candid responses from the job candidates and to keep the interviewer focused on job-related issues. In addition, it is thought to be a more objective method to record interviewer’s feedback and to make candidate selection decisions more defensible. Employers say that using BDI allows them to obtain valuable information and that it reveals many more behaviors of the job candidate than when using conventional interviewing methods. The premise of the BDI is that “the best predictor of future performance is past performance in similar circumstances.” This includes asking situational questions requiring examples of past performance and further clarification and exploration.
So, how does the job candidate prepare for this behavioral type interview?
Well, one way is to take a look at how the interviewer prepares for this kind of interview. There’s an excellent short video from the Harvard Business Review called “The Right Way to Conduct a Job Interview” by Michael J. Mauboussin, Investment Strategist and author of the book, The Success Equation. In this video, Mr. Mauboussin explains to employers four quick steps to prepare for the Behavioral Descriptive Interview and how to determine if the candidate really has the skills they profess to have. There is much more additional information available on the Behavioral Descriptive Interview, but this is a good quick review.
Mr. Mauboussin suggests that the interview include questions asking how the candidate performed in a specific past job situation and then “drilling down” by repeatedly asking “how?” and “why?” to determine the candidate’s depth of knowledge and skillsets.
The second pointer is to have two people conduct the interview – one to ask the questions and the other to record the answers. Each interviewer would be assigned one skill based on their subject expertise in which to query the candidate. With this method, the interviewer, knowledgeable in that subject area, can delve deeper into questioning why the candidate acted in such a way and how they made those decisions. The third suggestion is meant to validate the candidate’s responses by asking for a specific example for each answer. The last thing is to rate the candidate right after the interview on a scale that is quantifiable and justifiable.
Job candidates, it’s important to be prepared for this type of behavioral interview. It may sound daunting, but be aware that employers are just trying hard to make the right hiring decision. In your interview preparation, ensure that you have thoroughly studied the requirements and candidate qualifications that are listed in the job description. Set up a Job Description/Accomplishment form for each job you are considering. Make a T graph and title the left column “Requirements and qualifications” and the right column “Accomplishments.” In the left column list individually each of the requirement and qualifications that are noted in the job description. On the right side of each of these, write down the corresponding Accomplishments around which you can build you anecdote. Think about the “how?” and “why?” questions that may come up around each of these and note next to them a response to each.
Be thoughtful in looking back at your career to prepare these anecdotes around each of these requirements and qualifications, effectively demonstrating your past performance of these job tasks or utilizing those skills. Be ready for those clarifying questions to elaborate on the why? and the how? of your past decisions and depth of knowledge within each of the anecdotal stories. If you don’t have a specific job related story to tell, think of times in other parts of your life when you used effectively demonstrated those qualifications.
Once you have your anecdotes listed and described, practice them over and over and over again until they are part of your natural conversational tone, showing confidence and natural ability. Role play the behavioral interview with a friend or your career advisor, honing your interview skills.
Be ready for your next interview by being prepared for a behavioral interview. Prove to your interviewer how your future job success is based on your excellent past performance in similar circumstances.