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How to Master Behavioral Interviewing

March 17, 2016

behavioral-interviewing.jpgKnowing the basics of behavioral interviewing is a good start. But, how do you fully master behavioral interviewing so you feel confident going into each interview? Back in 1993, an article was published by Ericsson and colleagues suggesting that you need 10,000 hours of practice in order to become an expert in almost anything. This theory became mainstream when Malcolm Gladwell published Outliers and pushed for the merit in this idea. Macklemore even has a song written about it, so the theory clearly has been popularized, and is legitimate, of course.

Well, I’m not going to suggest that you need to conduct 10,000 behavioral interviews that are 1-hour in length to fully master the process. And, there are actually some rebuttals to this theory that this estimate may not be correct. Deliberate practice can only affect a degree of one’s performance. There are other factors that come into play including motivation, personality, intelligence, and so forth. While practice won’t make you the next Mozart or Serena Williams, it does help. The more interviews you do, the more competent you will become in conducting interviews. As you get more practice, here are a few points to keep in mind so you can hone in on your skills:

1) Understand and recognize the bias that you bring to the table with every interview conducted

It is very natural for us to form impressions and hold opinions about others. Upon meeting people for the first time, we’re even more susceptible to want to form initial impressions about them. However, these impressions can color how we interpret subsequent actions and comments made by the individual. Within an interview, we want to hold all judgments on the candidate until we have all the information. This means, recognizing that we need to look past what candidates are wearing or what school they went to and instead gather behavioral evidence to determine their skills and abilities.

Additionally, another bias that can be made is making a decision based on whether you “click” or like the individual. Candidates may have some common interests as you and you could be very good friends with them. But, being a good friend can be completely different than being a good employee. Your role is an assessor of their skills and abilities. Assessors should be objective in nature and withhold making judgments based on gut instinct. Meaning, don’t channel your inner Stephen Colbert and make judgments based on gut.

There are other mistakes that interviewers tend to make, for example, halo error, horn error, just like me bias, etc., so make sure that you keep yourself in check throughout the interview and remain as objective as possible. It is in your best interest to be as objective as possible.

2) Use probing questions

There is a big difference between getting a complete response (i.e., gathering the background, action, and result) and getting a complete and specific response. By not getting the details, you may not fully understand what candidates did, their rationale for their actions, or the severity of the event. Without details, it may seem like candidates display decent skills related to that question. However, probing for more information, you may uncover specific information that leads you to believe that what appeared to be acceptable behavior, was not at all given the situation.

Think of it this way—an interview is like hearing a story. As an interviewer, you want to learn more about what happened—what led up to the event, what actually took place, and how everything turned out. When we are listening to stories told by friends, we naturally feel inclined to ask follow-up questions because we have a genuine interest to learn more. Approach interviews this way. Be inquisitive and ask for the details so you fully understand the event. After all, they are telling us a story so express interest in learning the details.

3) Calibrate with yourself and others

Hold yourself accountable each time you go into an interview. You never want to get into a place of too much comfort or complacency. This means that you should review the behavioral anchored rating scales occasionally. Make sure that what you still think is a “5” is actually a “5” according to the behaviors listed in the scale. 

Additionally, hold yourself accountable with others. Engage in discussions with other interviewers about candidates. Make sure that you are providing the same ratings for a given set of behaviors. Calibration means making sure you are all aligned with how you should be rating behaviors. Set good standards for yourself and others.

If you continue to practice and hone in on your skills, you can become a “master” of behavioral interviewing. And, you might not even have to accrue 10,000 hours of practice to do so!

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Alissa Parr, Ph.D. Alissa Parr, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment processes. Alissa has experience managing entry-level through executive level assessment and selection efforts across a number of different industries including government, financial, military, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.