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Why Behavioural Interviews Just Don't Work

Behavioural based interviews are commonly used for employers to gauge the suitability of an applicant. On the surface, hypothetical scenarios or real-life anecdotes might be able to give some insight; however, thanks to their overuse, behavioural interviews now measure how well someone can "sell" themselves into a job.


Because of the canned questions and rigid format, it is unfair to call this process an "interview." Based on these parameters, such sessions would better be described as "behavioural interrogations."


The whole purpose of an interview is to assess a candidate's suitability for the position and the company. But the repetitive, predictable nature of behavioural interviews can hinder the hiring process. A more informal, unique approach can solve the aforementioned issue and increase the chances of hiring genuinely suitable people.


Predictability

HR professionals and managers who conduct these evaluations are at a major disadvantage. Like divulging the questions on an exam, every inquiry potential employees face is easily available online or through career counselors. This allows them to rehearse or plan their answers perfectly and perhaps even insert some hyperbole.


A quick Google search about interview questions will turn up examples such as "tell me about yourself," "explain a time when you went above and beyond expectations," "provide an example of a workplace conflict and how you handled it," or "why should we hire you?" -- to name a few. Some of these questions are so open-ended, they make it difficult for a candidate to determine what information will be meaningful to the interviewer. More focused questions are just as vulnerable to deception, since a person can either exaggerate or completely invent perfect answers that they feel will please the recruiter.


The bottom line is that behavioural interviews, while effective in theory, have been so overused that getting the truth out of a potential employee is virtually impossible to guarantee. Consequently, an unfit person might get the job, simply because he is skilled at rehearsing answers and telling interviewers what they want to hear.


Redundancy

A commonly asked question in behavioural interviews is "what do you feel is your biggest weakness?" This is completely unnecessary for two reasons.


First, it's highly unlikely that a candidate will reveal a genuine flaw that could affect her chances of getting the job. Interviewers won't get closer to the truth by asking this. You're not going to hear real red flags like "I don't work well under pressure" or "I'm not always good at multitasking." Chances are, candidates will say something along the lines of "I sometimes work too hard" or "I tend to be a perfectionist."


Second, recruiters and interviewees alike are familiar with the questions' expectations. The aim is for the candidate to indicate a weakness, but then frame it in a way to make it seem positive. Things like an excessively strong work ethic or severe perfectionism can harm an individual, but they're great "weaknesses" for an employer to see. After all, a workaholic with OCD can get a lot of tasks completed -- provided the candidate isn't lying about these characteristics. In short, it's a test to see how well a person can bluff the recruiter, not a way to evaluate whether the "weakness" is truly detrimental or real. Asking for an answer that you know will be twisted is no way to establish trust, nor can managers expect to gain any valuable information.


Alternatives

In a working world plagued by rigid interviews, recruiters appear to have forgotten one important thing: the interview is a two-way street. This means that, while managers are evaluating candidates, these individuals are also assessing the organisation. Behavioural interviews, however, focus exclusively on the business. The behavioural approach doesn't give unfit people a chance to filter themselves out. It's better for a potential employee to realise your office isn't right for him, rather than reach that conclusion and quit six months later. A simple change like this can save a lot of money in wasted training and subsequent recruitment.


Asking questions created internally makes it impossible to come up with perfect answers. Because each company has specific values, goals, and job requirements, a candidate is less likely to predict the questions that she'll be asked. Instead, ask things like "how do you feel our organisation can help you grow and succeed?" or "what would you like to know about the position?" This allows candidates to explain how the job aligns with their career plans and also make an informed decision about wanting the position.


The best type of interview isn't an interview at all, but rather a conversation. It's an opportunity for managers to meet prospective employees, and for both to openly discuss what each side hopes to gain. Once both sides feel that an offer of employment is mutually beneficial, they can enter a potentially successful and fulfilling professional relationship.

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