Weaknesses of Behavioural Interview Questions

The newest trend in job interviews is the behavioural interview question. Interviewers have learned that it’s not what someone says they will do that matters, but what they have done in the past that matters. Behavioural interview questions are designed to do just that. By asking someone specific questions about their past, you can learn who they really are, what they really do, and how they answer questions that they are much less likely to prepare for. Questions such as:

  • Describe a time you had an angry client. What did you do to diffuse the situation?
  • Tell me about a time that you made a bad decision on a project. What did you do?
  • What did you do on Project X to monitor whether your subordinates were successful?

These types of questions are tougher than traditional interview questions because they require a specific answer, they’re harder to prepare for, and they reveal a lot about a person’s character as well as their abilities. For example, ask about an angry client, and some applicants will talk about all of the ways it was the client’s fault and how bad a client they were, while the best applicants describe their responsibility and talk about what they learned from it.
These types of questions can be phenomenal. You’ll also see them recommended by nearly all modern recruiters, as they tend to provide much better answers than some of the more standard interview questions that don’t delve deep into a candidate’s abilities.

Behavioural Interview Questions: Good, Not Perfect

At Recruit Shop, we support the use of behavioural interview questions for evaluating candidates. But we also want to acknowledge that there are still problems with behavioural questions just as there are weaknesses with every component of the interview process. It’s important to be aware of these weaknesses if you want to make sure that you’re evaluating candidates effectively. Some of these include:

  • Not Every Great Candidate Has an Answer

One of the advantages of a behavioural interview question is that it forces candidates to talk in concrete terms about actual decisions, achievements, etc. But sometimes the question asks something that the individual may not have an answer for, simply because it hasn’t come up. For example:
“How do you decide which tasks to delegate to specific members of your team? How do you asses the results?
This is a great question. But not every leader is going to have a great answer. Some will go by their gut. Others don’t have a choice – their team is made up of people with different specialties. Still others may never have thought of a specific way to assess results simply because all projects they worked on were successful.
Do you judge the candidate that has no real answer? That’s harder to determine.

  • Thinking Back Takes Time

Sometimes awkwardness can kill an interview. But thinking back to answer that question can take time for some candidates, especially if the answer is specific. Not every candidate is simply going to have an answer off the top of their heads.
In many cases that’s the point. The more you force someone to think, the less time they have to give an overly prepared answer. But it also means that some candidates might have to think and sit and think some more, and in that case the interview can feel awkward for both you and the candidate, possibly leading to an awkwardness that could affect how you judge the interview.

  • Focuses Often on the Negative

The most useful behavioural interview questions tend to focus on the negative, such as how someone responds to an angry customer, or a time that someone made a mistake on a project, etc. But that much negativity can be grating, and possibly affect the interview, how the person sees your company, and more.
Plus, you want an opportunity to learn about the good things as well. How someone responds to an unhappy customer is interesting, but equally as important are the qualifications and achievements that the person engaged in.
Some degree of balance is important. Try your best to make sure you give the applicant many opportunities to say good things about themselves, thus also giving them more confidence throughout the interview.

  • Harder Questions Are Harder to Answer in General

Finally, the harder a question is to answer, the more likely a candidate will make a mistake. This is one of the advantages of these types of questions, but also a disadvantage. After all, you have to consider that some great applicants may not be talented enough at answering these types of questions, but may still have the skills and experience necessary to thrive. Behavioural interview questions are hard. The harder something is, the more likely good workers will still make mistakes with answering.
Use the Questions, But Consider the Risks
Behavioural interview questions are still some of the best ways to judge candidates at job interviews. But it remains important to understand these few drawbacks so that you can prepare for them. Always keep them in mind as you decide how to evaluate your potential candidates, and ultimately you should be able to do a good job spotting the best contributor.