How To Prevent Bad Hires With Behavioral Interviews

Hiring mistakes cost money – lots of money. In fact, it can cost as much as one-and-a-half times the salary of “bad hires” to replace them.

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“Often, hiring is done with little more than a passing thought about skills, abilities, and knowledge needed for a position,” says Carole Martin, the Interview Coach. “Inadequate evaluation of critical skills cost millions of dollars each year because objective job data have not been collected.”

Using Behavioral-based questions in an interview is one way employers like to try and find the right fit for their job. Behavioral Questions are questions that ask for specific examples from a candidate about his or her past behavior on the job. Using past behavior is a proven technique used to more accurately determine the future performance or success of the individual, says Martin, who has over 20 years experience in human resources and staffing and the author of “Boost Your Hiring IQ”.

(Take Martin’s Manager’s IQ Hiring Test here)

In other words, if the candidate did it before he or she can do it again. This applies to both positive and negative behavior. If a candidate has been a top performer in his or her last job the chances are greater that he will be a top performer in your company, says Martin.

Nancy Branton, a career and leadership coach, who is the CEO of the Workplace Coach Institute, agrees.

“Behavioral questions are important to include in interviews because past behaviors are most predictive about future behaviors,” says Branton.

Branton points out that in addition to behavioral questions, it’s important to include other questions to find out more about their work experience, how interested the candidate is in the position, how well their style will fit the culture of the organization and to learn about their career goals.

But behavioral interviewing is effective because research shows that most hires are made based upon gut feeling and whether the interviewer(s) like the person and feel comfortable with them, says Beverly D. Flaxington, The Human Behavior Coach and author of several books, including Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior

“Unfortunately most research shows that you can only trust your gut when it comes to hiring about 50 percent of the time,” says Flaxington. “And a bad hire is costly and disruptive.”

As an employer, one of your primary goals in a job interview is to hire the best possible candidate for the position, says Darlene Price, President of Well Said, Inc. and author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.

Whether you’re a seasoned interviewer or not, adding behavioral-based questions to the mix (versus traditional questions alone) will help you determine if the applicant is likely to perform well in the job.

Behavioral questions ask the applicant to describe actual past behavior on the job, which in turn helps you predict their future behavior.  Conversely, traditional questions such as “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”  “How do you define success?” and “Why should we hire you?” are more generic with straightforward answers.

“Though these tried and true questions provide helpful information, behavioral questions reveal observable actions, attitudes, and outcomes in a specific job related situation,” says Price.

Here is a list of sample behavioral based job interview questions, from Price:

  1. Describe a difficult problem you’ve encountered at work and how you dealt with it.
  2. Give me an example of a goal you reached and how you achieved it.
  3. When have you been under tremendous pressure on the job and how did you handle it?
  4. Think of a time when you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty. What did you do and why?
  5. Tell me about a situation where you had to make a quick decision. How difficult was it to do so?
  6. Have you ever persuaded management to do something they were reluctant to do?  Describe how you did it and the outcome.
  7. What is the most important piece of professional writing you’ve produced?
  8. Describe the thought process you went through to make one or two of the most critical decisions of your career.
  9. From time to time, everyone has to bend the rules a bit. Tell me about an example when you had to bend or break the rules.
  10. Give me a specific example of when you applied good logic and problem solving skills to achieve a desired outcome.
  11. What’s your most creative accomplishment in your career so far?
  12. Tell me about a time when you had to teach someone a new skill or process at work. How did you go about it?
  13. I’d like to understand your process for establishing priorities. Give me an example of a typical work day and how you go about prioritizing tasks.
  14. Relate a time at work when you failed at a task. What happened and what did you learn?
  15. Provide an example of when you used your verbal communication skills to influence a person or group.

Once these questions are asked, what should employers look for in candidates’ responses to behavioral questions? At least four elements, easily remembered by the STAR acronym:

1. Specific situation: Candidates need to include the particular setting and details of the circumstance. Example: “The most difficult problem I’ve encountered at work so far occurred about three years ago when I had just been promoted to Sales Director with twelve people reporting to me. They were spread across ten states working remotely, and there was no sense of camaraderie or teamwork….”

2. Task(s): What exactly was the piece of work to be done, or challenge to overcome? Ideally the candidate describes the mission or desired goal. Example: “Despite distance and unfamiliarity with one another, my responsibility was to build a cohesive productive sales team who excelled in open communication, cooperation, and trust, while meeting quota.”

3. Action: Listen for the action verbs which describe what the person actually did in the situation to accomplish the task (or not). What behaviors did they demonstrate? Example: “I recommended that management approve funding for a quarterly in-person meeting with my team. When they were reluctant to do so, I produced a cost-benefit report showing the return on investment, which persuaded them to agree…”

4. Results: What was the outcome of the person’s actions? How did their  behavior determine the consequences? Who gained or grew from the experience? Example: “After three quarterly meetings across nine months, every team member had already exceeded their quota for the year. They attributed their success to the regular face-to-face meetings which enabled them to get to know one another, earn mutual trust, share leads, learn best practices, and collaborate on deals. The company experienced a 30% boost in sales and management now realizes the importance of face time when it comes to building effective teams.”

To keep things running smoothly during the interview, try these tips, says Price:

  1. Allow plenty of time for the person to formulate their answer. Behavioral questions require more thought and processing than a pat rehearsed reply to “Tell me about your past experience.” Be patient. If you ask, “Can you think of a time when….” and the person can’t come up with an example, say, “That’s okay. We’ll come back to that one.”  However, if the candidate continues to stumble and struggle with how to answer the questions, that tells you something about his or her potential and readiness for the job.
  2. Craft clear, specific, and descriptive questions. Be sure to instruct the candidates to use the best story or example they can think of.  Specify if you want the experience to come from the workplace or everyday life. Set them up for a successful answer by asking a well-defined question.
  3. As an interviewer, be prepared to politely ask the candidate to provide more details if they appear to be vague, misleading, or stretching the truth.

“Remember, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to behavioral interviewing,” says Price. “You’re simply seeking to understand how the person behaved in a given situation. How the candidate responds will help you determine if there is a good fit between their skills and the position you’re seeking to fill.”

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Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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