Behavioural Interviews And The STAR Method
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had the best results when I use behavioural questions during an interview. There was a time, years ago, when it was all the rage to ask ridiculous questions such as:
- How much does a Boeing 747 weigh?
- Why are utility hole covers round?
- If you had to choose between flight or invisibility, what superpower would you choose?
Not only are these annoying and pointless, but they also do not tell you whether the person sat in front of you is going to be any good at their job. After all, if they don’t know how to weigh a Boeing 747, I’m sure they could learn and whether or not they could learn that is what you want to know.
What is a behavioural question?
Behavioural questions usually start with “Tell me about a time when …”. You’re asking the candidate to describe something that happened and how they dealt with it. There’s some decent science
which says this kind of interview, done right, will give you the best results. But how can you, as an interview, ensure you’re asking the right questions and getting the responses you need to make a decision?
Asking the right questions.
Some vanilla questions will work for almost every job:
- Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult decision. How did that work out?
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss, what did you do?
- Tell me about a time something went very wrong, what did you do to recover?
On top of that, you may want to ask questions specific to your industry:
- Retail: Tell me about a time you dealt with a demanding customer.
- Tech: Tell me about a time you disagreed with the software architect, how did you approach this?
- Engineering: Tell me about a time you found a problem with some plans. What did you do?
(Note: these questions might suck - make your own!)
The worst thing you can do (and, this has happened to me) is ask each question, write down the answer and ask the next question. The best interviews are conversations, so keep the conversation going with followup questions. If you can’t think of any, use these:
- “That’s interesting, what did you do next?”
- “What did she say?”
- “How did that affect the x?”
- “What would you have done differently if you had another opportunity?”
Prepping the candidate for the interview
You don’t want to send the questions to the candidate before the interview - that’s like sending them the answers to a test. You can let them know you’ll be asking them questions about their previous experience and that, the best way to answer these questions is with the S.T.A.R method.
Situation: Tell us of a situation you were in, give us some context and some details.
Task: Describe what your contribution or responsibility was in this situation:
Action: Tell us what you did.
Result: Tell us how it worked out.
If they’re a decent candidate, this will prompt them first to google what behavioural interview questions are and secondly, come up with a few past experiences to cover the common questions above.
Things to watch out for
Being in an interview where the candidate struggles to come up with any situations is awkward and unforgettable. Remember, not everyone will have dealt with a demanding customer or had a disagreement with their boss.
Have more questions ready to go than you’ve got time to ask, so there’s a better chance of being able to fill the time with useful conversation.
You’re also going to want to be on the lookout for, ahem, made-up stuff. Candidates will often think that a made-up or exaggerated answer is better than saying “That’s never happened to me.”. To be clear at the start, if they haven’t experienced that kind of situation, it’s fine to say so, we’ll ask another question.
You probably shouldn’t rely solely on behavioural interviews. You’ll need to know whether your coder can code and your designer can design. The behavioural interview is there to help you understand fit. Yeah, I know, it’s an amorphous and unquantifiable metric, but knowing how a candidate reacts in various situations will help you see whether they’re right for you, which team they might go in and get a feel for those soft-skills you know they’ll need.
From the channel
Some interesting things from the Slack group
Thanks for reading. Any feedback is warmly received.
Remember, if there’s something, in particular, you’d like to see in here, then let me know. I enjoyed putting together this issue, so any other topic you’d benefit from hearing about would be great.
Also, I enjoy getting the questions from you people-people as an occasional Q&A email, so if anything is chafing, or you need some advice, hit me up firstname.lastname@example.org