(What’s the story) Behavioural Interview Questions glory?

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We want to dig a little deeper into how candidates can best answer Behavioural Interview Questions and what clients can deduce from Behavioural Interview Techniques.

In last month’s Selection Interview Techniques article we examined if past behaviour predicted future performance, and in that blog post we stated that:

To help our clients in making the final hiring decision, we want them to know how that person has overcome challenges, grown in previous roles, and learnt from their past mistakes (we all make them, and how we overcome them says a lot).

We thought it would be useful to develop that theme a little further and look at it from both a candidate and client perspective. 

Discuss why candidates should share their ‘war stories’ and why our clients can benefit from recruiting those who’ve been to the (business) school of hard knocks!

What are Behavioural Interview Questions?

Behavioural Interview Questions are, in Barron Williams’ opinion, the best way of assessing the actions and reactions of each candidate in relevant situations.

We utilise this technique to help our clients establish if an individual has the relevant skills and personality for the role, team and organisation.

At the senior exec level, such questioning will identify if they have the relevant leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking and comms skills, for example.

When using Behavioural Interview Questions and Techniques, we want to know “what happened?”, “how did you react?”, etc, and ideally how, in challenging situations, candidates have demonstrated their true self and ability.

Obviously, we are seeking relevance to our client’s requirements in any given situation too. 

However, those core behaviours and the reasoning behind an individual’s decision-making always provide telling insight, demonstrating how a candidate might behave in similar, testing, future situations.

Why do we ask Behavioural Interview Questions?

When interviewing, we want to understand their reasons for interest in the role, as well as check hygiene factors around location, remuneration and availability. 

Once we’re into the real discussion, we’ll have 5 or 6 key areas that will ultimately determine suitability:

How well does a candidate’s profile matches the candidate profile?

How well does a candidate’s experience compare with other candidates’ experience?

We want to understand how well an individual’s experience suggests that they’ll deliver the key deliverables in the role brief?

And there are no big secrets or attempts to trip a candidate up. 

The purpose of the role brief is to ensure clarity and understanding. 

What a candidate sees in that brief is what a client wants!

It is a concise summary of the client, and the role, plus, typically, 5/7 key deliverables (often in the order of priority) and 5/7 candidate profile requirements (again, generally in order).

The crux of the process is to measure candidates against that role brief (and, against each other, of course).

Our questioning will be consistent in terms of the subject areas but tailored to the individual when we’re talking about candidate experience such as previous roles, responsibilities, etc.

If a candidate is invited to a formal interview with us and/or our client, then we’re already confident they can carry out the role. 

The team at Barron Williams will have reviewed their CV and application a number of times (and with a few sets of qualified eyes).

We will have spoken to the candidate (again, a number of times and people).

By the time we are face to face, be it in person or via video, we’re not asking whether the candidate “can do the role?”, we’re asking “does our client want them to do the role?”. 

We are down to marginal differences between qualified individuals.

And, that is all about those aforementioned ‘key deliverables and responsibilities: 

  1. Where have they done them previously?
  2. How well have they done them? 
  3. How closely do they match the candidate profile?
  4. How relevant is their experience?

The CV will tell us what a candidate has done. The interview is to tell us how they did it!

How do you best answer Behavioural interview questions?

So, when conducting pre-interview prep, ask yourself how best you can demonstrate that you’ve delivered what they want?

Not only that, but what examples or “mini case studies” will show your resilience and ability to deliver under pressure as well as the day-to-day?

Be bold. Be brave. Use examples that don’t necessarily follow a ‘fairy tale’ route.

Be honest and open. Don’t be afraid to use an example of failure to demonstrate growth and learning. 

As the old saying goes, we all make mistakes, how we correct and learn from them makes the difference between success and failure.

It’s always good to be able to demonstrate your ability to deliver by articulating success.

We regularly see candidates who on paper were maybe not the obvious choice quickly rise to the top of the longlist when interviewed.

Past behaviour is one of, if not the, best predictor of future performance.

Clients are human and, reasonably they want to hire proven ‘doers’, rather than ‘Monday morning quarterback’ theorists.

The best ‘war’ stories will show that an individual can get things done.

Never be afraid to open up about setbacks and mistakes. We all make them. How we overcome them is more telling of a person’s character than success.

What did you learn? How did it make you stronger? How did it make you better equipped to tackle similar challenges in the future?

Candidates that show us how they’ve learned through experience always reveal more of their true selves (hopefully that’s not too risky 😃)!

The best people have faced real business adversity

Candidates are often cautious when talking about setbacks and career mistakes when going through their career history. And we totally understand that!

However, in our world, the best CVs are the “real” ones.

Personally speaking, I can’t remember the last time I saw the perfect corporate CV with neatly timed, career progression to senior roles, fighting off headhunters, and sitting on a plc board with a couple of high profile non-exec roles to boot.

The people we know both as clients and candidates, tend to have made it to their senior positions with their sleeves rolled up.

Hard work, taking risks (which means that not all decisions pay off), and crucially, reacting to adverse situations not always within their control.

It is the nature of business, and those experiences are common.

In fact, we find out a lot about candidates who happened to find themselves in the wrong sector or business during the credit crunch or pandemic. Tough times.

We hear many a story of getting through extremely difficult times (or not as many the case may be). How do you react to the setbacks?

Redundancy, business failure, regret they didn’t act sooner, etc. 

All incredibly painful learning experiences that you can only really learn the hard way. 

But guess what? The resilient people come back stronger. Lessons learned, resilience has grown, and all to the benefit of a future employer!

It’s no coincidence that toughness and resilience come from adversity, rather than security.

The ‘lucky’ corporate exec might have the confidence of someone used to consistent success but they’re potentially less able to react when faced with real challenges for the first time. At Barron Williams, we see this often, particularly with the less experienced execs.

When faced with tough choices and setbacks, they’re less well equipped to deal with them because of a relative lack of real experience in business adversity. And they are often blind to it.

They’re the hardest to help move into new roles when they’re made redundant for the first time. From being invincible to becoming disposable can be a short and crushing journey.

Many of us have been there, it’s how we respond, rebuild and move on that defines us. There is life after redundancy!

In an interview, it is a genuine privilege to hear people share their most challenging situations (positive and negative) and talk us through how they reacted. People are resilient.

In understanding how people navigate in real-world situations, both Barron Williams and our clients can better judge not just character, but approach, and therefore ‘fit’, to roles, organisations and situations.

When asking candidates Behavioural Interview Questions, we want to know:

  1. How did they react?
  2. What was their approach?
  3. What were their behaviours?
  4. Were they appropriate?
  5. How did they collaborate with others?
  6. Were they team players?
  7. Were they an individual activist? What did they do?
  8. Did they take ownership?
  9. Did they make decisions?
  10. What were the consequences?

Behavioural Interview Questions are not a one size fits

There isn’t a generic ‘right’ approach or personality type.

We endeavour to eliminate bias, however, different roles and organisations require different approaches and personalities.

Specific functions and sectors sometimes suit certain traits and approaches.

The behaviours and traits of a Finance Director are often, necessarily so, very different to that of a Sales Director, for example.

It is best to test that ‘fit’ at the interview, rather than make a hiring mistake that benefits neither candidate nor client.

As a client, understanding how candidates have approached relevant situations in the past is a strong indicator of how they may do so in a similar setting in the future.

Clients should not be afraid to hire those with past mistakes. Establish how they’re grown and the wisdom they can bring to your organisation.

You don’t want to just seek to understand the what? and where? Use Behavioural Interview Questions to really focus on the how? 

This is what will help you to truly benchmark candidates against the role and against each other!

As a candidate, know that role brief inside and out. Discuss it with the recruiter. Know exactly what is most important to those hiring? Ask questions. Continually.

Consider examples from your career that best illustrate your ability to deliver those top 2 or 3 requirements. And make sure those examples are from relevant settings/scenarios. Short, sharp and impactful.

Briefly, give the client and/or recruiter confidence that you will succeed in the post because you have been there, done that and got the t-shirt. Clearly demonstrate the lessons learned in that situation (or one as close as possible to the requirements).

You still need to be functionally qualified and sector relevant to the required standard of course, but this is about differentiation.

The marginal difference between suitably qualified and able candidates. Ultimately, who the client will want to offer the role.

These are our reflections based on our experience of working with people as both clients and candidates. Over more years than we’d care to admit.

The ‘science’ behind the reliability and validity of Behavioural interview techniques is something we subscribed to a long time ago, and still do.

The trick is to blend that ‘science’ with the ‘dark arts’ of understanding people. And that only comes from/with experience. It helps if you love what you do, and we do!

If you’re looking to work with a team dedicated to helping you find the right people to fulfil those crucial roles for your organisation, please use our Client Upload Form or call us today.

If you’re looking to find or apply for a new role, then please feel free to Upload Your CV or call us for an exploratory conversation.

Barron Williams

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