Preparing Candidates for Situational-Behavioral Interviews: A Counterintuitive Approach

Preparing candidates for situational-behavioral interviews ensures a more accurate assessment and a smoother experience for all.

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Apr 26, 2024

I know this seems counterintuitive, but hear me out on this. I strongly advise preparing candidates for situational-behavioral interviews.  Why? By preparing candidates and informing them about the interview format and types of questions, you can ensure a more accurate and productive interview experience for both the interviewer and the candidate. Plus, you’re helping and making it easier for the candidate to recall relevant work experiences. Besides, situational-behavioral interview methods may not reveal their thought process from past experiences.

Debunking the “Surprise Interview” Myth

In “typical” interviews, many interviewers still ask general questions like “Tell me about yourself” or another common question like “How would you handle…” However, not everyone can easily remember the details when it comes to situational-behavioral interviews, where candidates are asked to recall specific past experiences and their behavior in those situations. But I have a solution for this.

My solution is simple: prepare the candidates. Inform them that they will be asked to share examples from their past during the interview, such as how they behaved in specific situations. Pretty straightforward, right?

Ironically, this recommendation often surprises interviewers because they’ve been trained to “surprise” candidates to assess their reactions to unexpected situations. However, surprising candidates in an interview won’t give an accurate prediction of how they will perform or handle those situations. Let me explain.

Situational-behavioral interviews shouldn’t be interviews with “on-the-job” surprise questions.

The situational-behavioral interview isn’t designed to have “on-the-job” surprise questions or scenarios. Research shows us that our behavior is situational. So, the candidate’s response to past behavior in an interview gives the interviewer an understanding of how they’ll act in future situations (note: it’s not intended to be how they work from “day to day”). Interviews can be complex and nerve-wracking. Pummeling candidates with the type of on-the-job surprise questions is not good for the candidate experience.  However, if a candidate is calm and prepared, they are more likely to share more details and give us clues and information about their real self.

How I prepare candidates before a situational-behavioral interview.

Before the interview, I inform candidates that I will conduct a situational-behavioral interview and ask them about past experiences similar to situations they will encounter in the future role. I tell them I’ll need multiple examples to assess their capabilities.  Pro tip: I have them help me summarize those instances or situations so that I can understand their responses clearly.

But here’s the deal: On the interview day, you want the candidate to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible sharing past details about certain situations.  Remember, you’re not assessing the candidates’ ability to recall information but rather what they actually did in a past situation. Therefore, we want to make it easy for them to remember. We want to make them feel comfortable so they can remember and share their reactions and decisions describing those past events. Look at it this way. Our memory works like wet wipes in a bucket. Getting the first one out is a challenge, but the rest come out quite easily after that.

The big takeaway here is prepping the candidate in advance. Giving them advice beforehand helps them recollect past experiences. It’s important for them to think back and recall situations on how they responded to those challenges.  I know this seems counterintuitive for a situational-behavioral interview, but I aim to ensure that the candidate fits the role and vice versa. Plus, candidates always appreciate the preparation because it helps them stay focused during the interview, even if it doesn’t work out. In essence, preparing candidates before the interview improves the candidate’s interview experience and ultimately strengthens the company’s brand image. Personally, I believe that this approach to situational-behavioral interviewing is the difference between knowing and not knowing if it’s the right fit for everyone.

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