Effectively Using the Behavioral Job Interview to Get the Young Talent You Need

The job interview: the one employment selection process almost every manager does, but very few do well. Some organizations impose meticulous control over the job interview process. Usually these organizations have the best interviews because they have worked hard to develop a thorough behavioral interviewing process. Often they are smart enough to require any manager who interviews job candidates to receive training on how to conduct interviews properly. Unfortunately, such organizations are the exception. In most workplaces, hiring managers have a huge amount of latitude when it comes to conducting job interviews.

Millennials tell us horror stories every day about job interviews. Interviewers sometimes ask inappropriate questions like: “What was it like growing up in your family?” or “Do you intend to have children?” Sometimes they ask irrelevant and silly questions such as: “What can you do in the next 60 seconds that will really impress me?” But a surprising number of interviewers simply go through the applicant’s resume out loud, often reading it for the first time, asking for amplification here and clarification there. Many just want to “get to know the applicant” by chatting informally about sports or clothes or classes the applicant has taken or is currently taking in school. Some blowhard interviewers explicitly waste the interview by doing all the talking themselves instead of hearing from the applicants. These approaches leave interviewers with little to evaluate other than whether they have a “good impression” of the interviewee. That’s because too often managers who are conducting interviews have no method to their interview process.

When it comes to interviewing, the best practice is behavioral interviewing. Although there are entire courses taught in behavioral interviewing, I often teach it to managers in my seminars in three minutes. Behavioral interviewing simply means asking applicants to tell you a story and then listening to the story: “Tell me a story about a time you solved a problem at work” or “Tell me a story about a conflict you had with another person. How did you solve it?”

If you want to take behavioral interviewing to the next level, here’s a simple list of questions in two main areas – performance and skills – we’ve developed to help managers conduct behavioral interviews:


Tell me about a specific instance when you …

  • Identified a specific type of problem
  • Solved a specific type of problem
  • Accomplished a particular task
  • Were charged with a particular kind of responsibility
  • Worked in a particular type of situation
  • Worked under a particular set of conditions
  • What was successful about your approach?
  • What was unsuccessful about your approach?
  • What did you learn?
  • What would you do differently?
  • If you worked for us, you would have to do X. How would you approach the challenge?

Tell me about a specific instance when you used [fill in the appropriate skill.]

  • What was successful about your approach?
  • What was unsuccessful about your approach?
  • What did you learn?
  • What would you do differently?
  • What ancillary skills were useful to you?
  • How have you developed this skill further since then?
  • In the specific instance you described, what related skill did you use other than the one asked about?
  • If you worked for us, you would have to use [fill in the appropriate skill.] How would you approach that challenge?

Using these questions as a starting point, not only can managers produce an on-hand interview reference, but they will be able to get a better idea of the kinds of specific performance and/or skills they are looking for in each position. This helps the manager identify qualified candidates, and helps the applicant or interviewee gain a concrete idea of what they can expect from the job and working environment. This helps lead all involved to exactly the right person for the job, with fewer surprises on the new hire’s first day.