Behavioral interviewing is dumb

Behavioral Interviewing is Dumb

I went to grad school at the University of Minnesota from 2012 to 2014. In hindsight, I regret nearly everything about it — although in the process, I learned a lot about myself and who I am, and those lessons have served me well enough to have a functional job and write a blog that maybe a few dozen people appreciate weekly, so that’s something.

Right when I started, in the late summer of 2012, we were talking about behavioral interviewing all the time. It had become pretty widespread. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically an interview process where the interviewer gets at real behaviors and experiences of yours, such as:

Tell me about a time when you were challenged.

Tell me about a time you overcome adversity.

Most of the job interviews I had in the fall of 2012 — for a summer position between the two years of grad school — were based around this method.

The really interesting thing to me is that it was pretty hard for me to get a job (likely because I’m “rough around the edges”), but at the time, I had years of experience. Most of the people getting jobs quickly in my program? They were right out of college.

So, because I’m passive aggressive and messy, I started to distrust this whole concept of behavioral interviewing right then. I had nine years of experience doing different things — behaviors, experiences, results, etc. — and these kids had zero, and the system was working for them, but not working for me. That seemed wrong.

Liz Ryan, who’s a writer I respect a lot when she tosses outdated HR policies under a train, wrote this recently on the topic of behavioral interviewing:

Behavioral interviewing is the thing where an interviewer asks stupid questions like “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer” instead of just being honest and saying “Here’s what we’re facing in our company right now. What are your thoughts?”

This brainless process is beneath you, and doesn’t help you make better hires. Toss it into the dustbin of history where it belongs before 2016 arrives!

The end of the first paragraph is key.

Here’s the thing that makes no sense to me about any form of job interviews, right? You have a position open and, ideally, you know what that position will do and the needs it has to fill / the goals it has to hit. (I say ideally because oftentimes people have no idea what they want.)

So rather than come up with some gimmick around “This is the best way to interview!”, why not just have a transparent conversation with the candidate around these topics:

  • What are your skills?
  • What are your interests?
  • How do you see it aligning to this role?
  • Here’s what a day in this job is like. What else do you think you could add to it?
  • Bring in some of the team he/she will be working with to talk
  • What problems have you dealt with in similar roles you’ve had?

This is the problem of business writ large, I think: we often try to take something human, like an interview/discussion about something that will eventually consume more than 1/3rd of your life, and we throw a process or gimmick at it. You see the same thing with “employee engagement.” You see the same thing with the beginning of the interview process — rather than figure out a way to maximize humans, we threw Applicant Tracking Systems at it. All that does is discourage anyone with a brain to apply for a job. (“You mean I gotta upload my resume, but then individually fill out all that info too?”)

Process is important in the world because it (should) describe the way we do things, but when we throw process/technology/gimmicks/new ideas at an uniquely human event — sitting down and talking about a set of responsibilities that will eventually cause the organization to part with some of their money for this person — we’re missing the boat.

Ted Bauer


  1. Behavioral interviews are nothing but short, on the spot psych evals. They have nothing to do with skills and experience. It’s about interviewing for personalities that fit into the company. Companies are more concerned with towing the Politically Correct line than they are about filling spots with competent people. Just look at your own workplace. How many people do you believe to be in the wrong positions? Especially managers? I’ve seen it so much over the past decade or so.
    Who can honestly remember all the details of a specific scenario that happened in the past?
    If you can spin a good yarn, you can get a good job.

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