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Submitted by lorne on


BLUF - would you hire or not? - a candidate that looks qualified but couldn't give specific situation on behavioral questions.

Did an interview for a position using the behavioral interview questions from the interview tool. The candidate was able to give good general answers to the questions but no matter how hard I pushed (and I did) they could not bring up specific situations. For the position most of the questions do pertain to things that they do every day in the position. I have used these same set of questions many times without problems and people have been able to come up with specific situations and talk to them. The candidate seems otherwise qualified and seemed like a good fit. So, do I discount this candidate and not proceed with them based on them really not getting the behavioral interviewing or do I proceed with further interviews?

Kevin1's picture

Hi Lorne,

I've found that for junior positions, candidates are often under prepared and struggle with behavioural answers.   This is particularly true of High C's who need more time to prepare and answer than the other DISC profiles.   One thing I have done a few times when I have been convinced the candidate did know their stuff but couldn't remember and answer it on the spot is to give them two or three written questions.  Something along the lines of...

Dear <X>,

In order to help us further deliberate between several quality applicants, we would like you to send us a written response to the following questions by the end of today.

1) Insert behavioural interview question 1

2) Insert behavioural interview question 2

3) Insert behavioural interview question 3


Note that I expect candidates to be better prepared than this and I've only done it a couple of times when they have knocled the rest of the interview out of the park.  (seems odd that you could have both, but it does happen if you do enough interviews).   I would also caution how you then review the response.   Give someone enough time like this, and they can fabricate the perfect answer.  Therefore, if the response was really good, I'd then follow up with a call and a bunch of probing questions.

I believe I've done this 3 times, and ended up hiring the person just once.  One thing it does give you is the opportunity to be very critical of their writing style.  If, given some time, their response is not exceptionally written, I'd treat that as a 'no'.

hope that helps,



Tressie William's picture

I think  you must proceed with other interviews because answering these questions is not that difficult. Recently, my manager shared a memorable answer to “How would you handle a conflict at work?” A candidate responded: “I would invite that person to meet me in the parking lot after work and sort it out man-to-man.”

antoine's picture

The problem is that people don't necessarily "index" their memories into cogent, instantly accessible vignettes according whatever specific traits or behaviors such questions may be exploring. Most interviewees really need to practice these types of questions a LOT to avoid drawing a blank or getting lost in inconclusive details. You might have got someone who needed to practice behavioral interviewing but did not.

IMHO, I think "pushing" won't get anywhere in behavioral interviews, it create needless stress and this can get especially acute if they're in a one-after-the-other list-format. Everyone is going to have to punt on an occasional behavioral question, so make sure you have many to choose from. 

The very best behavioral interviewers integrate behavioral questions into their dialog with the candidate. You get the candidate to start narrating a specific past project, then drill down for more and more detail until at some point it becomes very natural to start examining behavioral topics. When the candidate is deep in the context of a past project, they're MUCH MORE able to recall the kinds of stuff asked for in behavioral questions. Also, by integrating the questions into a discussion about a specific project, place or scenario, you're less likely to get rehearsed canned responses. A true pro can conduct a behavioral interview without the candidate even realizing its anything more than a detailed discussion.



timrutter's picture

BLUF: No hire

The principle is that it's down to the candidate to ace the interview. Behavioural interviewing is nether uncommon nor new, so it's not like you're dropping something on then from left field. As Mark has put it many times before, you're looking for reasons to say 'No' throughout the process and being unable to prove past behaviour (and therefore predict future behaviour working for you) rules the candidate out.

The specifics in this situation, I would be drawing the conclusion that he either cannot demonstrate the desired behaviour, he cannot articulate the desired behaviour or that he is woefully under prepared for interviewing. All of those are a red flag.

Hope this helps a little


williamelledgepe's picture
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It depends on the importance of that particular question. Obviously if it weren't an important behavior, you wouldn't be asking the question. If the question is a "lower" priority I might overlook it. There is one question I use very frequently and candidates who've gradated within a couple years have almost never shared a good example. In my case the behavior I am looking for comes near the very end of the process and is only used to differentiate between candidates who are above the bar. I would only consider a candidate in your situation if the response without a behavioral example is not one of the primary criteria and you were using the question to determine which of the "above the line" candidates you would choose.