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The One Behavioral Interview Question You Should Be Asking

Jun 29, 2016
Industry Region Resource Type

The old adage that "people are hired for their skills and fired for their behavior" is not about to be dismissed anytime soon. Even executives are often let go if they are exhibiting attitudes and behavior patterns that are toxic to the organization, regardless of their ability to do the job. Seasoned recruiters at WilsonHCG know this well and are trained to spend less time sifting through CV’s, searching for technical skills and experience. We focus a significant part of the interview process on getting to know the person behind the resume, revealing the applicant's personality strengths, weaknesses, approach and style.

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An individual’s naturally preferred behavioral style is displayed across situations and time throughout their career. It is the DNA strand of how they act and react. Predicting which applicants will possess desired soft skills and personal characteristics in the interview process is no easy task. The best predictor of how someone will behave in the future is how they have behaved in the past. And the best way to get a glimpse into past behavioral patterns is to ask competency-based interview questions such as “Tell me about a time when you…” or “Give me an example of…” After posing these questions, I then inject them with what I call the “truth serum” question:

“What is the biggest misconception people at work may have about you?”

This is the best interview question because it pierces right to the core of who the applicant is. However, the real secret ingredient is not the question itself. The magic lies within the brutally honest responses that follow. This question is designed for the applicant to paint you a picture of what they are not. The reality is that there seldom are any misconceptions. Other people’s perceptions of someone are usually pretty accurate as they are formed on observed behavior and actions witnessed. Furthermore, candidates are usually honest in their responses, because, after all, they are describing perceptions that they think are not true.

Twenty years after I posed this question for the first time, I remain in awe as executives pour out all the terrible “misconceptions” current and past coworkers have of them. One recently told me, “people that really don’t know me may think that I am arrogant and confrontational, I spend too much time managing upwards, and I am only out for myself – but of course I’m not really like that.”

This applicant just spent one hour showcasing their talents, capabilities and accomplishments while selling me on why they would be the ideal candidate and in a few sentences, after I posed my truth serum interview question, eliminated themselves from the competition.

This is not to say that all candidates have poor misconceptions about themselves – in fact, most do not, but it is a great question to validate your own perceptions of an applicant. A good response to this question would be along the lines of “I don’t believe there are any misconceptions about me. I am very direct, respectful and honest. What you see is what you get.”

So whether you are in executive recruiting or simply would be looking to better assess personality type to get a portrait of a candidate’s behavioral profile, forget the curveball questions. If you want to quickly find out the personality type of a potential candidate, ask them what people might say about them that is not true, sit back and listen carefully for the truth.

What are some of your most effective behavioral interview questions? Share in the comment section below!

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Stephen Moore

By Stephen Moore

Stephen is the North American practice lead for the executive search division at WilsonHCG. He has spent the past 20 years of his career creating shareholder value for rapidly-growing companies by attracting high-performance executives for many of the world’s most demanding leaders. He graduated from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada and has led global technology and financial service practices for two of the largest executive search firms in the world. He is also a regular content contributor to many industry forums relating to talent management best practices. Stephen resides in Toronto, Canada and enjoys international travel, digital photography and a really bad game of golf.