Finding the Fit: More About Behavioral and Case Interviewing

TSP • @myTSPnet


Behavioral interviewing is a technique that lays out a specific situation or challenge to a candidate and asks them to walk through how they would handle it. Laszlo Bock, a senior HR executive at Google, popularized the technique by asking candidates for real-world examples from their own individual experiences: what was a particular challenge that is relevant to the question, how did the candidate handle it and what were the results. The objective is to ask consistent situational questions to all candidates, allowing the hiring manager to better compare how they responded. It also tries to predict a candidate’s suitability for a role based on how they managed past challenges.

This is closely related to the case study interview, often used by professional services firms like management consultancies. In these, the interviewer sets out a hypothetical business situation or question and asks the candidate how they would approach a solution. Rather than asking how the candidate handled a situation based on similar challenges in their own experience, case study questions ask them how they would approach a problem they haven’t seen before.

The question may be based on a real-world situation or may be a hypothetical. The candidate is asked to study the problem, perform analysis, and render advice on how to handle the scenario. Some case study questions are even more abstract, such as the famous “how many gas stations are there in the United States?” head-scratcher. The point, clearly, is not to get an accurate answer, which is about 240,000, but rather to understand how a candidate would approach a problem, what clarifying questions they will ask, what assumptions they would use and how they would build an analysis under pressure.

Here are some market-tested guidelines for finding a fit through behavioral and case study interviews:

Some specific recommendations for effective behavioral interviewing include:

  • Structure questions using the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action and Results. What was the challenge faced, what did you have to accomplish, what did you do, and how did it turn out? Under Results, you are looking for specific, measurable results against the task.
  • Choose your questions strategically: time is limited, pick 3-5 areas of focus that are most relevant to the competencies needed in the role.
  • Be consistent: ask the questions the exact same way to all candidates, word for word, to ensure comparable results.
  • If there are multiple interviewers, divide up the questions among the interviewers, based on that manager’s area of focus.
  • Have a scoring checklist: have a clear checklist, shared among interviewers, on what you are looking for in the candidates’ answers. This also better ensures a fair evaluation.

Some guidelines for the case study interview:

  • Work from an actual situation in your business as much as possible to give it real-world impact. For example, how you decided to launch a new product and what were the factors that go into that You can also compare the candidate’s ideas to how your organization ultimately approached the situation and the results you experienced.
  • Provide good background information and the core facts needed. The case can be relatively short, something you can describe in a few minutes, but focus on important facts and figures so the candidate has solid information to analyze the situation and build a solution, such as market scope, client requirements, technology platforms available, major cost elements and other specific data. This takes homework to get it right and still stay concise.
  • Look for an analytical framework: did the candidate try to work through a complex problem in a structured way, such as getting to the root cause of the issue before jumping to solutions?
  • Check for a specific recommendation. Did the candidate come up with a clear plan of action? Did they see the broad impact of that course of action, across areas like operations, finance, and technology? Did they point out the potential risks and how to mitigate them?

Making use of behavioral and case interview techniques can give the hiring team better insight into how a candidate thinks and a better ability to predict how they would perform in the new role.

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