Every job seeker has heard it said that employers hire people they like. That’s generally true.  It’s also generally true that people tend to like people who are a lot like themselves. And that makes HR professionals very nervous.

Many sophisticated employers have moved away from free-form, conversational interviews.
While simple to conduct, a conversation produces very little objective information to use to evaluate a candidate. Purely subjective feelings about a candidate’s professionalism or demeanor are hardly evidence of a candidate’s qualifications. Worse, they provide little defensible justification for hiring one candidate over another.  In short, hiring decisions based on loosey-goosey interviewing are hard to defend in court.

The most popular alternative to free-form conversations is known as “behavioral interviewing”.  “Tell me about a time when you faced an impossible deadline at work.” “Tell me about how you dealt with your most difficult boss.”  “Tell me how you handled this, that and the other.”  You’ve probably faced one of these interviews before.  The interviewer grills you on your work habits, your people skills, your ability to deal with stress, and never reacts or offers more than a brief “uh huh” before moving on to the next awful question.

Behavioral interviews are intended to produce data, and to allow the interviewer to rank a candidate’s fit and qualifications on the basis of hard evidence rather than subjective impressions. In an ideal HR world, all candidates get asked similar questions and theoretically get ranked on the same scale.  Each can be compared against all other candidates for the position in a rational, defensible way.

If you understand the goal of behavioral interviewing, you can effectively prepare yourself, and even benefit by the process. Prepare by reviewing your work history and remind yourself of a time when the pressure was on and you came through. Did you innovate? Take initiative? Stay calm in a crisis? Lead? Think about different ways to tell this story to fit multiple kinds of “behavioral interview” questions. And then, think of another example. And another. Three or four of these compelling scenarios, fresh in your mind, will get you through most any interview.

The interviewer (or her HR department) wants specifics that demonstrate you’ve got skills and talents that they can work with. When you’ve got specific answers at the ready, you’re going to be rated well by the interviewer. And if you know those answers are in your back pocket, you’ll feel confident walking into that interview room. That really matters, because regardless of what HR wants, people will always hire people they like, and confidence is extremely appealing.


Jeff Schoenberg


Direct Of Partner & Group Placement