Industry September 2013

End of Brainteaser Interviews

Behavioural questions more effective to assess job candidates

Google Inc. recently announced it would stop using the firm’s famous brainteaser interview questions as part of the interview process. According to Google, the questions were “a waste of time”, and I tend to agree.

Brainteaser interview questions offer no real insight into a job applicant. What can you learn about someone’s ability to perform a particular job function by asking, “How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane?”

In the past, employers have used such brainteaser questions to make their company stand out, rather than test the suitability of a candidate. Interviews should be as objective as possible, and these brainteaser questions introduce too much scope for subjectivity.

Instead, we suggest employers use competency or behavioural interviews. Such interviews are the tried and tested format, particularly if you don’t interview candidates every day. Employers in Japan are shifting back to this style of interviewing.

A behavioural interview attempts to predict future conduct based on what a candidate has done in a similar, past situation. The questions often begin with, “Tell me about a time when …”, or “Describe an occasion when …”.

Questions are asked to establish various core competencies relevant to a role, such as teamwork, creativity and innovation, decision-making ability, business awareness or conflict resolution.

The interviewer is looking for examples of past behaviour that demonstrate these core competencies.

This style of interview offers many benefits. It is fairer and more transparent than standard approaches to interviewing and can help organisations reduce the chance of making costly hiring mistakes.

To get ready for a competency interview, we advise jobseekers to prepare answers to behavioural questions using one detailed and specific example that demonstrates the applicant’s proven skills and ability to successfully perform a particular competency. This means candidates need to organise their evidence in advance.

To do this, we suggest jobseekers first gather as much information about the role as possible to determine the competencies required for success in the job.

Then they should review their past experiences and select examples that demonstrate these competencies. We advise them to consider past results, situations they handled well and ways they contributed to the success of the business.

Armed with this evidence, applicants can use the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action and Result) to answer questions.

This entails first describing a situation on the job. Then the jobseeker should tell the interviewer what they decided to do. Next, interviewees should describe what they actually did and, finally, explain what happened as a result of their actions.

For example, the applicant could explain, “A colleague of mine was struggling with performance, so I sat down with the person to find out how I could help. I showed my colleague how I’d improved my own performance. As a result, my co-worker’s performance improved 35%”.

Whenever possible, a jobseeker should use an anecdote with a positive outcome. However, if this isn’t possible, a candidate should explain what they learned from the situation and how they would do it differently in the future.

Questions common in behavioural interviews

  • Give me an example of when attention to detail was vital and how you completed the task accurately.
  • Talk me through a time when you have had to work towards a challenging, ambitious objective.
  • Tell me about a time you had too many things to do and you needed to prioritise your tasks. How did you manage your time and objectives?
  • What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example of when you have had to use this approach with a difficult customer.
  • Tell me about a situation where you have been part of a group working towards a specific goal. What was your role in the group?
  • Describe how you led a team through a difficult project. How did you improve their work?
  • On time-pressured assignments, how have you ensured the job was done within budget?