Why you should banish the word “would” from your interview vocabulary

by Michael Haberman on October 16, 2014 · 0 comments


Eliminating "Would" from your interview questions will get you better information.

Eliminating “Would” from your interview questions will get you better information.

I long ago became a fan of what is called behavioral interviewing. It is based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. While not perfect, I feel it is the best method to help you determine if someone has the behavioral skills you are looking for in order to be successful in your company. One key component in behavioral interviewing is that it eliminates the word “would” from the interview process. Let me explain why I think this is important.

Future focused

In an interview situation you are interested in what the candidate is going to do for you. You naturally have a future focus, which is great. However, when you have this future focus you ask questions such as “What WOULD you do with this problem/territory/customer/employee?” or whatever it is you are asking about. This question allows candidates to “create” an answer that may actually have no basis in reality. They have prepped and read all the books and websites on interview questions. Asking someone “what would they do?” is an invitation to hear a story.

Let me give you an example. As a recruiter I interviewed, for two different companies, many sales candidates. I had asked them just about every question you can ask a sales person and heard just about every answer there was. As a result I knew what I would do if ever put in a situation of answering a question about sales. Had I actually ever done any of those things? No, I had not, though I could make my answers sound like I had.

Past focused

Through behavioral interviewing you come to understand what people can do for you in the future by focusing on what they have done in the past. The idea is that ways of problem solving, how you deal with people, how well you follow rules and more are generally set by the time you reach adulthood. Generally when you move from one job to another you carry these behaviors with you. If you applied them in the past you are most likely to apply them in the future. If I want to know how you would deal with a difficult employee, rather than asking “how would you” I ask the question “Describe for me how you have dealt with a difficult employee in the past? What made them difficult? How did you resolve that?”

Going back to my example of knowing sales answers, if someone had asked me, “In the past six months, who was the most difficult customer you dealt with, what made them difficult and how did you resolve the difficulty?”, I would have been left stammering because I had not actually had that experience. I could tell them “how I would do it” but could not tell them how I had actually done it.

The power of behavioral interviewing

That is the power of behavioral interviewing, you can determine if someone actually has behaved in the manner you want them to behave and they cannot usually accurately guess what behaviors you are looking for them to talk about. Unless you have broadcast what behaviors you want someone to exhibit then they cannot easily divine what you feel you need to have in a job.

This method is even good for hiring people with no work experience. The behaviors of following rules, dealing with people, scheduling tasks, etc. are established earlier in life. You can find out if the candidate exhibited the behaviors you deem necessary for your job by talking about school, part-time jobs or even just personal life.

Naturally in any job there may be technical skills or specific experiences that may be required to be successful and you develop questions to determine if someone has those skills. Behavioral questions are just for that, determining if they have exhibited the behaviors that you have determined are necessary to do the job at your workplace.

More to behavioral interviewing

There is more to behavioral interviewing than I have put in this post. There are techniques that you as the interviewer need to follow, such as allowing silence, probing further on a question, looking for more information than you are first given, digging for details and then questioning your own biases. Those are all techniques and behaviors that will make you more effective, but you can improve immediately and get better information by just dropping the word “would” from your interviewing vocabulary.


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