Unveiling Hidden Traits

Consultant Headshot ImageBy Pravina Ramessur - Manager (Sub Sahara Africa)


Job interviews typically focus on technical questions that gauge a candidate’s ability to carry out a role in the company. While this is essential, a candidate is more than just the sum of their academic qualifications. Candidates are human beings with a range of shifting emotions. 

An employee brings his entire personality to the job. It is, therefore, wise for interviewers to dedicate some time from the recruitment process to assess a candidate’s behavioural style. 

A behavioural assessment interview is a pre-employment test to evaluate a candidate’s behavioural responses to specific situations. Developed in the 1970s, this interview method uses examples from past behaviour to determine or predict the candidate’s future behaviour. 

The assessment can be part of the main series of interviews or may be scheduled separately. Behavioural interview questions help the interviewer know the candidate beyond the information provided in the cover letter and resumé. 

Behavioural assessment is gaining increasing importance in interviewing techniques, one that recruiters cannot ignore. The rich insights on the candidate’s approach to problem-solving, stress management, time management, conflict management and also social style, among others, can help hiring managers make informed recruitment decisions. In the long run, this avoids business losses stemming from bad hiring choices. 
At Michael Page, we undertake a behavioural assessment as part of the candidate screening process. It often happens that candidates look great on paper with the required technical skills but may not have lasted on the job for various reasons that one can attribute to emotional and behavioural management. For a good job interview to reveal a candidate’s full potential, it must include smart behavioural assessment questions. 

Beating the biases 

Recruiters must be especially aware of our inherent unconscious biases of gender, age, affinity, conformity, ambition, and other biases that could pass off as behavioural assessment. The first step to tackling such bias is to be aware of it. Bias awareness is crucial to behavioural assessment as this interview type is qualitative in nature. 

One way to overcome unconscious bias in interviews is to slow down the process. Recruiters must question everything, and take their time to decide.  

Another way to tackle bias in a behavioural interview is to approach the interaction with the knowledge that there are no right or wrong answers. Candidates reveal facets of their personality to let the interviewer know how they align with the role and the company’s mission and values.

A good behavioural assessment takes the guesswork out of the process by ideally eliminating candidate selection based only on gut instinct, first impressions and subject-matter qualifications. It shows you the personality of the individual that you plan to hire. 

I recruited 28 candidates over the past year. Behavioural assessment was an important part of these interviews. These hires have succeeded by producing the desired outcomes for the teams and the business. That is how effective behavioural assessment can be to right hiring decisions. 

The roadmap to behavioural assessment 

Here’s how interviewers can design a behavioural interview. The questions are of broadly two types: situational and open-ended. 

Situational questions can be hypothetical (questions that begin with ‘Imagine a time when’ or ‘What if’) or based on past experience (‘Tell me about a time when’). Open-ended questions allow candidates to provide detailed responses about their thought processes. Here are examples to understand different facets of a candidate’s behaviour. 

1. Problem-solving

Ask questions to find out how a candidate approaches complex situations. Do they try to get to the root of the problem or aim for band-aid solutions? 

Sample question (Situational): You have found a bug in the software and will not be able to release the program as promised to the client. Take us through the step-by-step approach to how you will tackle this situation. 

2. Time management 

Work-life balance is an important life skill. At the heart of this skill is the ability to manage time. Ask questions about their time management approach.  

Sample question (Open-ended): Tell us about a time when you were proud of how you maintained a good work-life balance. How did you make it happen? 

3. Conflict Management 

Conflict is an unavoidable part of any work environment. Ask the candidate questions to find out their level of comfort with managing conflict. Do they run away from confrontation or do they tackle it with maturity? 

Sample question (Situational): Say a coworker gave you unsolicited negative criticism about your work. They thought they were offering constructive criticism but you felt offended by their manner and choice of words. What do you do? 

4. Stress Management 

The candidate’s ability to manage stress is best seen on the job and is difficult to glean from an interview. To get around this, ask the candidate to draw from past experience and also from hypothetical situations to share how they would manage a stressful situation. 

Sample question (Situational): Your client has found a major error in an important report that you submitted. You now have to not only re-submit the report by the end of the day but also cover for a coworker who is out on an emergency. How would you manage this situation? 

5. Social Style

With the help of these questions, you want to find out how the candidate performs in social settings and what kind of working relationship you can expect the candidate to maintain with their coworkers. 

Sample question (Open-ended): Do you prefer to work alone or in a team? Share an example each of how you worked in a team and alone on a project.  

An effective behavioural interview includes a combination of these types of questions, which the interviewer can tailor to the specific role. The candidate’s responses can go a long way in giving the interviewer a comprehensive understanding of the candidate’s thought process and possible behaviour. 

What’s next?

We have the largest, most diverse, experienced and motivated team of recruitment experts on the ground. If you’d like to have a chat about hiring talent, exploring new challenges or better understanding the market, please reach out to me on [email protected] or request a call back

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