Ask Your Boss: Behavioral vs Technical Interview Questions

“Why do some positions use more behavioral type interview questions vs technical type interview questions or vice versa? Advantages and disadvantages of both? What type of balance do you like for various position levels within an organization?”

Very timely questions. I just posted a position in our office, and I will be the one coming up with the interview questions. I always have this dilemma: what type of questions should I use? My personal favorite interview questions are the behavioral type. You know, your most dreaded interview questions that start with “Tell me about the time when you…” Are your cringing already?

I love these type of questions. You know why? These questions are not what you know but rather what you, as a candidate, did in the past. Your actual past experience tells me more than your theoretical knowledge of a project management, for example. Also, when I ask you these type of questions I can clearly see if you are prepared for our interview. If you sit in silence and look flabbergasted, I most likely will think that you did not bother to take the time to prepare for the upcoming interview. You lose points. If you dive into the question right off the bat, and tell me a compelling story, you already scored.

Therefore, behavioral interview questions are beneficial not just for me but they can be very beneficial for you as well. You get a chance to demonstrate that you are a great fit for the job. In order to use these type of questions to your benefit, you have to be very specific and tell me how you handled a project or a situation in the past. Tell me about your actions, decisions and, most importantly, tell me about the results. Please, do not tell me what you would do. I don’t care about it.

To be honest, I ask behavioral type questions for every position: from an office assistant to a senior accountant. However, the higher level a position is, the more technical questions I will be asking. For example, a few months ago we were hiring a senior financial analyst. We asked a lot of technical questions to test the knowledge of financial accounting because we wanted someone with a specific technical knowledge in the hedge fund accounting field.

To answer your question about balance, I have to admit that ideally I like to have a 50/50 ratio in my hiring interviews. However, most of the time this ratio varies. Behavioral type questions are fun to ask. They are probing. They reveal a lot about the candidate. Technical questions show me if you possess a specific knowledge that I am looking for in an ideal candidate. Honestly, they are boring questions but they need to be asked. For example, if I am looking for a cashier I will ask a lot of technical questions about cash handling, counterfeit bills and so on. The ratio probably would be around 80% technical and 20% behavioral questions.

There is no magic number as far as a balance of behavioral and technical questions. I think it all depends on the organization, and what this particular organization is looking for in an ideal candidate.

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