April 6, 2015

Look at What People Do

I was in a discussion about interviewing strategies and the merits of behavioral questions versus hypothetical questions.

Behavioral questions start with “Tell me about a time when…”

Hypothetical questions start with “What would you do if…” Hypothetical questions frustrate me for three reasons:

  1. It’s easy to say I would do this or that. It’s hard to actually do the things you want to do.
  2. Even if you execute what you want to do, it’s hard to predict what you would want to do in a specific situation. Little situational details may change your wants — the weather, who interacts with you, how you feel about a specific argument or pain point.
  3. It’s hard for the interviewer to give all the information needed to present a fully fleshed out situation. Context is important, and interviewers often leave out little big details in hypothetical scenarios.

It’s more interesting and useful to start from the facts and work backwards: what people actually did, how they actually behaved. Then ask, what does that say about how they think. Then finally, how does that predict how people would behave in the future.