Justin Menkes

A person’s performance on any behavioral interview question is dominated by the same three qualities: experience, job knowledge, and social skills. A candidate with a long work history has lots of compelling examples to draw from when asked to recount events that might illustrate a particular competency. A candidate’s job knowledge-specifically, his awareness of industrial and managerial best practices-can make it easier for him to punctuate his answers with stories that will earn him high marks from interviewers. And a candidate who can relate his stories in a positive, likable manner has a distinct advantage over someone with inferior social skills.

Despite their advantages, behavioral interviews really only establish a candidate’s minimum qualifications; they don’t identify star talent. A candidate’s experience, for example, is obviously an important hiring factor, but we all know seasoned executives who aren’t stars. Similarly, being likable doesn’t mean you have the intellectual horsepower to be a stellar leader. In short, behavioral interviews measure knowledge, not intelligence. Knowledge is information acquired through experience or formal training. Intelligence is the skill with which someone uses knowledge to solve a problem. Knowledge questions require people to recite what they have learned or experienced, while intelligence questions call for individuals to demonstrate their abilities.

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