Asking people at interview to recall a time when they had to tackle a particular issue seems at face value a great way of finding out what they’re like as a person, which is probably why behavioural interviews are increasing in popularity. After all, one example of a particular behaviour with no independent way to judge the veracity of the story is quality evidence, right?
Putting aside that obvious fault there’s a deeper issue with this way of interviewing that means it favours control freaks above all others. Given its common use when interviewing for senior roles that means it has a lot to answer for.
If you’re a genuine team player then you begin to develop a narrative about your team, ranging from explaining its role and describing its values through to recounting its successes. It’s a narrative that you develop the more you use it and the longer you’re part of that team. Over time this external narrative becomes the internal narrative and that’s the lens through which we view all of our achievements, as part of a team. After all, that’s the prevailing (and correct) corporate cultural steer – we achieve what we achieve by being part of a team. This is even more pronounced in good leaders, who go out of their way to give the team the credit for all success and conversely try to shield the team from blame from the failures and instead own those as responsible leaders.
Control freaks on the other hand have no concept of team, only themselves, and so their internal narrative is always only about themselves. It doesn’t matter if they use an external narrative about the team, that’s only an expedient to further their own cause of themselves and so will never become their internal narrative.
So what happens when an interviewer asks the “Tell me a time when …” question? Well guess what, control freaks because they have an internal narrative exclusively about themselves can answer it immediately and because they’ve spent their lives building up a history of their own personal achievements they have an entire library of examples ready to quote. What’s worse, much of these achievements are probably nothing to do with them and have been stolen from others but they’ve spent so much time developing a convincing narrative around them that the interviewers are none the wiser.
By contrast real leaders struggle to split out their contribution to a team achievement, that’s just not how they’ve learned to think. Often their best examples are when they alone had to take responsibility for something, perhaps something tricky that they needed to handle personally, which ironically gives the impression that they are a loner control freak.
The net result is that control freaks excel at answering this type of question and excelling at interview makes someone far more likely to get the job. Another reason so many control freaks end up in jobs where everybody who knows them shakes their head in disbelief at how they ever got there. If only more interviewers actively looked out for control freaks