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Are cognitive and behavioural based questions useful?


First impressions count, especially in an interview situation. In fact often, once the first 10 seconds of an interview are over, the rest of the interview is spent trying to extract information that confirms those initial impressions. Psychologists call this confirmation bias, “the tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritise information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.” Depressingly, this would sound as if all interviews are a waste of time, which cannot be the case, as there of course needs to be a structured introduction between a company and a potential candidate. You can make your interviews more meaningful and indicative of likely performance by sticking to familiar and relevant questions.

Cognitive and behavioural based questions

“How many gas stations are there in Manhattan?”

“If you were an animal, what would you be and why?”

These sort of questions are designed to reveal how a person thinks as opposed to what they know. It shows whether they challenge assumptions and gives a clearer picture of their cognitive capabilities.

Made famous by Silicon Valley giants like Google, these questions became popular with the rise of ‘trendy’ tech start-ups and have proven useful for certain types of company, but they don’t work in all contexts, and have little ability to predict how a candidate might perform in the job.

In fact, Google themselves are now moving away from cognitive and behavioural questions and back to the more familiar structured interview.

Being abstract for the sake of it is rarely useful, but if you combine the cognitive approach with market and organisational relevance, these types of questions may prove useful. For example, give the candidate a real or hypothetical situation that relates to your business. For example “should we open a second office?” Their response will give you an insight into how they think, but it won’t be so abstract as to be practically useless.

You can still be creative, and in fact, creative questioning is going to reveal more about a candidate’s personality and motivations than the standard “tell me about your weaknesses.” But keep the questions relevant to the role you are hiring. For example, a good question to ask someone who you are interviewing for a Sales position might be "Pitch [name of your company] to me as if I were buying your product/service." Instead of “are you a team player” ask “tell me about the relationships you've had with the people you've worked with. How would you describe the best and worst?”

Not only will questions like this tell you more about the candidate, but they’ll also show the candidate that you have taken the time to plan your interview rather than running through a bunch of standard questions. Always remember to give them chance to ask questions. This will show you what is top of mind for the candidate and what their motivations are.



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