Secrets of Successful Interviewing

By Hugh Murray & David Friedman – from The Telephone Doctor

Hiring errors rank amongst the costliest of common business
mistakes. A recent study showed the direct costs associated with
a poor hiring decision of a mid-level manager approached $40,000.

What strategy is in place at your organization to lower this risk
and maximize your chances of hiring the right person the first
? Organizations willing to make an up front investment to
train team members on proper interviewing and recruiting
techniques will earn big dividends on such an investment.

The purpose of this article is to provide a quick introduction to
behavior-based interviewing.  This topic can be complex so
reader’s wishing to learn more are invited to review the new
DVD-based course mentioned in the side-bar box.

What is behavior-based interviewing?

Behavior-based interviewing is a technique where questions are
asked about past behaviors. It is effective because past behavior
is the best indicator of how a person will behave in the future.

Behavior-based interviewing is different from biographical
.  Biographical interviewing also involves asking
questions about the past and is what most interviewers usually do.
In biographical interviewing, you ask questions like, "I see you
worked in the engineering department for three years.  What exactly
did you do there?"  You are likely to get an answer like this: "I
worked on the design of the T54.  My job was to take the
specifications that the market research department had generated
and convert this into an engineering specification."  This is useful
information and you will often need to ask questions like this before
you can ask behavioral questions.

A behavioral question goes deeper.  It focuses on one specific
incident, sometimes called a critical incident, and probes to
find out how the individual behaved during that incident.  An example
of behavioral question is:  "Can you tell me about a time during your
work on the T54 when you realized that you were not going to complete
a drawing on time?  ("Yes").  What did you do?"

Behavior-based interviewing is also different from hypothetical
.   An example of a hypothetical question would be:
"What would you do if you realized that you were not going to complete
a drawing on time?"  This can be useful for understanding someone’s
thought process but not a reliable indicator of what someone will
actually do.  Someone could tell you that if the building caught fire
they would rush repeatedly into the flames, rescuing children, cats
and old people.  What is more, they might believe it. But this does
not mean that in an actual fire they wouldn’t be tripping over children
and elderly ladies in their rush to escape.

Behavior-based interviewing is also called competency-based
interviewing or critical-incident interviewing.

What is behavior and why does it matter?

When psychologists talk about behavior, they refer to all the
responses that a person has to a stimulus.  This is different from
the everyday use of the word, where we tend to talk about children
behaving badly, for example.  The psychologist means everything
that goes on in and from a person in a particular situation.  This
includes what they think, what they feel and what they do.  Being
scared is behavior and laughing is behavior.

At work, we are interested in the way people do their job.  This
is observable behavior.  All sorts of things might be going on
beneath the surface but the part we can see is the way they do their job.

When we recruit somebody, we want to know how he or she will approach
his or her job.  In other words, what their observable behavior will
be.  The best indicator of this is their past behavior and that’s why
the behavior-based interviewer is interested in it.

A person’s observable behavior is like the tip of an iceberg.  It is
the visible portion of a complicated mass of things we cannot see.
These are things like how the person feels and what he or she thinks,
what motivates the person and what traits they have.  In other words,
behavior stems from the underlying personality, in all its complexity,
of the person concerned.

We cannot begin to understand all that is going on beneath the surface.
Much of it is not even known to the person himself or herself.  But
behavior is remarkably consistent.  If a person is scared of heights
atop the Sears Tower, they are likely to be scared on the 82nd floor of
the Empire State building.  We do not have to understand everything that
is going on inside to make predictions about how someone will behave in
a given situation.

Does this mean we cannot change our behavior?  Certainly not.  But we
all have natural characteristics, which tend to assert themselves again
and again.  We can adjust these and in some cases, such as overcoming a
fear, we can change our behavior, but past behavior remains the best,
though not a perfect, indicator of how we will behave in future.

The advantages of behavior-based interviewing

The advantages of behavior-based interviewing can be summed up as:


  • Effective


  • Objective


  • Transparent


  • Legal


The key advantage of behavior-based interviewing is that it gets better
results.  Behavior-based questions find out how people have actually behaved
in the past.  This gives you a much better indication of how they will behave
in the future.


Behavior-based interviews focus on what someone actually did and how they
actually did it.  They then compare the way someone has actually behaved with
behaviors that the interviewer is looking for.  This is an objective process,
unaffected by subjective feelings that the interviewer may have.


Behavior-based interviewers are open with candidates about the skills they’re
seeking. This enables them to involve the candidate in helping them in the
process. Otherwise, an interviewer might miss a good candidate because the
candidate fails to recognize what the interviewer is looking for and not provide
the right information.  The candidate can’t tell the interviewers "what they
want to hear" because he or she will be describing actual events.  The candidate
would have to quickly construct a complicated lie to do this, and that story
would certainly not hold up as questions proceeded.


Behavior-based interviews are fair because they are objective.  The competencies
sought are openly described and all candidates are given an equal chance to
demonstrate that they have those competencies.  Provided every candidate is asked
for evidence of the same competencies, and provided those competencies are
genuinely necessary to the performance of the job, organizations will avoid
discrimination by asking behavior-based questions.  Furthermore, if you are
challenged over your reasons for a recruitment choice, you will have objective
evidence to substantiate your decision.

Want to learn more about this topic?
Managers and supervisors interested in viewing courseware designed to improve
behavior-based interviewing, may
click here
to request a no-charge, executive preview of the new behavior-based interviewing
DVD training course: A Question of Evidence: The Behavior-based Interview.

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