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06/19 2016

The Case for Behavioral Interviewing

What can you say about the process of interviewing for a job?

First, the process is ubiquitous — just as you would rarely buy something sight unseen, employers are understandably wary about hiring somebody that they have not interviewed…

Done properly, interviews can play an important role in the candidate selection process.   Unfortunately, the way that many interviews are conducted results in their adding little value to the selection process.

Part of the problem is that some people are naturally good interviewees, and others are not.   Similarly, some folks are good interviewers — but many are not.  Many of those conducting interviews fail to ask clear questions, have selective memory around what the interviewee actually says, and allow their overall perception of a candidate (such as whether they are friendly) unduly impact their overall candidate rating.

So, what can be done to improve the interview?  One initial step involves making the interview behavioral in nature?   What do we mean by a behavioral interview?   Specifically, it is an interview where the questions asked require the candidate to describe a situation where they have demonstrated the types of behaviors needed for job success.

As you might guess, the first step in constructing a behavioral interview is to identify the skills — and the behaviors — that are needed for success in a given job role.  This is usually done by reviewing existing job descriptions, evaluating the key responsibilities for the position, looking at the background and experience requirements for candidates, and by reviewing the performance management standards that exist for incumbents.   Successful incumbents are also often interviewed, which allows for a “sampling” of the kinds of activities involved in the job, and how successful incumbents handle them.

Once the job in question has been reviewed, it is possible to highlight some of the competencies and skills needed for success in the role — and it is possible to construct interview questions to assess each candidate’s skill level in these key areas.

For example, if a job requires strong oral communication skills, strong planning skills, a high degree of initiative, and the ability to handle conflict, you would target your behavioral interview questions towards these types of skills.

For a question to be behavioral, it needs to ask the candidate to “Give me an example of when you did _____ effectively”.   So, using the skill set listed above, a behavioral interview question might ask the following to a candidate:  “Give me an example of when you effectively handled conflict in the work environment — tell me about the situation, what you did to resolve the situation, and the outcome”.

By taking careful notes and asking questions pertinent to the types of challenges, candidates can be evaluated about the types of behaviors that they are likely to show if placed in the role under consideration.

Behavioral interview question are unlikely to have “right” or “wrong” answers — instead, you are looking to see what patterns of behavior exist in the candiate’s managerial repertoire.  Generally, past performance is the best predictor of future performance, and a well-constructed behavioral interview can greatly help assess a candidate’s past behavioral tendencies.

Ideally, the behavioral interview contains lists of standardized questions, so that candidates are assessed using a common yardstick.  In addition to interview forms that list these standardized questions, an extra level of sophistication involves including a behaviorally-anchored rating scale (BARS), which is designed to help guide interviewers in making their ratings.

Frequently, BARS rating scales are developed via focus groups with successful job incumbents, who are asked to describe common job situations and then provide examples of effective, satisfactory, and poor incumbent behaviors in those situations.   These behavioral examples, then, are translated into an interview rating scale.

Interviews are the most common selection method used by organizations — but they are also the most improperly used method.  When done improperly or inadequately, a poor interview will not only deprive an organization from making the best selection decision possible — it may also open the organization to legal challenge, if interviewers ask questions that are not job-related or otherwise behave inappropriately.  Standardizing the interview — and keeping it focused on past job behaviors — is a way of mitigating these risks.

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