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Small business tips: Mastering behavioral interview questions

Small business tips: Mastering behavioral interview questions

By: Malcolm Fleschner

If you’re like most small business owners, you have little time to become a hiring expert. Yet when it comes to conducting an interview, behavioral questions can help dramatically improve your small business hiring results.

Behavioral interviews forego timeworn questions when interviewing candidates ("Where do you see yourself in five years?") in favor of interview questions that compel candidates to think on their feet and discuss how they've handled specific work-related challenges in the past.

The underlying idea says Terry Fitzwater, author of Behavior-Based Interviewing: Selecting the Right Person for the Job, is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

"Behavior-based interviews will focus on what a person has done in the past and the success they enjoyed as a result," says Fitzwater. "If an individual has a track record of success somewhere in their past, the chances are very good that that individual will carry that success with him or her to the next employer."

It will also help reveal if the candidate is a good potential fit for your organization, says Gina Abudi, a talent optimization expert and Partner/VP of Strategic Solutions with Peak Performance Solutions.

"In smaller businesses, it's not only the business owners who wear many hats," she says. "So you're looking for employees who are flexible and willing to pitch in to get the job done.” Abudi adds that when you it comes to improving your interview skills, it’s best to “ask questions that will get at their effectiveness in handling tough problems, working with ambiguity, dealing with conflict and making decisions with limited information."

Performance improvement consultant and Fire Up Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition! author Jay Forte adds that the definition of what employee "fit" consists of has changed. Today, inherent talents and passion count for much more than a list of past jobs on a resume.

Forte recommends that small business owners take the preliminary step of identifying the talents required to perform well in the job, rather than merely listing the tasks the employee will have to perform.

"This is always the starting point and the greatest error small business managers make," says Forte. "Just because a candidate has done the job before does not mean the candidate is good or passionate about it.”

The Power of Storytelling
The goal with behavioral interviews is to elicit stories that reveal how candidates will respond to situations they'll face on the job. That means questions should be specific and phrased in unexpected ways to avoid boilerplate responses. Sample questions might include:

  • Here is a situation you are likely to encounter… how would you handle it?
  • Tell me about a time that you needed to solve a particularly thorny problem and no one was available to assist you. What did you do?
  • Have you ever worked on a team that had disagreements? How did the team resolve those differences? What part did you play?

Behavioral interviews can also help inform your process when hiring family and friends, says Forte.

Keep in mind that prior relationship has little connection to whether someone's talents and strengths match those needed to be successful in the job. If family members are a part of the business, Forte says, they should be assessed for their skills and then moved into an appropriate role that plays to their specific strengths and talents.

While Abudi discourages business owners from automatically hiring relatives, she sees behavioral interviews as still playing a role.

"If you believe a family member is a fit," says, "it’s the perfect opportunity to practice your interviewing skills! Have the individual go through a formal behavior-based interview process. Ask them how they would handle certain situations — don't assume you know the answer." Remember, of course, to maintain a legal hiring process. The resulting information can help inform your day-to-day business processes.

A Worthy Investment of your Time
Behavioral interviewing may require more effort than you’d typically invest in an interview. But the advantages are substantial, Abudi says, and will very soon become apparent to your bottom line. Want to know other ways to improve your hiring? Sign up for exclusive Monster Hiring advice and we’ll send you the latest recruiting tips, hiring trends, management strategies, and even some awesome Monster deals. You'll learn other useful interviewing techniques and questions that can put you well on the way to making your next great hire.