Behavioral Interviewing Reinvented
By: Jim Kennedy
Can a successful but static business practice gradually lose its effectiveness? In the case of behavioral interviewing — a technique that predicts on-the-job performance far more accurately than other interview methods — the answer is yes.
Behavioral interviewing is based on the premise that how a job candidate behaved in the past is the best predictor of how he will behave in the future. To elicit such information, a behavioral interviewer first identifies the skills or competencies necessary for a particular position (for example, decision making, persuasion skills, and problem-solving ability) and then uses a series of probing questions to reveal whether candidates actually possess those qualities.
Rather than simply asking transparent interview questions about what candidates did in their jobs, behavioral interviewers ask candidates how and why they did it. This approach is extremely effective at identifying unqualified applicants or those who tend to exaggerate in interviews and on their resumes. The result is that more of the most competent and best-qualified candidates get hired.
Unfortunately, the behavioral interview has become a victim both of its own success and the fact that hiring practices have changed since the technique was developed 30 years ago. Traditional behavioral interview questions are predictable and often overly structured, and a virtual industry now exists solely to coach prospective candidates on how to prepare for them.
In fact, many candidates routinely invent examples of behavior before their interviews, or spin out prepared examples in real time in response to predictable questions. That means that behavioral interview questions are no longer as effective or useful as they once were.
But the behavioral interview can regain its effectiveness. Here are just a few of the suggestions we offer:
- Use a Process of Discover: Rather than resorting to predictable, structured questions, use interview questions that are especially geared to each candidate when you hear answers that need follow-up. Clarify what you hear until you feel satisfied that you’re seeing the real person.
- Take Time to Get the Complete Picture: It’s important to know the combination of a candidate’s strengths and limitations. The competencies you’re looking for don’t stand alone; they need to be considered in relation to all of a candidate's qualities. For example, someone who has strong analytical skills can lose much of that advantage if he is not also decisive.
- Don’t Just Rely on Questions That Prompt for Specific Examples: This makes it more likely your interview questions will inadvertently telegraph or reveal the response you’re looking for and makes it easier for candidates to respond with prepared answers. Competencies that emerge naturally from the interview are more powerful and believable than requested or prompted examples of competencies.
- Seek Repeated Evidence That Shows a Pattern of Behavior: This is far stronger than a single example and requires you to cover multiple jobs or time periods.
- Drill Down for Specific Details with Every Story You Hear: Don't focus the interview process on just on the candidate’s version; also ask how knowledgeable coworkers would describe the same event. When candidates claim results from what they did, ask for specific metrics and probe for further details.
- Ask What the Candidate Learned from Past Experiences: This reveals the capacity to grow in a job and helps confirm the authenticity of claimed accomplishments.
Going beyond the original behavioral interviewing techniques isn’t necessarily complicated or difficult. But it does require a different way of thinking about each interview and a recognition that business practices must keep pace with a changing marketplace. Users of behavioral interview techniques need to stay ahead of sophisticated and well-coached candidates, today and in the future.
Jim Kennedy, founder and President of Management Team Consultants, is a recognized authority on selection interviewing. Management Team Consultants offers leading edge competency-based interviewing seminars which address current issues such as interviewing today's diverse workforce. For over twenty-five years, his company has helped hundreds of organizations make better hiring decisions, build retention and reduce costly hiring mistakes. Kennedy is the author of Getting Behind the Resume — Interviewing Today’s Candidates.