Do your homework on behavioural interviews

Prep work by employers, employees helps ensure nobody’s time is wasted
By Caroline Lau
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/10/2012

Critics argue interviews are a waste of time — the candidates who excel in interviews are the ones who know how to sell, but are not necessarily the best people for the job. So what is missing from the hiring process to prevent potentially great employees from slipping through the cracks while filtering out the bad eggs?

A necessary and effective method is behavioural interviewing, which reveals a candidate’s experience, level of expertise, thought process and logic. It’s based on the premise that past performance is a predictor of future performance. Behavioural questions elicit examples from candidates that showcase skills and experience. Instead of “Do you know how to...?” it is “How did you...?” or “When was the last time you…?”

But there is more involved with behavioural interviewing than just the interview, so it’s important to do your homework.

Make sure everyone is on the same page: Identify the job’s objective and responsibilities and ensure everyone on the recruitment team is on the same page. Otherwise, the interviewers’ responses may contradict each other and the questions will be off.

When candidates provide feedback about their interviews, one of the most common complaints is the questions were not job-related. The more job-related questions candidates are asked during an interview, the more they are attracted to an organization, according to the 1992 study Selection Interviews: Process Perspectives by Robert Dipboye.

Identify the key competencies and characteristics: Identify the key characteristics and competencies necessary for the position. From there, create questions that make the most of your time with the candidate. Ask for specific examples that demonstrate skills. A structured list of questions allows an interviewer to make equal comparisons among the various answers given by candidates.

Have a rating scale: Employers should implement a weighting scale and decide whether they want to put more emphasis on technical skills, soft skills, references or profiling assessments, according to Marilu Mayuga, founder and principal of Marilu Mayuga Consulting in Vancouver.

Sometimes, inexperienced interviewers are tempted to make their decision based on first impressions. Falling for the “just like me” syndrome could mean, for example, an interviewer prefers a candidate who graduated from the same school or grew up in the same town. To prevent this, it’s crucial to implement a rating scale that encourages a fair recruitment process for the candidates and ensures new hires will be chosen because they are best suited for the job, not because of personal biases.

Prepare the candidate: If the candidate is unfamiliar with behavioural interviews, prepare them. You may be losing out on a great candidate just because she is unfamiliar with the format. Before the interview, give a short rundown of all the interviewers — name and title should be sufficient — and the format of the interview.

“Telling the candidate the format of responses you are looking for ensures the candidate gives what you seek”, says Ria Inducil, senior pharmaceutical and health-care recruiter at Goldbeck Recruiting. “‘I want examples of what you did and how you did it.’”

Use the STAR approach as a guide for response: situation — a brief outline of the situation; task — tasks involved; action — the steps she took to complete the task; and results — the outcome.

Prepare the hiring manager: Behavioural interviews are limited to competency, soft skills and communications as opposed to technical skills, says Mayuga. But hiring an engineer is very different than hiring a salesperson, so HR should try to help the hiring manager come up with ways to validate a candidate’s skills and let him know this is only part of the selection process, she says.

For example, develop exercises to verify a candidate’s technical knowledge, such as a small training run where he completes the same tasks he would be doing on the job.

“Hiring managers should be involved from the beginning, when job descriptions are created,” says Kevin Leh, engineering and operations recruiter at Goldbeck Recruiting. “I speak with them directly because they are more familiar with the technical aspects of the job and they have the final hiring decision.”

Conducting the interview

Ease the job candidates into the interview. The more comfortable they are with the interviewer, the more willing they will be to share information.

A candidate may have cultural barriers, language difficulties or just not think well on his feet. A person may be a great candidate but have difficulties selling himself in an unfamiliar culture, says Inducil.

“A behavioural interview is key because you are essentially providing the structure to their responses.”

Employers should know what they are looking for in terms of answers, says Mayuga.

“You are not looking at how they deliver but what they deliver.”

The answers are not always black and white, so follow up with probing questions to delve deeper and reveal the candidate’s knowledge, skills and attitude.

Sometimes, interviewers forget they are being interviewed and assessed just as much as the candidates.

So, after an interview, HR should ask candidates for feedback and implement any needed changes.

Interviews are an intensive screening process and it takes a lot more than just the interview itself to determine whether a candidate is suitable.

Caroline Lau is marketing manager and content creator at Goldbeck Recruiting in Vancouver, which specializes in recruitment in niche industries including engineering, IT, finance, health care and sales and marketing. She can be reached on Twitter at @GoldbeckRecruit or at carolinelau@goldbeck.com.


Feedback

4 common laments from jobseekers

The most common issues heard from candidates about their interview experience are:

• “It was a one-sided conversation. They did not give me a chance to speak.”

• “There was missing knowledge, missing answers, a lack of job information.”

• “Questions came out of left field — they had nothing to do with the job.”

• “It was disorganized and confusing. The interviewers gave varying job descriptions.”

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