Good fit between behaviour description and Internet

Interviewing online is more efficient, cheaper and faster.

The director of executive development for a major computer firm was in a tough spot. The note from her CFO was short. “Find another solution,” was all it said. She knew it was going to be tough; after all it was a daunting and expensive project.

They needed to select 30 of their top managers from a pool of 100 located in nine countries for a critical training program to be held in Houston, in less than three months. One option was to fly everyone to an assessment centre in New York, at a cost of $800,000. The CFO didn’t like that.

More out of desperation than anything, the development director decided to try an online interviewing ASP offering from one of their industrial psychology vendors.

In less than three weeks, all of the managers were fully assessed via the Internet (including complete behaviour description interviews) and 30 were on their way to Houston. The cost was just under $80,000, a savings of 90 per cent over the New York option.

Technology, specifically the ability to connect computers over networks, is dramatically changing the way human performance assessments are conducted.

Let’s look at some assessment truisms.

•The purpose of assessment is to determine (or predict) human performance value.

•Optimal assessment occurs only when we accurately determine both a person’s ability and willingness to apply that ability in specific circumstances.

•There are essentially two ways to assess someone: testing and interviewing.

•It is generally less expensive and sufficiently effective to test for ability.

•Interviewing is usually the best way to determine willingness.

•Behaviour description (BD) interviewing is widely considered to be a best practice.

•The most costly part of interviewing (80 to 90 per cent) is getting the job analysis experts, interviewers and interviewees together.

When testing over the Internet, several issues arise. Proctoring, timing and the security of scoring keys are obvious concerns. However, conducting an online BD interview does not suffer from these concerns because it is not a question of right or wrong answers and there is no such thing as cheating.

BD interview questions require the interviewee to provide specific examples of past performance (what they did and how they did it) in relevant situations. The average interview consists of about six topics, with one or two questions related to each topic.

Interviewing asynchronously over the Internet is an excellent fit for BD because interviewee answers need not be spontaneous. In fact often, after a little reflection and preparation, subsequent examples are more appropriate. Behaviour description interviews are not timed. The emphasis is on the answer, not on how the answer was given or how long it took to provide it. Most answers don’t have to be more than a couple of paragraphs, and followup questions can be asked along with the basic question or the interviewee can be invited to return to the site and provide additional detail, if need be.

Here are just a few ways that technology has supported the BD interview process:

Increases clarity around interview topics
Subject (job) experts, regardless of their locations, can quickly, efficiently and statistically agree on interview topics as well as appropriate questions to ask.

Most electronic interview guide generators offer the interviewer a selection of job-related characteristics — duties, requirements or competencies — each of which is linked to one or more interview questions. The interviewer selects the characteristics that apply to the position being analyzed, and then preferentially selects from among the questions being offered. Most programs come with suggested questions but those questions can then be edited or adapted.

Benefits: Takes much less time than creating new position requirements and writing new questions for each position. Positions with a high degree of requirement overlap can use the same requirement definitions, as well as interview questions. Also, by honing questions over time, the quality of the questions improves.

Helps the interviewee provide better answers
Knowledge about behaviour description interviewing is easily transferred to interviewees. Links to examples and definitions and pop-up coaching hints allow an interviewee to take her time and rewrite answers that better comply with the suggestions the program is offering.

A note of caution. There are several online “interview” screening tools available on the market. Often they do not probe specific examples of past behaviour, but rather ask short “self-qualification” or “bio-data” type questions. For example: “How would you rate your ability to deal with difficult people?” These are often not effective. There is simply no replacement for complete performance examples that describe the “who, what, where, when, why and how” of the situation, such as responses to: “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a particularly difficult person?”

Benefits: BD interviews are more revealing when the candidate understands the purpose and format of behaviour-based questions, as well as the specific areas to be covered in at least part of the interview. Interviewers can dig more effectively for the critical actions and choices that candidates exercise in challenging situations, particularly for questions where the candidate has provided an initial look at how the result was achieved.

Better preparation leads to a more complete disclosure, as well as greater comfort and satisfaction with the interview process. This is important because interviewers will abandon great questions if candidates become defensive.

Helps HR specialists organize and manage the process

The interviewer can enter automatic scoring and weighting directions so interviewees are automatically ranked and sorted.

Helps non-professional interviewers remain on track and stay job related

The better online systems produce printed copies of custom interview guides for use in the face-to-face interview. The interviewer can review the answers given by an interviewee prior to meeting so that the available person-to-person time is used most effectively. Online interviews still have to be complemented with in person interviews, but there will be fewer of them since the online process ensures only the best candidates get to that stage.

HR specialists get more time to spend on valuable pursuits

Sorting and responding to resume-type data is the most inefficient use of the HR specialist’s time. Automated systems can really help here.

Efficiently transfers the knowledge supporting interviewer training

Standardizing and transferring the interview content is best done over a network. Helping line managers comply with interviewing guidelines and staying job related during the interview is part of any online training process.

Benefits: Reduces the need to have participants travel to a group location and take up one or more entire days of time and focus. Participants can schedule their own learning to take advantage of down times. The best approach features mini-tests given to participants as they progress, assuring learners that they are not moving on to more difficult learning content before they have mastered an important foundational concept.

Greg Mooney is the president of Calgary-based Behavior Description Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected]

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