Improve your interview technique

Better screening methods for potential candidates

By Kate Southam

Amongst professional interviewers such as HR managers and recruitment consultants, "behavioural interviewing" is used more than any other interview technique.

Once reserved just for executives, behavioural interviewing can be used to assess a candidate no matter what the sector or role so read on.

The theory behind the technique is that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour so basically you ask candidates to draw on their real life work experiences from the past to explain how they might handle a situation or problem relevant to your business and the role you are trying to fill.

First you need to think about the competencies needed for the job you are hiring to fill and then think about what "behaviours" need to be linked to these "competencies" to generate a good performer.

An example of a "behaviour" would be co-operative and a "competency" working well in a team.

Here are some sample questions, which you can add detail to and tailor to your job:
"Give me an example of a stressful situation you dealt with that demonstrates your coping skills?"

"Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult co-worker or customer?"

"Tell me a time when you failed and the lesson you learnt from the experience?"

Add in detail to tailor to your job and test the candidate further by giving the question multiple parts. For example for a retail job:

"Give me an example of a time when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with? In what way was this person difficult? How did you cope with day to day work duties in front of customers? What did you learn from the experience that would help you do things differently next time?"

Assess the candidate on how simply they state the situation but also on whether they were proactive in dealing with the conflict and professional in keeping up appearances in front of customers.

You could also use this technique to test technical skills by presenting a typical technical problem and asking the candidate how they go about soliving it. The process used is what you are really interested in.

Behavioural interviewing is also a good way of testing a person’s verbal skills and how well they can communicate in front of a group. Be mindful of "we" answers. Often candidates will tell you about the contribution of the entire team they were in had made. You need to keep gently probing by asking questions like: "And what was your role. Tell me about what you did?"

To prepare, analyse the job you are hiring for in terms of the tasks involved, the environment the person would work in, the people the candidate would need to interact with and any particular challenges they would face. Jot down the competencies and behaviours the person will need as you go along. Finally, write out some questions that you think will test these and be sure and consult some other co-workers who would be interacting with your new hire. What competencies and behaviours do they rate highly?

Experts suggest using the "SAO" method Situation/Action/Outcomes – when preparing questions for the interview and then during the interview itself.

So let’s imagine the question was about dealing with a difficult person at work:
Situation: You want the candidate to outline the situation including why they viewed their co worker/supplier as difficult and how this impacted on their work.
Action: You want them to outline the steps they took to resolve the situation.
Outcomes: What were the consequences of the action. What did they learn from the experience.

Many people get nervous in interviews so keep that in mind. You need to make the candidate feel comfortable and give them a chance to reflect and answer. Prompt them by referring to their interview. Ultimately you want someone who is good at their work, not just good at interviews so keep that in mind.


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