Effective interviews- an oxymoron?

How about this weather? Did you watch the game last night? How are you? We have all asked and answered these types of questions a thousand times. Often just to be polite or to keep a light stream of conversation going. But probably none of us would ask one of the above questions, listen to the answer, and then say "This person is PERFECT as a repair person for my house!"

Interviewing has been around since the beginning of time and is used in one form or another by virtually every organization today. I cried, "Come, tell me how you live!" and thumped him on the head.[From The White Knight's song in Through the Looking-Glass, 1892, by Lewis Carroll] The art of conducting effective interviewing has come along way. Most individuals in business can quickly agree on the key reasons for conducting interviews: screening applicants for a job opening and determining if a candidate or applicant is a good match for a job. Yet many companies conduct job interviews that ask the same types of questions as above (or even these same exact questions) and as a result learn little that helps them make a sound hiring decision.

Of course this doesn't make a lot of sense since the primary purpose of an interview is to learn something about the candidate that you don't already know and need to know to decide if they can do the job. To be effective, a job interview must contain meaningful questions that get factual, job related answers. Research and experience shows the best method for formulating value-added questions is Behavioral Interviewing.

What is Behavioral Interviewing?

Interviews are a part of virtually every organization's selection program. Unfortunately, interview questions are often unplanned and unrelated to the requirements of the job. Also many times interviewers are untrained and put into the uncomfortable position of conducting an interview with little guidance or no time for preparation. The behavioral interview, on the other hand, has a set number of preplanned primary and follow-up questions with predetermined ways of evaluating each response. As the name implies, the questions ask candidates for examples of current and past behavior.

With few exceptions, the best predictor of future performance is current and past behavior.

Behavioral-based questions focus on competencies (knowledge, skills, abilities and personal characteristics) that are job-related. So, what does a behavioral interview question look like? Below are some typical interview questions rewritten into more effective behavioral interview questions.

Typical Interview Questions

Behavioral Interview Questions

How would you work together on a project with more than two or three people?

Describe a recent situation where you had to work with several people to complete a task.

Why are you leaving your current job?

Tell me about a time in the last 6 months when you had too much to do to meet your deadlines.

As you can see, behavioral interview questions ask the candidate to describe something they actually have done, not what they think they would do or for some open ended response that would not be comparable across candidates.

The preplanned questions aren't the only questions that can be asked, though. The interviewer still tailors the approach to the candidate and may use follow up or "pin down" questions to get more detailed information when necessary.

To make objective (based on fact) judgments of a candidate's skills, a behavioral interviewer must not make any evaluations during the interview. The purpose of an interview is to gather job-related facts about the candidate. Making evaluations while the candidate is talking distracts the interviewer from listening to the responses given, and may lead to the interviewer prejudging the candidate. Therefore, effective note-taking is an important part of this process. To illustrate this, imagine that a co-worker has just conducted an interview, and he wants you to help make the hiring decision. Here are his notes from one of the interview questions:

Good overall. Candidate has lots of experience in this area. I like the example she used, and she was able to answer the follow-up with ease as well.

Obviously, you will have great difficulty making any sort of decision based on these notes (chances are, your co-worker will too!).

Now imagine the same situation, except your co-worker has been trained in behavioral interviewing to take effective notes. Here are his notes from the same interview question:

Candidate described experience in this area including:

  •        Identifying team needs
  •        Communicating performance expectations
  •        Providing feedback regarding progress on performance goals


  •        Experience includes providing individual and group feedback on a monthly basis

  • These notes are much better than the previous notes because they record details of what the candidate said, are complete and don't make any evaluations. Think of the interview notes as a record of why somebody was hired or not; notes like these will allow anyone to make the same hiring decision after the interview.

    We all know that it isn't a good idea to hire somebody just because she or he is a snappy dresser, or has the same feelings as you about food or football. Behavioral interviews improve on typical interviews by having predetermined answer evaluation guidelines. These guidelines make sure that a candidate's responses are evaluated based on the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences the company knows are important for doing the job. Every candidate is judged using the same standard, and non-job related personal impressions are removed from the evaluation. A sample answer evaluation guideline is shown below:

    In order to earn a rating of Qualified:

    Candidate's response demonstrated a competent description as represented by the following:

  •     A situation where the candidate evaluated others regarding their performance and helped to maintain, improve or increase their performance.
                *Described a reasonably objective, job-related method for evaluating performance.
                *Appeared to keep dialog honest and the outcomes realistic.
                *Examined individual's performance on some important aspects of the job and provided usable feedback

  • As you can see, behavioral interviews are designed to ask all candidates the same questions and give them the same opportunity to respond, let you compare results across them, and remove personal feelings that may unfairly influence ratings from the evaluation. In addition, interviewers are trained to conduct behavioral interviews, giving them the skills to ask the right questions and score all responses fairly.

    What can Behavioral Interviewing do for you?

    Behavioral interviews have consistently been one of the top predictors of a candidate's job performance. This is, in part, because behavioral interviews provide the employer and the employee with a unique opportunity to get to know each other. The business world is fast-paced, and the current trend is to automate as many decisions as possible. Paper-and-pencil and computerized employment tests do speed up the hiring process, however, these quickly given and easily completed tests remove all interaction between the hiring supervisor and the candidate. A face-to-face interview lets both parties assess how well the job candidate will fit with the organization. The benefits of better fit include higher morale, job satisfaction, and reduced turnover. The financial benefits of reduced turnover are easiest to illustrate.

    It can save you money...

    National estimates suggest that a typical organization has an annual turnover rate of 10%-20%, and that replacing an employee costs between one and three times the exiting employee's salary. This estimate includes the cost of hiring temporary help, using agencies to find a replacement, time spent testing and interviewing candidates, and a drop in productivity while the new hire gets acclimated. To illustrate the cost of turnover, let's assume that your organization has 100 employees whose average salary is $50,000. Using the midpoint of the national estimates:

    100 x 15% turnover = 15 employees to be replaced per year

    $50,000 x 2 = $100,000 to replace each employee

    These conservative figures indicate an annual turnover cost of one and one-half million dollars for these 15 employees!

    Studies have shown behavioral interviewing programs to result in a reduction in turnover of up to 45%. Continuing with the above example, this translates into $675,000 per year in real savings for your organization per one hundred positions!

    ...and protect your company

    In today's business environment, it is critical that any hiring or promotion decision is legally defensible. An interview is held to the same equal opportunity hiring and promotion standards as any employment test. The objective and standardized nature of behavioral interviews makes them much more defensible than typical interviews. A review of federal equal employment litigation indicates that a judgment for the defendant is up to 11 times more likely than a judgment for the plaintiff when the interview in question is objective and standardized.


    Behavioral interviewing is an objective and standardized approach to hiring and promoting the best candidates. With the addition of a behavioral interviewing program, you can expect to hire and retain more qualified employees resulting in real financial savings. A properly designed and implemented behavioral interviewing program also bolsters the legal defensibility of your organization's hiring and promotion system.

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