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Making the Case for Behavioral Interviewing

July 1, 2019

Years of research on interviewing demonstrates one thing: we are awful at interviewing. The odds of our ability to predict success from a typical interview is about the same as flipping a coin. Most interviews have a correlation coefficient of 0.14.  What that means is that these interviews can only account for 14 percent of an employee’s performance.  That leaves a great deal of room for error.  Would you flip a coin to determine the car you would drive?  How about the house you purchase?  Absolutely not. We should not when it comes to hiring people that represent our brand internally and externally. We do not have to settle if we understand why our interviews are not productive.

First Impression

Will Rogers said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  When it comes to interviewing, this sentiment seems to be very accurate.  A University of Toledo study determined that conclusions made in the first 10 seconds of an interview predicted the outcome of the interview.  That is very concerning.  Ten seconds is too quick of a judgment.  What they found out next is even worse.  Interviewers tended to spend the rest of the interview time trying to confirm their first impression.  Also known as confirmation: the predisposition to look for, highlight, interpret or prioritize data in a manner that confirms one’s views or assumptions.  Another way to look at this is that the majority of interviews are a complete and utter waste of time. More than 99 percent of the time interviewing is used to confirm whatever positive or negative impression the interviewer formed in the first ten seconds of the interview. 

Bad Questions

Many interviewers still ask questions that are illegal, bizarre, hypothetical, have no real answer, gain little information, and promote generalizations or a focus on traits. Here are examples of wrong questions that you may have come across in past interviews:

·         Do you know how to use Excel? It is a yes or no question that gives the interviewer little to no information. Most people will answer yes, but that is still not helpful.  If we need someone who has excel skills, we need to know how well they know excel.  What types of projects can they handle?

·         Do you have a car?  Do you have children?  Are you married?  The problem with these types of questions is that they are usually illegal.  Anytime you hear a close-ended question ask yourself, “Is this question even helpful?  Is this question illegal?”

·         If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?  There is no right answer. It puts the candidate in a place where they must guess what the interviewer wants to hear.  The interviewer is trying to gauge the candidate’s personality and make a judgment call.  The problem is that the question is subjective.  The interviewer is playing armchair psychologist.  Ironically psychologists would tell you not to base a decision off the answer to a question like that. 

·         How many deep-dish pizza restaurants are there in Chicago?  Many organizations use puzzle questions in interviews.  They serve little purpose.  In most cases, people do not have enough information to answer them.  As you use them, candidates become aware of their use and prepare.  Regardless, they show little to no ability to predict good hiring.  They do, however, make the interviewer feel bright and gifted.  Oh yes, I forgot the interview is not about the interviewer (sarcasm noted here). 

·         What would you do if a customer started yelling at you?  Hypothetical questions equal hypothetical answers. There is a difference between what someone does in a situation versus what someone will tell or make up what they would do. Most candidates will pull from their training and give you a reasonably strong answer, but that does not mean they have the personality traits, skills, and competencies actually to do it.  You also can’t probe for more information because it is not a real situation.  If you try, all you are saying to the candidate is: please make up some more stuff for me.  The worst part of a hypothetical question is there is no way to verify the information because it is not real. 

The best type of question you can ask is a behaviorally-based question that is singular about a past event.  An example of that type of question would be, “Tell me about a time when you were able to help lead a group through a difficult change?”  This type of question allows interviewers to ask for more detail, and it can be verified.  However, even when asking behaviorally based questions, the interview process can be flawed and will not produce the results for which you are seeking.  Too many companies have a bank of questions or tell their managers to make up behaviorally based questions believing they are engaging in behavioral interviewing.  That could not be farther from the truth.  
Behavioral interviewing requires several components:

Structure/System.  
Behavioral interviews ask questions about the most important aspects of a job and company.  To accomplish this the interviews for each position or job family are unique and based on a job profiling process.  Every competency is clearly defined, and the interviewer(s) knows precisely what success looks like in that role.  There is a clear probing strategy that behavioral interviewing uses to be successful and a rating process and structure that drives more objectivity and less subjectivity.  It is this structure that drives results.  It also requires training for the interviewer.

Training.  
People who are going to interview candidates need to understand:

·         The behavioral interviewing process

·         What behavioral based questions look like

·         The difference between traits and behaviors

·         The difference between useful information and bad information

·         How to manage the interview

·         How to build rapport without getting into legal trouble

·         Interviewing techniques such as using silence

·         How to get a complete picture of a candidate

·         How to use a structured interview

·         How to properly probe for more information

·         What a complete answer looks like

·         How to ensure candidates feel comfortable in a behaviorally based interview

·         How to manage the selection process

·         Rating candidates in an objective manner

·         How to represent your organization in a selection process

·         How to make an offer

·         How to stay legal

More important than understanding all of these components, interviewers must be skilled at many of them as well.  That takes training.  Ironically, companies use to invest in these systems and in the training that went along with them.  However, many companies stopped after the economic crash in 2008 because they weren’t hiring. Now companies are hiring and competing for talent.  Those companies with the best selection processes and skilled interviewers will win. 

Holistic process

Remember that interviewing is only one aspect of the selection process.  Other parts of the process can include components such as:

-Resume screen
-Reference checks
-Background checks
-Realistic job previews
-Work samples
-Skills testing
-Cognitive testing
-Personality testing

You will not use all of the possible components. 

The selection process will differ based on factors such as:
-The type of role 
-Types of candidates 
-The number of applicants you typically receive 
-Your turnover rates and when they are occurring (first 3-6 months, after a year)

The key is to set up a cost-effective approach with the least costly efforts on the front-end and the most costly on the back end.  The goal should be to keep as many good candidates in the system while weeding out the unqualified in a manner that challenges candidates and puts your company in the best light possible while being honest.  So how are you doing?  Isn’t it time you reinvest appropriately to bring on the best?