Environment and Manufacturing & Technology and Media & Marketing

HUMAN RESOURCES: If you hire in a hurry, you may feel bad for a long time

June 25, 2007

Of all the components of finding and hiring the right employees, employers consider interviewing job candidates the most difficult.

If not done well, interviews can lead an employer to make the wrong decision. Why? Because job candidates rehearse their answers to the traditional interview questions, telling the employers what they want to hear.

However, if employers ask behavioral based questions, job candidates can't manipulate their answers as easily.

Perhaps a scenario-a composite taken from typical real-life episodes-will illustrate the difference between the traditional interview and a session more likely to reveal important traits in a potential new hire.

As department manager for a midsize manufacturing company, Sam can't believe his good fortune. He has just interviewed-and hired on the spot-an individual with a skill set that perfectly matches the position advertised. The resume impresses him, but the interview has surpassed his expectations, confirming his instincts that the new hire will become a feather in his cap.

Almost immediately, the new employee begins to irritate co-workers, frustrate vendors and offend customers. Three months later, Sam is searching for a replacement.

What went wrong? How can Sam avoid a similar, disastrous mistake?

After sorting through the resumes and identifying the ones with the requisite skills, Sam approaches the interviews differently. Instead of discovering what the candidates can do-through careful resume follow-up and skills testing-Sam designs the interviews to learn who the candidates are.

Before the interviews, he takes time to observe existing successful employees and jots down how they behave in typical workplace scenarios.

For instance, has someone been particularly flexible and able to adapt to changing events? Has someone been especially creative? Has someone pitched in on a project not his regular job? Sam lists these desirable attributes and sets out to discover which candidates fit the bill.

His interviews provide important clues. Sam doesn't use the traditional set of questions, but probes for the attributes he is seeking. Human resources professionals refer to this as a "behavioral" interview.

Candidates are asked about actions and behaviors they have actually demonstrated in the past, and their answers are more likely to be unrehearsed-and potentially more truthful-because they are usually based on real situations.

Behavioral-based questions begin with the premise that past actions will predict how an employee will react in future, similar situations. They generally require more than a yes or no answer, and often lead to helpful insights that conventional questions don't produce.

Here are some examples of such questions:

"Tell me about a time when you had to go beyond the call of duty to get a job done."

"Tell me about a time when you were asked to complete a task you didn't know anything about. How did you complete the task?"

"Tell me about a difficult decision you've made in the past year."

"What have you done to help foster a positive team spirit within your department?"

"Give me an example of how you handled a personality clash with a coworker."

These questions allow the candidates to tell their "stories" in a free-flowing, uncoached narrative that should highlight a task they had to perform, the action they took in response to the task, and the results of their actions. Sam can visualize these scenarios in the context of his own organization and size up which candidates will fit his company the best.

While asking these questions, Sam listens intently for certain behavioral signals, both good and bad. He winces inwardly when one interviewee blames a "bad boss" and another fingers "lazy colleagues" as a reason for underachievement. He doesn't appreciate the candidate who continually interrupts him, or another who exhibits anger when discussing a previous job situation.

On the other hand, he likes hearing that in a previous job, a candidate volunteered for several special projects outside normal responsibilities. He is happy to learn that another applicant is making progress toward an advanced degree, and another holds a leadership position in a community organization.

Sam has identified several candidates with the sought-after attributes he knows will work well within his company's environment. He will expect others in the company to follow up on their competencies.

Behavioral-based questions are a part of a comprehensive hiring strategy. Sam may still ask conventional interview questions, and he will certainly utilize the resources of the human resources department and the legal department. But he knows that the new hire will work for him, and that makes his smart participation critical.



Phillips owns Phillips & Associates HR Services in Greenwood and collaborates with writer Gail A. Bradford on this periodic column. They can be reached at smallbizhr@ibj.com.
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