Design behavior descriptive questions to assess for the core competencies.

Criticisms of Interviews

You can find countless studies that interviewers do not agree with another on candidate interview assessments. Other criticisms include human judgment limitation and biases to which interviewers are subject. Snap decisions can adversely affect an interview’s validity because their decisions depend on very limited information. Another criticism is that traditional interviews are conducted in such a way that the interview experience is very different from interviewee to interviewee. Starting and interview with “tell me about yourself” and then, flying with whatever question pops into your head in a haphazard fashion creates a different selection method for each candidate. Thus, it is not surprising that traditional interviews have very low reliability.

Structured Interview

Dissatisfaction with traditional unstructured interviews has led to an alternative approach called the structured interview, which is based directly on the job analysis. It applies a series of job-related questions with per-determined answers consistently across all interviews for a particular job.

Types of questions commonly used are:

  • Opening or get-to-know-you: This type of question warms the candidate up by recounting their work history, motivation for applying, etc
  • Job-knowledge: This type of question assess whether candidate have the basis knowledge needed to perform the job
  • Worker requirement: This form of question assesses the willingness of the candidate to perform under prevailing conditions
  • Situational: Situational questions try to elicit from candidates how they respond to particular work situations. “What would happen if…” These questions can be developed from the critical duties outlined in the job analysis and supervisors/managers can provide possible answers.
  • Behavioral: This questions ask the candidate to pinpoint specific instances in which a particular behavior was exhibited in the past. This type of question and interview format will be explored in greater detail in the following lesson.
  • Summary: This type of question permits the candidate to provide their 90 second commercial as to why they are the best candidate and how they intend to contribute to the job and to the organization.

Structured interviews are valid predictors of job performance. A number of factors are probably responsible for this high level of validity, which are:

  1. The content of the interview is designed to be limited to just the job-related factors
  2. The questions that are asked are consistent to all interviewees
  3. All responses are scored the same way on a scale
  4. A panel of interviewers (also known as a Selection Committee) is typically involved in conducting the interview which limits the impact of individual interviewers’ idiosyncrasies and biases.

Structured interviews have been used successfully in practice. In addition, it helps to discover if a candidate will “fit” within the organization. While the concept of “fit” is somewhat ambiguous, it typical refers to the match between the candidate’s values, traits and Osaka to the chemistry of the team and the organization. A good fit – organizational-culturally – helps the transition into the new position, increases efficiency, morale and productivity. A good fit between the person and the organization is also related to higher job satisfaction and increased retention.

Cross-Cultural Considerations

Even in a structured interview, culture is increasingly being recognized as a potential barrier to selection success. With the aid of technology, companies are now recruiting from a diverse pool of candidates from different nationalities, and cultures. To find the best human capital, cross cultural interviews must not discriminate again candidates through misconceptions and poor judgments.

As described at the beginning of this lesson, an interview is a form of conversation. Yet, this conversation only makes sense, in terms of getting the best out of the interview, when all involved share a similar understanding. Misunderstandings will unfortunately lead to interviewers to making a false negative error (in which the applicant is assessed unfavorably and is not hired but would have been successful if hired).

The basis for incorporating a cross-cultural framework in interviews is to overcome one’s assumptions. Assumptions can lead to interviewers consciously or unconsciously making the wrong decision. Such areas as eye contact, tone of voice, gestures, posture, showing emotions, the giving out of information, and the use of language to name a few could be interpreted based on culturally ingrained assumptions. For example, eye contact is a sign of confidence in Canada; however, in China, it is considered rude to maintain eye contact. The key point is that assumptions must be overcome to effectively evaluate a candidate. It is therefore critical that talent and staffing managers need to consider, analyze and overcome cultural assumptions through greater cross-cultural awareness.



LESSON 10: The Art of Asking Questions: Effective Behavioral Interviews

Lesson Content


Lesson Notes

Conduct an interview

Yes, it is true…you can tell a lot about a person’s capabilities and potential from an interview, provided you know how to conduct one properly.

Behavior descriptive interviewing is a successful technique that is proven to achieve significantly better results than more traditional forms of interviewing. This approach first popularized by Tom Jan in the mid-‘80s is base on the premise that past behavior is an indicator of future results.

There are five basic steps

  1. Determine core competencies for the job
  2. Design behavior descriptive questions to assess for the core competencies
  3. Screen resumes for a first assessment for the core competencies
  4. Conduct the interviews
  5. Evaluate the interviews

Careful preparation and organization are needed to ensure that all aspects of the interview process are effective. Practical arrangements should be made for the following:

Receiving the candidates

  • Clear information on the venue been provided both to the candidates and to the internal and external board members
  • An appropriate waiting area established so that one candidate does not cross paths with another
  • Arrangements been made to receive the candidates and direct them to the interview venue

Scheduling of interviews

  • Sufficient time allocated for conducting the interview questions
  • Appropriate time scheduled for Selection Committee members to prepare themselves for each interview and evaluate after each interview

(Recommend an hour for each candidate’s interview and 30-40 for the preparations and evaluation by Selection Committee members)

Interview environment

  • Interview is accessible and any special needs have been considered
  • Appropriate lighting, heat and ventilation in the room
  • Steps have been taken to prevent interruptions and noise
  • Appropriate layout of table and chairs
  • Name plates available to identify members of the Selection Committee

As it is important to have the physical structures and supports organized, it is just or more important to have the interview organized, well structured and conducted in a logical manner.

To properly conduct behavioral descriptive interviews, think of the interview as having three phases:

  1. the opening
  2. the questioning-probing
  3. the closing

In the opening phase, spend a few moments putting the candidate at ease. Make small talk for a few minutes. Topics such as traffic and weather are always a safe bet, such as “did you find the interview location easily?” Once introductions have been made of the Selection Committee, explain the process, as many candidates are not familiar with behavior descriptive interviewing.

In a hiring panel situation, the open structuring sentence would be similar to:

“First, I would thank you for coming to the interview. Today, we are going to get to know you better by first: asking some background questions, then some technical knowledge questions followed by some behavioral descriptive questions. Behavioral descriptive questions are looking for your past behavior and your past experiences. We are looking for the situation, your actions and the final results. After that, we discuss the position and the organization and then give you the opportunity to ask us questions that you might have. Lastly, we will talk about next steps in the process. Throughout the interview, we will be taking notes, so please do not be surprised that we will have to break eye contact during your answers. Any questions on how we are going to proceed?”

In the questioning-probing portion, ask the candidate the questions and really let the candidate talk.

Effective interviewing requires us to be calm and centered so that all your attention is on the other person and what they are saying and/or doing. As people learning to be recruiters, they frequently find that they are trying to anticipate what might be said next so that they can plan their next probing question. In fact, we often do this “double think” in conversations, especially in debate or argument. One technique that can be helpful to staying focused and centered is to be more deliberate in your breathing. By breathing more slowly and a little more deeply, you slow your heart rate, increase your level of relaxation, and as a result your attention and concentration is more sharply focused.

Additionally, silence on your part can be very effective tool for eliciting meaningful responses from candidates. Probing – asking clarifying questions – is promoted. Examples are “so, what did you do next?” “what was the result?” or “can you tell me about that?” This is where the real value of behavioral questions becomes evident. It is true that candidates can fake responses to behavioral descriptive questions just as they can fake to responses to other types of questions; however, when a Committee member probes effectively, you will discover whether the responses are descriptions of actual events or just concocted to give the Committee the answer the candidate thinks everyone wants to hear.

In the closing phase, it is also appropriate to invite candidates to provide any additional information relevant to the selection criteria which they consider has not been covered. Let the candidate know the next steps and when they can expect a decision. Thank them and either show them out or have someone show them out.

One last recommendation always rings true – treat a candidate how you would like to be treated – in a fair and professional manner. It is always important to remember that the interview is a two-way process in which the organization is deciding on the candidates and they in turn are deciding on the organization as an employer. Also, the interview stage is primarily for information gathering, so snap judgments about candidates should be avoided at this stage. The evaluation of the candidates is carried out at the post-interview stage.

Developing behavioral description questions

The choice of interview questions and the manner in which they are asked determine the quality of the information elicited from candidates. A bad interview is not always the candidate’s fault; it might actually be the questions. Thus, in advance of the interview itself, it is important that the HR practitioner and the responsible hiring manager (or even the whole selection committee) agrees the areas and sequencing of the questions. This will ensure that all relevant selection criteria are covered and that the questions are presented in a logical sequence that avoids confusion for both the Selection Committee and the candidates.

To ensure fairness and consistency, the same areas of competence should be explored with all candidates. This will also provide the basis for an objective approach to evaluating the comparative merits of the candidates at a later stage. An interview guide with supplementary questions and anticipated answers clarifies any confusion.

When developing and composing behavioral questions, ask “what did you do…..?” questions. This asks the candidate about a specific situation they already encountered with usually starting “can you tell me about a time when…” To answer this question, assuming that the candidate is not lying, the potential employee has to describe what she or he actually did. These past behaviors can be used as reasonable predictors of future performance. The Internet provides lots of sample questions …to provide a flavor, here are a few:

Competency Main question  Probes Anticipated Answers…but not limited to:
Teamwork Provide an example of a time when you required assistance from other team members to complete a project or activity. How did you seek the help of your team?How did you agree on the division of tasks?What was the outcome of the situation – Provided relevant experience–Willingness to ask for help–Able to share workload and
Networking How do you locate information needed for your work? -What is a specific example of such a situation?-What resources do you use?-How effective have these resources been in providing the info you need? -Demonstrated relevant experience-Understands importance of network-Can access multiple points to gather info
Communication Explain a time when you had to present both sides of an issue, even though you didn’t agree with one perspective -What was the issue?-How did you present the information so both sides of the issue got across?-How did you ensure that the recipient understood both sides of the issue? -Demonstrated relevant experience-Ability to present logical arguments-Able to manage organizational ambiguity

In comparison, situational questions ask candidates how they work react. In response, candidates respond with what they think the interviewer wants to hear. In orders, they are potential faking their responses.

Evaluating the Interviews

There are a number of different approaches to the process of candidate evaluation. Whatever approach is used, the underlying principle is that the Selection Committee and/or hiring managers be objective, systematic and fair.

The Committee must use an agreed marking system with candidates being marked by each individual assessment Committee member on the basis of objective criteria agreed before the process commences. The benefit of an agreed ranking system is that it provides systematic approach to evaluating the candidates against the agreed criteria. It also gives all Committee members the opportunity to contribute to the evaluation process. For each competency, they could be evaluated as described below:


Rating Scale Descriptors
1 -No evidence of the appropriate behavior of knowledge base being present-No understanding of what to do
2 -A response based on theory or a hypothetical answer (except where a situation question is asked)-Behavior is not present in experience but in theory
3 -Demonstrates the desired behavior or knowledge in the past and/or not in job specific situations-Or correct behavior with various outcomes-Some evidence of behavior but only some of the time
4 -Recent demonstration of the behavior or knowledge and experience in any situation but not regularly repetitive-Strong evidence of the behavior or knowledge
5 -Consistent demonstration of the behavior or knowledge or both recently and demonstrated repetitively in work situations-Extremely strong evidence of the behavior or knowledge

Immediately after each interview, each competency should be scored on a scale based on the notes of the interview. It is recommended to wait until all the interviews are finished. This will ensure that the evaluation of each Committee member is based on fresh impressions, and not influenced by things that may have happened later. Also, it is a good idea not to add up the scores until the Committee is finished all the interviews. Once the interview process is complete, total the points for each candidate, and determine who has the highest score.

A criticism sometimes leveled at marking systems is that selecting people for employment is a more complex process than simply “adding up” marks and choosing the person with the most marks. However, the marking system can be used as a basis for an open discussion at which the pros and cons of each candidate are considered in a more discursive way, against the agreed criteria. And this leads nicely into our next lesson on decision-making tools.

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