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I had a conversation recently with a prospective client to talk about their recruiting strategy and process. As our discussion progressed, my interest started to focus on their actual interview process. Specifically, when discussing the concept of interview questions, this person didn't think he needed much help. He spoke confidently about the effort his company had put into developing a standard interview guide that was going to ensure consistency and an improved ability to select the right candidate. The guide included behavior-based questions. On the surface, it seemed like he had a great process in place.
Unfortunately, interviewing skills still seem to be misunderstood and ineffectively applied. Too many organizations use interviewing as a means to assess a candidate's skills and knowledge or to confirm an initial "gut" instinct. They miss the most critical point in interviewing, which is to determine if a candidate has the necessary behaviors and abilities to successfully apply his or her skills and knowledge within a particular position. The determination can be based on whether that success has to start from Day 1 or whether it can happen after some period of assimilation and training. Regardless, the interview has to be specific and purposeful. Let me put it this way. You qualify candidates based on their skills and knowledge. You hire candidates based on behaviors and abilities. Use interviews to make hiring determinations of qualified candidates.
So, how do you truly and accurately assess behaviors and abilities? There are only two ways to do that: 1) directly witness a candidate in action, or 2) get an understanding of the candidate's past performance. (Note: Third-party behavior assessments can be used to augment the process, although they should never be used in a vacuum.) Behavior-based interviews are generally targeted at the latter because most hiring situations lack the opportunity to see a candidate in action. And, it works. Behavior-based interviewing has been around for 30 years, and those who use it correctly experience a much greater success in making the right hiring decisions.
Back to this prospective client of mine. Where did they go wrong? Again, they had a great qualification process in place where they reviewed resumes to determine if the candidates met the skill and knowledge requirements. They even had those behavior-based questions that each interviewer asked all of the candidates. What's the problem here?
Well, they never made the connection between the behavioral requirements of the position and the questions. The interview guide was really a generic guide with questions around leadership, teamwork, communication, persistence and other competency categories. Yes, they asked behavior-based questions and they received behavior-based responses. The problem here was that they didn't have enough information to make an accurate assessment on whether or not those behaviors fit the needs of the position.
Stop and think about all the different positions in your organization. Does every position require the same type of leadership? Does every position require the same level of communication skills? How about teamwork? Is every employee expected to exhibit the same type of teamwork behaviors? I bet that the answer is no. Yet, here is how a hiring manager described a certain position to me recently: "must be good with people with great teamwork and communication skills; has to be a good problem-solver, results oriented and great with details." Do you think the hiring manager was talking about a vibration analyst or a technical sales manager? If you said "vibration analyst," you are right. And if you said "technical sales manager," you are also right. It's the same description for two different positions I received on two different occasions.
Now, do you suppose it would make sense to ask the same questions for both of these positions or ask specific questions developed for the requirements of each position?
Based on my experience, here is how I would classify the type of interviewers typically involved in the hiring process.
Level 1: Interviewer relies on traditional interview questions and "gut" instinct to make a hiring decision. Success rate in accurately assessing the required behaviors and abilities is 10 percent.
Level 2: Interviewer relies on both traditional interview questions and general behavior-based interview questions to make a hiring decision. Success rate is 25 percent.
Level 3: Interviewer relies on targeted behavior-based interview questions developed specifically for the position. Success rate is 60 percent.
At what level does your organization interview and select people?