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Using Behavior-Based Interviewing Techniques

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To find top employees and hire the right job candidates, you need to use smart interviewing tactics to uncover a candidate's true skills, strengths, and weaknesses. This means going beyond standard questions such as "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" and focusing on the work habits of the candidate sitting in front of you. One effective way to do this is to conduct behavior-based interviews.

Behavioral questions require a candidate to relate real situations, and demonstrate how their strengths and weaknesses are manifested on the job. For example, rather than asking a customer-service candidate to describe their people skills or problem-solving abilities, ask them to explain a recent problem or situation they experienced with a difficult customer and how they handled it. The real-life answer is much more useful than a skill description because it provides insight about how the candidate applies their skills.

Behavior-based interviewing requires practice and preparation, but the results are well worth the time and effort. The following steps can help you compile a list of questions that will enable you to assess whether a person is a good fit for a particular position and for your organization.

Identify Essential Skills for the Job
Understand the type of skills a candidate needs to perform the job. Interview coworkers or brainstorm to develop a list of skills on which to base your interview questions. Break down your list into the following types of skills:

  • Technical — job skills and related knowledge;
  • Functional — transferable skills, including managing and organizing people or information;
  • Adaptive — personal characteristics, such as dependability or a strong work ethic.

Develop Behavior-Based Questions
Develop questions around the list of skills you've created. For example, should you need to determine if a candidate has project-leadership skills, develop a question that requires them to:

  • Recall a specific project on which they worked;
  • Discuss their role in the project;
  • Talk about specific problems they encountered;
  • Ask how they directed people in this situation;
  • Describe how they solved the problems.

A response to a behavior-based question should clearly identify the task or problem, explain the candidate's response, identify the result of their actions, and describe the outcome of the task. To get all this information from a candidate, formulate questions this way: "Tell me about your involvement in a recent project. Describe any problems you encountered and the steps you took to overcome those obstacles."

Review Your Questions
Once you develop a list of questions, double-check to make sure they are open ended. To avoid questions that allow for a "yes" or "no" answer, structure them to begin with "tell me about a time," "give me an example," or other phrases that invite a detailed response.

Finally, review your questions to ensure they provide you with a complete picture of the candidate's background. You want to walk away from the interview with more than a list of the person's skills and a partial idea of their past performance. You'll want a comprehensive understanding of how they've performed in the past, along with a good idea of how they'll perform in your work environment.

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