Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Behavioral Interviewing Basics

Dave Marr

You are about to interview Leslie for your vacant customer service rep position. Neatly inscribed on your legal pad are several tried-and-true
questions that should help you determine Leslie’s ability to do the job.

Upon Leslie's arrival you pose the traditional ice-breaker question, followed by your usual favorites. Among them:

• What types of software programs have you used?
• How many words per minute can you type?
• Which do you find most interesting – working independently or as part of a team?
• What is your ideal supervisor – one who provides maximum independence or one who is attentive?

Not bad as far as interview questions go. However, these are all close-ended questions – potential dead-ends that can lead to three-second
answers, awkward moments and, worst yet, a lack of beneficial information about Leslie.

Thoughtfully crafted, behaviorally related questions can give you a much better read on your job candidates, making it easier to separate the
wheat from the chaff.

Behavioral interviewing is not a fad that is sweeping corporate America – it’s been around since the 1970s. Industrial psychologists of that era
conducted studies on the overall effectiveness of traditional interview questions. They discovered that the questions weren’t very effective in
determining how well a candidate will perform in a given job.

Conversely, behavioral interviewing is highly effective because it examines the past behavior of a job candidate, which is considered the most
accurate indicator of future behavior. This is the reason why companies or organizations that use behavioral interviewing frequently hire the best
available candidates.

Here’s how it works:

Let’s say that you want to determine Leslie’s problem-solving abilities, especially in a pressure-cooker situation that involves an incensed
customer. Your first instinct may be to ask this question:

"How would you deal with an irate customer?"

A good question (at least on the surface), but you're giving Leslie an opportunity to respond with a heavily rehearsed answer.

Behavioral interviewing is based on specifics - a problem faced in the past, the action taken to overcome the problem, and the results attained.
Because past behavior is the best indicator of how Leslie will perform if hired, you may want to rephrase the question this way:

"Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer. Describe the circumstances, the actions you took, and the eventual

In responding Leslie may pause for a few seconds to gather her thoughts. This is normal and acceptable. If it becomes obvious that she is
drawing a blank and the silence gives way to a potentially tense or embarrassing situation, move on to the next question. However, don’t let
Leslie depart the interview room without providing a satisfactory answer to your question!

Consider this exchange:

Interviewer: "Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer. Describe the circumstances, the actions you took, and the
eventual outcome."

Leslie: "Um ... ah ... uh ... that’s a good question but I can’t think of a specific example right now."

Interviewer: "That’s fine. Take your time."

Leslie: (After a 15-second pause, which seems interminable in an interview) "I’m sorry, I just can’t come up with one."

Interviewer: "No problem; we’ll revisit that question later. In the meantime, tell me about a work situation that required extra effort on your part
... "

Once Leslie provides a sufficient response, look for opportunities to ask natural follow-on questions, such as this one: “Lead me through your
thought process on how you handled that irate customer."

Careful planning will result in a smooth and effective behavioral interview. Consider adopting this five-step approach:

1. Identify the most important skills for the job. Review the job description (if available) and make a list of the technical and performance criteria
for the position.

2. Write the questions. Make sure they are legal and relate to the job. Avoid questions on the following topics:

• Race
• Color
• Religion
• Sex
• Age
• National origin
• Marital status
• Disability
• Sexual orientation
• Veteran status
• Arrest record
• Weight
• Height
• Organizations that are not job-related

Use open-ended questions whenever possible, and always look for specific job-related situations from the past to predict the candidate’s future
job performance.

3. Conduct the interview. Alert the candidate that you will take notes to jog your memory. Ask an ice-breaker question to build rapport, then ask
your open-ended, behaviorally related questions. If the candidate does not give you the response you want or is trying to sidestep the question,
insist on a specific answer. Remember: You can allow for a brief period of silence as the candidate gathers her thoughts.

4. Evaluate the candidates on your "short list," then make your selection.

5. Reevaluate the questions you asked; look for ways you can improve the process.

Give behavioral interviewing a try in your next interview.


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