People are the lifeblood of all organisations. Adding new people to an organisation is not unlike having a blood transfusion. If the new blood is not good match, the body will suffer and ultimately reject the transfusion. That is the risk of all organisations take when they recruit new people.
It follows, then, that it is important to make the right choice about whom to recruit. The cost of getting it wrong can be substantial. And yet many organisations do not invest adequately in ensuing that they make the right selection decisions. The limitations of the job selection interviews have been well demonstrated in our country over the past two decades.
This is all the more surprising when you consider that we do know how to make better selection decisions. In simple terms, when offered the choice between what works (structured interviewing) and what does not work (informal/traditional interviewing), many organisations choose the latter. The reasons for this are unclear.
Traditional interview techniques have been utilized for many decades. This type of interview techniques involves evaluating a candidate’s education, grade point average, job experience, professional achievements, technical experience and personal interaction with the interviewer.
Examples of questions may include, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Although performing an evaluation of the candidate’s credentials, education and experience is still necessary, the candidate’s job skills cannot be evaluated using this technique.
Let us first differentiate briefly between informal and structured interviewing.
A structured interview is an assessment method designed to measure job-related competencies of candidates by systematically inquiring about their behaviour in past experiences and/or their proposed behaviour in hypothetical situations. Generally speaking, structured interviews ensure candidates have equal opportunities to provide information and are assessed accurately and consistently.
Structured interviews are popular because they are more personal than other assessment methods. Other benefits of structured interviews are: (a) they can evaluate competencies that are difficult to measure using other assessment methods (e.g., interpersonal skills), (b) all candidates are asked the same predetermined questions in the same order; (c) all responses are evaluated using the same rating scale and standards for acceptable answers.
Structured interviews can be done in a number of ways, but the single most powerful technique is behavioural interviewing. Another technique is known as situational interviewing.
Situational interviewing techniques focus on what candidates would do in a specific situation. It involves questions that describe a hypothetical situation based on challenging, real-life, job-related occurrences and ask the candidates how they would handle the problem. Questions may include, how would you handle an executive who refuses to provide you with requested information in time? Or describe how you would demonstrate leadership qualities and the ability to lead other staff internal auditors toward completing an important project.
The interviewer may play a role such as that of an irate client or customer, or as an alternative the company can opt to hire the services of a third party company to play this role by calling during the interview session. The candidate will be requested to handle the situation. The situational interviewing is not a replacement for the traditional or behaviour interview methods, but should be an addition to enhance the interview and make it more effective.
Behavioural interviewing is a relatively new, but widely used mode of job interviewing. This technique is used by employers to evaluate a candidate’s experiences and behaviours in order to determine their potential for success. This approach is based on the belief that past performance is the best predictor of future behaviour. In fact, behavioural interviewing is said to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behaviour, while traditional interviewing is only 10 percent predictive.
Behavioural interviewing has a number of elements of structure.
(1). Basing open-ended questions on an analysis of the target job (i.e., tying questions to competencies required by the job);
(2). Asking the same questions of each candidate;
(3). Asking specific types of questions (i.e., about specific past job behaviours or what one would do in hypothetical job-related situations);
(4). Using detailed, behaviourally anchored rating scales (i.e., rating scales with behavioural examples to illustrate points along the scale);
(5). Limiting the use of follow-up questions by the interviewer;
(6). Systematically combining ratings of questions to derive an overall score;
(7). Providing comprehensive training for interviewers.
Even if the candidate does not have a great deal of work experience, companies expect him/her to be able to relate past experiences – from undergraduate or school time, campus activities, volunteer work, membership in an organisation, etc. – to the job for which you are interviewing.
Once used to assess senior and executive candidates, behavioural interviewing is now used to assess candidates at all levels and across a range of industries.
Here are a few real-life example questions: “Give me an example of a stressful situation you dealt with that demonstrates your coping skills?”, “Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult co-worker or customer?”, “Tell me about a time when you took the initiative/lead to head off a problem?”, “Tell me a time when you failed and the lesson you learnt from the experience?”
A question could also have multiple parts. For example: “Give me an example of a time when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with? In what way was this person difficult? How did the relationship progress? What did you learn from the experience?”
What the interviewer is looking for here is how accurately you state the situation, how well you outline the situation. In other behaviours/competencies interviewing, an interviewer might want to test include leadership, analytical skills, ability to work well under pressure, drive, self-discipline, high level of motivation, initiative.
The behavioural interviewing is also a good way of testing someone’s verbal skills and how well they can communicate in front of a group.
Behavioural vs. traditional interviewing
Behavioural-based interviewing provides a more objective set of facts to make employment decisions than other interviewing methods. Traditional interview questions ask the candidate general questions such as “Tell me about yourself.” The process of behavioural interviewing is much more probing and works very differently.
In a traditional job-interview, a candidate can usually get away with telling the interviewer what he or she wants to hear. Even if the candidate is asked situational questions that start out “How would you handle XYZ situation?” the candidate has minimal accountability because the interviewer can’t really predict if the candidate would react the way he said he would if that particular situation ever arose.
In a behavioural interview, however, it’s much more difficult to give responses that are untrue. When the candidate starts to tell a story, the interviewer typically will pick it apart to try to get at the specific behaviour(s).
The interviewer will probe for more depth or detail such as “What were you thinking at that point?” or “Tell me more about your meeting with that person,” or “Lead me through your decision process.” If the candidate has created a story that’s anything but totally honest, his response will not hold up through the barrage of probing questions.
(To be continued next week)
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at email@example.com)