Are You Looking to Find Better Candidates to Hire? Try Behavior Based Interviewing!
Past performance on the job is a pretty good indicator of future performance on the job. That being said, there are specific behaviors associated with a person's performance, be it exceptional or not-so-exceptional (behaviors). If an interviewer can match the behaviors needed to be successful in a particular job with the behaviors that a person already has…well…that's what we call a fit! And the better the fit, the more likely that the employee will be successful on the job. One of the ways that this is done is through behavior-based interviewing. Some experts estimate that behavior-based interviewing can more than triple the likelihood of predicting on-the-job performance. And, let's not forget the associated decrease in employee turnover!

In the "old days", we called these the "Will Do" factors. Will Do factors addressed the person's motivation to do the job. It asked questions that brought to light the person's abilities, motivations, willingness and propensity to perform in a specific position under various sets of circumstances.

A rose by any other name….

Behavioral interviewing is based on the concept that history does indeed repeat itself. So, faced with a situation in your organization, a person will probably handle it similarly to how he or she has in the past. The interviewer determines the specific behaviors that are needed for success on the job, and then seeks out potential employees that can show they can exhibit those same behaviors.

The following tips will help you make the most of behavior-based interviewing:

  1. Know the skills, abilities and behaviors that are key to success in a particular job. What are the core competencies critical to success? To find this out, carefully review the job description. But more than that, look at the most successful employees that are currently in the job. What are the traits that make them successful? Do you have an employee that you ever wished you could clone? Analyze what they do and how it affects success in the job. Talk to the supervisors. Then develop questions that address the specific behaviors that you've identified as important. Only ask questions that relate to those behaviors!

  2. Questions should be situational, and preferably address situations that are familiar to the interviewee. For example, let's say you've identified the following behavior as important to job success: "The ability to make decisions with limited information". Now, you pose this situation to the interviewee:

    You need to make a decision today regarding the purchase of a new software package. One vendor has given you all the information you need, and you're still waiting for complete information from the other two vendors. The vendor that has given you all the information has a reputation for poor service after the sale, and in your mind, they are your last choice. However, the other two vendors cannot get all the information you need for at least another three days, so you're not even sure if their packages meet all the basic requirements. Your boss tells you that a decision must be made by 5:00 pm today. What do you do?"

    Could an applicant really answer this question? The applicant might say, "I'd follow the company procedure." Or, the applicant might take a fateful stab at what he or she thinks you want to hear. The point is, how could the applicant possibly know how to handle situations like this in your organization. They don't have a clue as to your specific procedures, and that doesn't get you very good information.

    A better question to ask to address this behavior is, "Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision based on having limited information?" Or, "Describe a situation where a decision needed to be made under a tight deadline, without having all the needed information, and how you handled it?" Now, some people have asked me, "What happens if the interviewee can't think of any situations? Then I have no idea how to assess that ability or behavior." On the contrary, if you've identified this behavior as critical to success in the job, and the person has never had to exhibit this behavior, then you have your answer! Do you really want to hire someone that has never before had to make critical decisions with limited information?

  3. Structure. Order. Control. In any interviewing situation, there needs to be an orderly, methodical flow. Every interviewee (for a specific job) should be asked the same questions in the same order. This assures that you will have the same basis of comparison when trying to decide which candidate should either go on to a second interview or be selected for the job. Just as actors use scripts, so do interviewers. The script is usually quickly memorized (with some room for improvisation). This assures that there is consistency with every person we interview, and is especially critical if multiple people are involved in the interview process.

  4. There's an old adage relating to lawyers….never ask a witness a question if you don't already know the answer. In other words…no surprises on the witness stand! Same philosophy with behavior based interviewing. Once you determine the critical behaviors needed for a job, determine what are the "proper or acceptable responses". This is what you benchmark all responses against. These are the responses that you have decided, in advance, will definitively let you know that the interviewee indeed has the key attributes for which you're looking.

  5. Develop and use a scoring system. Hiring decisions should be based on more than just a gut feel, and if there's multiple interviewers, then there's multiple ways of taking and interpreting notes. If everyone is required to slot their interview results into a structured scoring system, then it's easier to make comparisons when looking at a variety of candidates.

  6. Educate, train and provide support for all people involved in the interviewing process. This may be a little different than what they're used to, and it can sometimes be difficult to undertake a new way of interviewing, particularly if they've been interviewing for many years. Be patient…new skills take time to develop and integrate into workplace practices.

Using behavior-based interviewing guidelines can help you better match candidates to the job you are trying to fill. Are there drawbacks? Sure…one in particular. Analyzing the behaviors and attributes needed for each job can be quite time consuming, and not just for you. There is also the supervisor, possibly the higher level manager and the incumbent(s). However, if you have a hard-to-fill position (and who doesn't!), or many people in one job title, behavior-based interviewing may be one answer to your turnover problems.

- Lynda Ford

Lynda Ford, author of this article, is president of The Ford Group, a consulting firm dedicated to improving organizations through their greatest potential resource…people. Her first book, FAST52: Building an Exceptional Workplace Environment has just been published. She can be contacted by e-mail at, or by phone at (315) 339-6398. © 1999-2003 The Ford Group All rights reserved.

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