Interviewing job candidates is often dreaded on both sides of the desk. Most of us realize that the person applying for the job may well be nervous and anxious. What many people don’t realize is that interviewers often dread the process nearly as much as those being interviewed. If you have ever been in the Interviewer chair, you probably agree. It can be a real challenge to find the right person for your job opening. As lean as many organizations are today, it’s simply essential that each person in your office is not only pulling his own weight, but making some meaningful contributions.
So how do you figure out who the right person is? You have probably heard the terms “competencies” and “behavioral interviewing.” Success in hiring the right candidates has a great deal to do with mastering the ideas behind job competencies and behavioral interviewing.
Think for a moment about someone at work who does an excellent job in his or her position. If this person is a shared Administrative Assistant, responsible for juggling multiple priorities for multiple managers, he or she has some very specific job competencies. Some of these surely include the ability to communicate well, to prioritize work, to interact well with a variety of personalities, to understand expectations, and to meet deadlines. But if this excellent performer is a Manufacturing Floor Foreman, his competencies probably include setting clear performance expectations, getting the most out of his people, negotiating with other departments, and perhaps some manufacturing process technical expertise. The competencies for the two positions are significantly different.
As the hiring manager, you need to identify the competencies important to the position you seek to fill. When you have identified the competencies, you then need to write behavioral interview questions. Pay attention to the adjective, “behavioral” in this case. Behavioral interview questions are written to lead the interview candidate to relate specific incidents in which he or she has demonstrated mastery of the identified competencies. The theory is that if a person can relate an instance in which he has demonstrated the competency in the past, it’s a pretty good bet that candidate can demonstrate that competency again working for you.
As an interviewer, it takes some practice to quickly identify when you are hearing a true behavioral response. If your candidate is using words like usually, always, sometimes or never, then you aren’t hearing a behavioral example. If he or she is relating a specific example that includes a situation or task, the actions taken, and the result of the action, then you are hearing a behavioral example. Often, good candidates start their responses in a non-behavioral way. Don’t give up! It’s actually fairly easy to redirect a candidate to provide you with the kind of answers you need to hear. For example, take a look at this dialog between an interviewer and a candidate. The competency upon which the question is based is the ability to set priorities.
Interviewer: I’d like to ask you now about your experience setting priorities. Can you tell me about a time when you have had to juggle several tasks at once and how you sorted out what to do first?
Candidate: Oh, I always make lists of what I have to do and when it’s do and I put it into my calendar. I usually don’t have any trouble with setting priorities.
At this point, you need to redirect this candidate because you don’t actually have any knowledge of how this person sets priorities. A redirect follow up question could be:
Interviewer: That sounds great. Think back to the last time you had to do that, maybe last week or last month. What were the tasks and how did you handle them?
If this candidate does really have some skills in this area, he or she should be able to give you some specific examples.
You will find the right candidates to fill your positions if you carefully analyze what skills a successful incumbent in that role possesses. Then you need to take the time to write behavioral questions that are designed to elicit testimony that demonstrates your candidate has command of those skill sets. If this seems time-consuming, think how much time it takes to correct behavior, and even terminate the wrong person. No interviewing process is fool-proof. But you will find that focusing on competencies and using good behavioral interviewing techniques will give you a much better chance of finding the right employees for your open positions.