5 Behavioral Job Interview Questions You Must Ask
11/9/2011 4:31:03 PM
By Mel Kleiman
The Problem with Behavioral Interviewing
Just as typewriters and record players have given way to desktop computers and handheld
media players, outmoded employee selection systems need to be reinvented to take advantage
of our new understanding of how to select employees in the 21st century.
Although behavioral interviewing was initially developed by industrial psychologists
back in the 1970s, it is still in widespread use today. Predictably, during these past 30
years, everyone looking for a job has learned to expect interviewers to ask them about
their past behaviors.
Just as we all learned what our teachers wanted to hear from us in school, prospective
employees learned to deliver the answers interviewers want to hear. Ask, "Tell me about
a time you had to deal with a difficult customer," and all but the dullest applicant immediately
understands that customer service is paramount and will respond to the question
Every job applicant with a basic understanding of the interview process now knows that
the most critical interview questions will concern past behaviors. The reason so many unsatisfactory
new hire decisions are made is due to the fatal flaw in this system – specific
past behaviors during specific past events are all but impossible to document or verify.
The continued reliance on the validity of behavioral questions has led to too many hiring
decisions based more on the applicant’s presentation skills rather than on the person’s
ability to perform on the job.
Great Employees vs. Great Applicants
Start hiring great employees (instead of great applicants) by shifting the focus from past
behaviors to verifiable experiences and achievements. Begin by using an interview built
upon the following five, essential questions. (To gain a sense of their effectiveness, as
you read each one, ask yourself how you would respond if you were the applicant.)
Essential Question #1: "Tell me what you learned from your very first paying job."
This is the first question interviewers should ask because our earliest learning experiences
set the patterns and expectations for later experiences. (Hiring Hint: The story makes a
lot more sense when you hear it from the beginning. Follow this up by asking them to talk
briefly about each successive job and what was learned at each.)
Essential Question #2: "Which work achievements or accomplishments to-date are
you most proud of?" The achievements we value most reveal both our strongest character
traits and our strongest desires. Identifying these speaks volumes about the kind of
employee the applicant can become. (Hiring Hint: The number of achievements or accomplishments
is not as important as the motivations that drove it.)
Essential Question #3: "On a scale from zero to ten, how would you rate yourself as
a (job title) and why?"
Because we seldom see ourselves as others see do, the specific number is not as important as the fact that you will be able to verify if the applicant’s
number is higher, lower, or the same as perceived by the applicants former managers or
supervisors when you check references. (Hiring Hint: Would you rather have an employee
who undervalues or overvalues their contributions reporting to you?)
Essential Question #4: "When we contact your former manager to verify your employment,
what will he or she tell me about your last performance review?" The answer
will tell you a great deal about the applicant's actual on-the-job performance, ability
to take direction, and efforts to improve. (Hiring Hint: Phrased this way, this question
will elicit the truth from 99% of applicants. For further verification, if you decide to extend
a job offer, then ask for a copy of that review.)
Essential Question #5: "What would you like to ask me about the job or our company?"
The answers to this one reveal the applicant’s concerns and motivators or simply
point out basic job information (benefits, hours, policies) that have not yet been communicated.
(Hiring Hint: Follow this up by allowing the applicant one or two more questions
for even more insight.)
Between Questions #3 and #4, ask all the other questions you've developed that help determine
if the candidate is a good fit for the job, the department, and the company.
After the interview, verify what you learned with this achievement-based interviewing
technique through evidence-based selection criteria: thorough reference and background
The further you can move your interviews away from outdated behavioral techniques and
toward achievement- and evidence-based selection, the quicker your hiring effectiveness
will improve. Like that great philosopher of our time Dilbert said: "Eighty-percent of a
manager’s job is hiring the right people. The other 20 percent is leaving them alone so
they can do what you hired them for."
Mel Kleiman CSP: Helping companies build a frontline that will help them build their bottomline. Visit www.the5firsts.com and www.humetrics.com.
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