What Kindergarten Teachers Know That Interviewers Don’t

Sep 4, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 9.11.19 PMEven an average teacher knows the answers to a test before:

  • scoring the test
  • administering the test
  • teaching the lesson
  • developing the lesson plan
  • and creating the course syllabus

Compare that to state of readiness of many interviewers.

Some are still using unstructured interviews relying on hunches, gut feelings, and pet theories. Often these are the, “know‘em when I see’m” interviewers who think they can pick a qualified candidate in the first five minutes of the interview.

Others are using semi-structured interviews based on generic or guessed-at competencies or think that a structured interview is simply asking each candidate the same set of questions. They may employ the magic three or five questions that every interviewer can use to assess candidates for any job.

Even those using a structured interview based on a thorough job analysis may be going into the interview half armed.

In each of these scenarios, the interviewers have not taken the important step of objectively identifying the kinds of answers (aka behavioral indicators) that top candidates tend to give when responding to interview items.

Are you:

  • not consistently hiring successful new employees
  • flying by the seat of your pants in judging applicants
  • training new managers in candidate assessment

Here are the steps for developing valid, defensible, score-able answers to your interview items that will enhance your ability to more consistently identify potential top performers:

Developing Score-able Behavioral Indicators for a Structured Interview

  1. Identify top and poorer performing incumbents in your target job(s)
  2. Interview representative employees at different performance levels
  3. Develop behavioral indicators
  4. Develop a scoring model
  5. Train interviewers
  6. Implement, measure, and monitor

1. Selecting Employee Participants: Unlike a job analysis, developing valid behavioral indicators requires that you employ both top and poorer performers. Identifying which employees belong to which group may not be as simple as asking a line manager who their best or worst employees are or of using past performance evaluations. Both of these approaches are potentially loaded with bias and personal, subjective opinions. Past performance evaluations that have been used to determine annual salary increases or are used in annual performance meetings are often inflated, or designed to avoid conflict.

Instead, use one of these approaches:

1a. If hard, reliable performance data is available (i.e. sales results, customer service scores. etc.), use that information. Several data elements (performance criteria) can be linked together to give a better picture of the employees. In a sales role you could add performance results from new customer sales + sales from current customers + customer service scores. Recent, multi-year performance data is best.

1b. If reliable performance data is not available managers can be asked to rate their subordinates on their job’s competencies. This confidential rating, detached from salary considerations and not delivered to employees may yield more accurate ratings.

Whichever approach you use, the names of potential project participants should be presented to management to get their approval. This creates buy-in for the results of your work and may identify individuals who for whatever reason should not be included in this analysis.

2. Interviewing Participants: Each employee/participant, regardless of their identification as a top or poorer performer, is approached the same way.

  • Introduce the initiative to them and state they have been selected by management to participate. Advise them that your purpose is to help select new employees and that their participation and confidential responses will have no effect on their employment status.
  • Once you have secured their participation, send each participant a copy of the competencies (name and definition) and ask the employees to review them in preparation for a conversation with you.
  • At the interview give the participant a copy of a competency and ask the following question, “ When you see this competency being practiced what actions do you see?”
  • Repeat this question for each competency.

3. Developing the Behavioral Indicators: Your participant interviews will yield you two groups of reported behaviors: top performer and poorer performer groups. Within each group identify the common behaviors reported by the participants. These will be your behavioral indicators. Be sure to use those behaviors that are unique to each group. They distinguish top from other performers.

Edit out and re-word all organization-specific jargon and abbreviations, etc. Focus on developing three or four indicators per competency (i.e. the ones most frequently sighted or mentioned first by the participants.). Wordsmith your behavioral indicator descriptions to 140 characters or less. That will make them easier for interviewers to learn and later identify on the fly during an interview.

Here is an example of two lists of behavioral indicators for a competency.

Competency: Delegation

Top Performer:

• Assigns delegation levels to based on employee readiness
• Proactively identifies tasks to delegate
• Accepts responsibility for delegated tasks

Poorer Performer:

• Assigns the same level of delegation to all subordinates
• Delegates only low impact, low risk tasks
• Does not share credit

The last step is to have the managers of your target jobs review the behavioral indicators. Their input may further improve the indicators and earn further buy-in.

4. Developing a Scoring Model: Unlike “objective” assessment tools which can and should be validated using statistical techniques, interviews, including the use of behavioral indicator scoring schemes, are judged based on their content validity. That is, are the interview items and behavioral indicators based on a thorough job analysis of the target job(s)?

Here is a sample scoring model:

Applicant responded to the interview item with only top performer indicators

Applicant responded primarily with top performer indicators

Applicant responded with a mix of both top and poorer performer indicators

Applicant responded primarily with poorer performer indicators

Applicant responded with only poorer performer indicators


5. Training Interviewers: Scoring an interview appears easy but does require some training and more practice.

To gain readiness for learning, interviewers must buy-in to the process. Hiring managers’ involvement in the identification of the employee participants, and development of the behavioral indicators and the scoring model, helps achieve buy-in.

Initial training can be short, but it is practice that counts. HR interviewers should adopt this model first. They interview far more candidates than a hiring manager and will perfect their skills quicker. HR can then pass along their expertise to interested and willing hiring managers and gradually build acceptance through those managers’ successes.

6. Measuring success: If you’re primary concerns are time to hire or cost per hire, then this approach won’t be of much help. If you are interested in impacting business outcomes such as new hire first performance ratings, or time to proficiency, then adding behavioral indicators and a scoring model might be the looked for link between recruitment practices and business results. 

Final Thoughts: An interview process is only as good as the accuracy and thoroughness of the job analysis it’s built on. Before you build your behavioral indicators and scoring model, make sure your list of competencies is correct and complete.

Be prepared to work through several iterations of your behavioral indicators. The time required to monitor and measure results and make improvements to your model will depend on the volume of both interviewees and new hires plus the time it takes to judge the performance of new hires for your target job(s).

You can do this. The skills required in project management, performance analysis, and communications may already be in place. Your enhanced ability to identify top performers may be the most important contribution you make to your organization’s the bottom line.

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