How To Make Behavioral Interviewing More Practical

I must confess. Despite my protestations, I have been caught. The interviewing component of POWER Hiring is a behavioral interview. This is hard for me to publicly admit. At the recent March, 2002, ERE conference?? which was an outstanding event?? I was cornered by an aggressive behavioral interview user. After my session, she told me that since POWER Hiring requires candidates to provide detailed examples of past accomplishments, it is a behavioral event interview. However, in passing, she also recognized an important distinction. She couldn’t wait to try our approach out, since she felt that by spending more time on fewer accomplishments you’d gain more insight into real past performance. Not only would this be easier to do, she also thought that you’d be better able to match past performance to future performance. We then mutually agreed that POWER Hiring’s interviewing piece is both easier to use than traditional behavioral interviewing and it also takes it to another level of accuracy. If you’d like to improve your interviewing and assessment skills, here’s what she meant by all of this: The two parts of the POWER Hiring principles she was referring to were the “Performance Profiles” (the P in POWER) and the “Objective Evaluation” (the O in POWER). For quick reference, a performance profile is a list of prioritized deliverables that define job success (see my article on preparing performance profiles for more info on this). A performance profile describes the real job. It lists expected results, the key steps required to achieve these results, and the company environment. The environment includes items like pace, systems, tools, resources, and time pressures. A performance profile is the first step to an accurate assessment. This is the benchmark you use to evaluate a candidate’s past performance. The basic interview method we suggest is to obtain detailed examples of past accomplishments. Spend 10-15 minutes each on three or four major accomplishments during a typical interview session. This approach is described in detail in my article The Best Interview Question of All Time. With this detailed information about past performance, you can develop a trend line of individual and team accomplishments over a three to ten year timeframe. You can then compare this to the actual performance needs of the position. We then use a formal assessment process that ranks the candidate’s past performance on each of the expected performance objectives on a one to five scale. Into the one to five scales we factor the required skills, behaviors, and competencies. By focusing on performance first, we directly observe how a candidate’s skills, behaviors, and competencies have been used to achieve the desired results. Putting performance first is the key difference in POWER Hiring’s behavioral interviewing approach. Very quickly, you’ll find some excellent candidates who have achieved similar results using a different mix of skills, behaviors and competencies. By starting off looking for skills, behaviors, and competencies, you minimize your pool of top performers and inadvertently eliminate great people who bring new ideas and fresh thinking. The focus on performance first benefits the recruiter, hiring manager, and candidate in a number of important ways:

  1. The recruiter and hiring manager are on the same page with respect to real job needs. By understanding the process used to achieve success, you have a better benchmark to assess candidate competency. We’ve seen an enormous reduction in assessment variability as a result of this process.
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  3. Recruiters play a more dominant role in the hiring process. They need to coach their hiring manager clients in better understanding the process used to achieve job success. Their influence throughout the hiring process improves as a result. They’re seen as advisors more than just recruiters. You’ll know you’ve achieved this status when your clients call you before they have a requisition to fill. When they ask for your help to define the job, they’ll also trust your insight with respect to candidate competency.
  4. Managers quickly become better interviewers. By understanding the required accomplishments for an individual position and the process used to achieve these accomplishments, managers know what to look for as they assess each candidate’s major accomplishments.
  5. Recruiters, and other non-functional experts, become more insightful about real job needs without having to become technical experts. Their assessment is not based on the level of technical competency, but on how the candidate used these skills to deliver results.
  6. Candidates clearly know what’s expected of them before starting the job. Few now do. This causes frustration, turnover, and poor performance. By asking them to described their most significant accomplishment in comparison to specific job needs, candidates know what needs to be done before ever accepting an offer. Getting their answers determines if they’re both competent and motivated to do the work.

It’s important to remember that an interview is not an isolated event. Unfortunately, many companies treat it this way. In my mind, the interview must be part of a comprehensive hiring process that balances the needs of top candidates, hiring managers who are always busy, and recruiters. The typical behavioral interview doesn’t accomplish any of this. It takes too long to learn; it turns off hiring managers because it focuses on the wrong things first, and it doesn’t take the needs of top candidates into consideration. This is why I never used to like equating POWER Hiring to behavioral interviewing?? even though in my heart of hearts I knew they were similar. (In fact, there is even a SHRM white paper describing POWER Hiring as a recommended behavioral interview.) Live and learn!

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).