My podcast on structured behavioural event interviewing is my most popular. It’s not ‘soundtrack to a star is born’ popular but helping 11 people a day is a big deal for me (for now). It outlines some fundamental discipline to select people who fit with the potential to succeed. (You can hear it by clicking here).
Here are 9 solid questions that cover a lot of bases:
1. Tell me about the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the past six months.
2. Tell me about a major mistake you made, and what you did to correct it.
3. Tell me about the last time a customer or co-worker got upset with you.
4. Tell me about a time you knew you were right, but still had to follow directions or guidelines.
5. Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.
6. Tell me about a time you needed to motivate a co-worker.
7. Tell me about a time you had to raise an uncomfortable issue with your boss.
8. Tell me about a goal you achieved.
9. Tell me about a goal you failed to achieve.
Here’s the cheatsheet text downloadable from the podcast:
The Brain-Based Boss PodCast Episode 32:
Structured Behavioural Event Interviewing (SBEI)
- Develop clear, consistent selection criteria based on people who have been successful and happy in the role. Then, weight those criteria out of 10. Prep a decision matrix with those weighted criteria in anticipation of populating it with data out of your interview notes later.
- Based on those criteria, prepare some effective questions, each following a consistent structured pattern, designed to illicit examples of past behaviour of each of the selection criteria. Take ‘problem-solving’ as an example. “Tell me about a time when you’ve solved a problem”. What was it? What did you do? How did it turn out”? The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour. Validating the answers to a sample of these questions can be part of any subsequent telephone reference checking.
- Conduct each interview, starting each with some purposeful ice-breaking questions before the prepped structured competency-based questions. This is to get them at ease and less-stressed so you get a more accurate view of them. Look to create connections between their passions and values, and those of the job. If it’s an architecture job, who is their favourite architect? Which building? Why? Me too – sort of thing. Then briefly outline how you’ll be using structured questions and why. Then proceed through your list of questions. Be prepared to be flexible if something astray crops up of interest but mainly stick to the prepared path, and ensure they do too.
- Debrief with any interview panel partners. Upload your notes and populate the decision matrix.
- SBEI should be part of an array of recruiting tools. A job interview by itself is at risk of being unrepresentative.
- Unless job interviewing for an imagination-based job, why rely on imagination-based questions? “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Pfft.
AND, in case you’re an interviewee rather than an interviewer, here’s a structure for you. It helps you handle things with more confidence when you need it, plus makes you seem very organised.
You can use the STAR interview method to prepare for behavioural interviews — a technique that helps you structure your response to behavioural interview questions. Using this method, you create a deliberate story arc that your interviewer can easily follow. Here’s how it works:
- Situation: What is the context of your story? In setting the situation, you are telling your listener when or where this event took place. For example, “We were working on a six-month contract for a high-value client, when our agency merged with another, larger firm…”
- Task: What was your role in this situation? For example, “It was my role to lead the transition for my group while also communicating with our client to keep the project on track.”
- Action: What did you do? For example, “I set up weekly check-ins with the client to update them on the progress of the merger. This cemented an important level of trust between us. I also had regular one-on-ones with each person on the team, both to assess how they were handling the change and to make sure we would meet our deadlines.”
- Result: What did your actions lead to? For example, “We ended up completing the project on time, meeting all of their specifications. It was incredibly rewarding to navigate a lot of change and succeed under pressure.”
This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)
Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.
The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.
Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.
Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.
Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?
Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.
Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever
I don’t know what responses we’d get if we asked one hundred people to tell us the first thing they thought of when we mentioned the term ‘screening.’ They might think of screening as in airport security or preventative health check-ups – keeping the dangerous out. They might think of screening as in letting your phone go to voicemail or checking caller ID and answering for only for the sexy callers – keeping the timewasters and unsexy out. Screening is also a gold mining process – keeping the valuable in. They might think of a movie screening. The difference between a movie screening going badly and employee screening going badly is that the movie screening will just spoil one night. Poor employee screening could mess you up for years. Employee screening is probably a combination of all these different perceptions of screening – except for keeping the unsexy out. That’s illegal and also clearly not working. Where would the unsexy end up working – in any department of a radio station other than sales?
My uncle, now in his 80s, and my son, now in his 18s, were talking about getting their first jobs. My son’s first job was with a supermarket in the seafood section. He made a written application and went through several written interviews and assessments before winning his role. My uncle spoke of showing up on an Aussie building site, saying he was from New Zealand, demonstrating which end of a hammer was up and that was it. (He got the job.) Times have changed. I’m not sure they still use hammers, I think the internet does that now? And now, no one in their right mind would screen an employee so poorly and perfunctorily. Actually, applicants are often screened to make sure they’re in their right mind. Even leaving aside things like skills and attitude, there was no screening for previous work injuries, criminal records, financial shenanigans, child-molesting, non-child molesting, drug use, bringing employers into disrepute in well-light Christchurch offices across from pubs, being a jerk on social media and all the other things you need to screen for now.
I should probably call it pre-employment screening. It might be the smallest part of the phrase but that ‘pre’ is awfully important. Anything you find out ‘post’ is too late – someone’s potential problem has now become your actual problem. Pre-employment is to employment as dating is to marriage.
There’s forensic CV analysis too. That’s a thing now. That exists. In an age where there is software to compare a student’s essay via a search engine that compares it to anything else written ever for familiarity without accreditation, there would have to be forensic CV analysis. I see ‘forensic’, I think CSI. First there was CSI Las Vegas, then CSI Miami, then CSI New York. Now we have CSI HR. Which song by The Who should be the theme song to that show? I think all the good ones are gone.
I found one New Zealand company online offering polygraph testing as part of their pre screening process. I’ve seen too many movies with the cliché lie detector scene to take that process seriously (cue sound effect of heightened heart beat.) In fairness, it was quite an impactful marketing technique to list a series of headlines beneath that offer highlighting the dangers of not taking up their services. Examples of these headlines included: ‘Former insane mass killer unknowingly hired by Wellington school’ and ‘Convicted arsonist gains job as fire fighter.’ Although, in fairness, the latter could actually be a really good news story – a story of redemption about which movies are made (movies like ‘Backdraft,’) I checked the mass killer one. He’d killed six people, described as “friends, family, neighbours and complete strangers.” No teachers or students, so it’s questionable as to whether it’s relevant to his role working in a school but their point is still a powerful one. Frankly they shouldn’t limit their services just to employers. Remember my previous “Pre-employment is to employment as dating is to marriage” remark? I’ll take someone on their word that they like long walks on the beach but I’d sleep a little easier with greater certainty on the non-former insane mas killer front.
There are few risks and many benefits in conducting a systematic and thorough pre employment screening process. You reduce risk, increase certainty, lower costs, enhance productivity and profitability and minimise your chances of being murdered.
Obviously in this modern age of internet hammering and privacy legislation, you need the permission of the applicant to conduct any screening. Although a quick Google could be legal, illuminating and disappointing very quickly. A refusal to provide permission is the easiest and cheapest screening of all.
[Originally published in the May issue of Employment Today magazine.]
This audio summary report from Peggy McKee on recent research is deadly serious but it’s also both amusing and scary. In hiring, do you judge books by their covers, or heel length, or facial hair? Assuming this research is accurate, there seems to be, in the U.S. at least, a hardcore fifth of employers with some dyed-in-the-wool, old school mental models that may be filtering out talent from their subjective hiring process. Why reject a guy just because his skirt is out of date? That stuff is fixable if they’re good enough. Are they so spoiled for choice?
Given I’m blogging at 6AM, I wouldn’t want to be judged on what I’m wearing right now!!