Banking on behaviour

A. L. Ravikanth | Updated on: Jan 31, 2013

Illus: for BL | Photo Credit: sreejith r kumar

Companies cannot afford to ignore employees’ behaviour traits. Here’s a look at the ways a good interviewer can gauge how a candidate would behave in a given situation.

In the first part of the article, The Art of Smart Interviewing , which appeared last week, we looked at the importance of asking the right questions and of being a patient listener while conducting an interview.

Let’s now look at the science of behavioural interview techniques. The goal of the interview process is to predict future job performance based on example of previous specific behaviours, which illustrate the desired competencies through tactful probing. A behavioural interview is a structured interview that is created after a thorough analysis of the job skills needed for a successful job performance.

Objective tool

The behavioural interviewing tools will ensure that the selection process is — objective, consistent and transparent, is based on the competencies and proficiency level of the job and is a good predictor of performance.

Past behaviour in specific situations will indicate a candidate’s personal preferences, attitudes and behaviours more accurately. A person can have the skills and knowledge to do the job, but may not have the inclination to do it. The behaviour-based interview incorporates structured questions on the candidate’s past behaviour in situations similar to those that will be encountered in the new position.

It goes beyond determining whether a person can do the job. It determines if a person will do a good job; how it will be done and to what extent. This process provides a safe approach to conducting interviews because it is based strictly on performance. Candidates also feel the process is fair and equitable.

Competency-based interviewing

For every position there will be a set of competencies that are required to fufil the responsibilities of that job. Developing behavioural and hypothetical questions related to those competencies are critical for selecting the right candidate. Behavioural interviewing is based on the premise that a candidate’s past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour. In other words, how the candidate has performed in the past is a good predictor of how he or she will perform in the future.

Behavioural questions are open-ended and require the candidate to answer questions about past behaviour (specific actions taken, significant contributions made, problems faced and obstacles overcomed and others).

Hypothetical questions require the candidate to answer hypothetical, future-oriented questions about realistic business situations. How they would do it versus how they did. Hypothetical questions ask candidates to imagine a set of job-related circumstances and then indicate how they would respond in that situation.

The challenge for interviewers is to develop behavioural and hypothetical questions for the relevant competencies before commencing the interview.

The benefits of competency-based behavioural questions are immense. Behavioural interviewing is specifically suited for candidates who have had similar experience to the job position they are interviewing. It helps interviewers not only assess the quality of the experience but also provides concrete data and examples of past experience. Such questions provide insight into what the interviewee thought, did, said and felt in key situations.

Hypothetical questions are best suited for candidates who are qualified but may not have had actual on-the-job experience relative to a particular competency. These questions enable interviewers to challenge a candidate beyond what they have done and also allows a candidate to explore obstacles that might be encountered and apply best practices to resolve difficult issues. It further provides insight into the candidate’s analytical skills — thinking process, composure, and ability to ‘think on one’s feet’.

Some examples of behavioural questions are:

Tell me about a situation where you successfully led a cross-functional project team.

Tell me about an important task deadline you had to meet, challenges you faced and how you overcame them.

Some examples of hypothetical questions are:

Suppose you were asked to convince your boss about a new approach to an existing strategy, which worked well in the past, how would you do it?

How would you handle a situation when your boss disagreed with your recommendations?

Interview structure

An effective interview requires proper allocation of interviewer’s valuable time.

Opening (3-5 minutes): Build rapport, set expectations, share context of your role on the team and how you would interact with the position, and share business content.

Competency gathering (20- 45 minutes): Each competency should be given 10 minutes. An interviewer could look at up to two to four competencies per interview.

Technical/functional skills (30 minutes): As assigned by hiring manager.

Closing (10 minutes)

Questions and answers: Engage in additional discussion, and explain next steps.

Interviewers Bias

Smart Interviewers do an assessment of their own bias, enabling them to be aware and avoid some of the common mistakes.

Leniency or stringency

Primacy or first impressions.

Halo effect, which depends on whether one aspect is seen as favourable or not.

Stereotyping or generalisations.

Contrast or comparison with others.

Familiarity or similarity to your style.

The last step is the ability to give objective competency-based feedback at the end of an interview. Listing each competency you assessed in the interview and indicating your assessment of the competency observed, and the support for your assessment. You may also want to indicate which questions were asked and provide a short description of the candidate’s response along with your assessment. The final recommendation is whether to hire or not to hire the particular candidate giving your reasons.

A firm’s growth and prosperity are inseparably bound with the people employed by them. Selecting the right person is, therefore, one of the most important responsibilities. It is also the most difficult and we cannot afford to be amateurs.


(The author is a management consultant and corporate trainer.)

Published on January 31, 2013
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