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Interviewing - The Behavioral Interview

10 Tips for a Successful Job Interview

By JDA Professional Services, Inc.

One of the most difficult challenges for an IT manager is finding the RIGHT people to build and maintain a great department.  Often times after carefully migrating through the entire interview process, we find it nearly impossible to decide which candidate is the best fit for the position.  The behavioral interview has proven to be one of the most effective ways to ensure the right hiring decision is made.  Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions regarding behavioral interviews, and it includes ways to best prepare yourself to ask behavioral-based questions.  Choosing the right person for the job up front will help to reduce employee turnover, save money for the company, and improve the effectiveness of your entire department.

#1 What is a behavioral interview?  
A behavioral interview is based on the idea that a candidate’s past performance is the best predictor of his/her future job success.  The purpose is to increase the effectiveness of the interviewing process, thereby saving time and money for the company.  It is said that traditional interviews lead to the selection of the best candidate 19 percent of the time and behavioral interviews 75 percent of the time.  In a behavioral interview, you will ask behavioral-based questions which encourage the interviewee to give examples from his/her past in order to demonstrate their abilities rather than simply list their best attributes.  At JDA, we suggest that candidates answer these questions with a PAR story.

#2 What is a PAR story?  
A PAR story is one which includes a career-based PROBLEM from the candidate’s past, the ACTION he/she took to overcome that problem, and the quantifiable RESULT of his/her action.  A candidate who is well-prepared will typically answer a behavioral-based question in this manner.  It is important that you ask candidates about the long-term strategic impact their actions had on the organization, such as how their actions saved or made money and/or improved effectiveness or efficiencies for the company, in addition to the immediate results.  

#3 What is the advantage of conducting a behavioral vs. traditional interview?  
Ultimately, the advantage of a behavioral interview is the increased likelihood of selecting the right candidate for the job.  As a manager, you both want and need proof that a candidate can really do what they say.  Behavioral-based questions provoke candidates to explain their answers rather than make simple statements such as, “I am personable, very detail oriented, or a great problem-solver.”  When trying to win a position, all candidates will focus on their strengths and positive qualities.  For that reason, it is important to find the candidate that can give solid examples of how they overcame certain obstacles in their past and explain both the short- and long-term results of their actions.

#4 What is the best way to prepare for a behavioral interview?  
In preparing to conduct a behavioral interview, it is vital that you do some homework beforehand.  First, you will want to come up with a detailed description of the company and the position, including the technical and performance skills required to be successful, the common behaviors of a top performer in this position, the company culture, and the organizational environment.  Next, based on this description, you should develop a list of attributes you hope to find in your future employee.  Then, you should prepare a list of behavioral-based questions which will lead the candidate to discuss examples of how they have demonstrated these same attributes in their previous experiences.  Last but certainly not least, it is important to discuss your job description, desired attributes, and behavioral-based questions with others in your company, such as your supervisor, a trusted colleague, or an HR professional, in order to assure you have compiled the best information possible.

#5 What are some examples of good behavioral-based questions?
“Tell me about a time…”
“Give me an example…”
“Describe a situation when…”
“Please discuss…”
You can attach just about any words you like to these basic starters, and the question will typically provoke the candidate to answer with some version of a PAR-like story.  It is important that the questions you ask zero in on the desired attributes you defined in preparing for the interview.

#6 What if the interviewee does not answer the questions with a PAR-like story?  
First of all, you will want to listen very carefully for all three parts of the PAR story including the problem, the action, and the result.  Not all candidates will structure their answers in the same manner, and some will have no organization at all to their answers.  In the event that you feel there is a missing piece to the story, you will definitely want to probe further.

#7 What are some effective probing questions to ask when an interviewee does not give all three parts of the PAR story?
“And then what happened?”
“How did you get involved?”
“Tell me more about…”
“What was your reaction?”
“Why did you take that action?”
“How did that affect your next project?”
“Who else was involved?”
“How did your team react?”
“How did you resolve that?”

#8 How can the behavioral interview process be used to address a candidates weaknesses?
Behavioral-based questions are great for addressing a candidate’s weaknesses or negative situations from their past.  They give you, as the interviewer, an opportunity to learn additional information such as whether or not the candidate is working to strengthen their weak areas, what actions they did or did not take to handle a negative situation, and how they have or have not grown from their past experiences.  Just remember to continue probing until all three parts of the PAR story have been addressed.   It is important to find out, before hiring someone, whether or not they can handle, learn from, or improve upon adversity.  Some good examples of using behavioral-based questions to address weaknesses include:
“Describe a recent task in which you were unsuccessful.”
“Give an example of a time in which your greatest weakness became apparent.”
“Tell me about a time when you faced a negative situation at work.”

#9 How can the behavioral interview process be used in deciding between two equally qualified candidates?
A great way to choose between two candidates with very similar experience and skill levels is to ask behavioral-based questions which focus on “culture fit.”  Culture fit includes a comparison between a candidate’s culture preferences and those which are currently present within the organization.  It is important to determine what motivates the candidate, what relationship styles they prefer, whether they like a formal or casual office environment, and other such cultural factors.  Finding a candidate who fits with the culture of the company is vital for the long-term success of your department.  Some good questions which can help determine “culture fit” include:
“Describe the best boss you’ve had.  Be specific.”
“Tell me about the last time you became frustrated at work.”
“What motivates you to work hard?  Give me some specific examples.”
“Give me an example of when you went above and beyond the call of duty.”

#10 What is the most effective way to utilize the behavioral interview process?
In a perfect world, it is best that behavioral interviewing be implemented as a company-wide process with set guidelines for creating a job description, interviewing, evaluating candidates, and making an offer.  A company’s interview process should be designed with the purpose of finding the right candidates as quickly as possible, and the behavioral style does just that.  Understanding that most of us do not live in a perfect world, you may have to take some initiative and implement the behavioral interviewing process into your own department first.  If you can develop a way to accurately measure the results of your improved interviewing effectiveness and present these findings to top executives, you could become the initiator of a huge cost-cutting initiative for the organization, a hero in the eyes of top management, and an employee with a big promotion!

Behavioral Interviewing = Right Choice = Everyone Benefits
With the ultimate goal in interviewing being to create a more efficient and effective hiring process, a great solution to that process is behavioral interviewing as it is an excellent way to predict a candidate’s future potential.  Knowing how a person has used their abilities in the past makes your decision as a manager much easier and your hiring choices more likely accurate.  The best way to conduct a behavioral interview is to be well-prepared and consider “culture fit” in making your final decisions.  At the end of the day, the right choice will benefit everyone including you as a manager, the company you work for, the employees who work for you, and the candidates you interview.  

Remember that JDA Professional Services, Inc. is a reliable, effective, and highly knowledgeable IT staffing firm specializing in the recruitment of strategic-technical to executive-level professionals in Houston.  We provide staffing solutions through full-time, contract, and project-based placements.  Since 1981, we have been helping companies build great IT departments while helping IT professionals find the right career opportunities.  Because of our experience, we are the leading provider of industry and career management information for IT managers in the Houston area.  You can find other related articles on our website at or call me directly at 713-548-5444 to discuss your IT hiring needs in detail.  

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