Category Archives: Behavioural interview

structured interviews

Why don’t we use structured interviews more?

Most companies include interviews as part of their hiring process. Sometimes they are one to one, or perhaps with different members of the team or others involved in the hiring process. Interviews can be held in panels of two or more, but very often they are sequential with candidates meeting one person after another. They are  astonishingly informal given the significance of the decision. Research suggests that structured interviews are 50% more effective than unstructured ones, yet many organisations fail to change their procedures.

Companies still do not consistently follow a practise which will guarantee that the most qualified or potentially the better performers are offered jobs. Interviews are rarely carried out consistently for all candidates. Very often a candidate will have a series of one to one interviews with different people in the process, with no one to observe or give feedback on any discrepancies.  Considering the cost of a failed hire estimated at 3 x annual salary, the process is bewilderingly arbitrary. Yet we continue to follow a process we know is at best ineffective and inefficient.

Value of structured interviews

Although they may take longer to prepare, structured interviews increase the chances of making the right hiring decision. They are also more successful in managing unconscious bias in the recruitment process, allowing a system of inbuilt checks.  I have heard on a number of occasions hiring managers saying ”the fit wasn’t right” without being able to specifically identify why. Listening to “gut” instincts may work in life endangering situations, but in the workplace it is probably simply deep seated affinity or confirmation bias kicking in. We all have biases and they can only be managed. Structured interviews make a strong contribution to that process. Although a systemic approach can’t 100% predict future performance in the role, setting a framework for a thoughtful discussion will contribute to making hiring decisions more reliable.

Read: Do structured interviews overcome unconscious bias?

Review the current situation

Making a brutal assessment of your current process is vital. Very often interview techniques vary from one manager to another within the same company. I have even seen hiring managers who haven’t read a candidate’s CV before the interview and have done no preparation at all. Many managers have no interview training, approaching an interview like a “chat.” Large numbers will not have had unconcious bias training, while insisting they are competely neutral in their thinking. They will then go on to select someone just like themselves. This leaves the processing of candidates’ responses to be very fluid, which can lead to misunderstandings and even miscommunication. Structured interviews rule out the possibility of illegal or discriminatory interview questions, which are much more common than we all think.

What are structured interviews?

Structured interviews are set up with a list of prepared questions which all candidates are asked in the same order. Candidates’ responses are recorded against a pre-determined set of skills, experience, qualifications and expectations around performance in the job. For an interview panel, an agreement is reached about the role of each panel member will play and an order in which the questions should be asked. One will observe, others engage. It allows a “sweeper” function to identify any loose ends and monitor non-verbal communication.

This process is proven to be more reliable and fairer, with all candidates being given the same opportunities to showcase their experience. Their performance is evaluated in a systematic way against a scorecard linked to the prepared questions.

How to create structured interviews

#1: Job evaluation

Each role needs a clearly crafted job profile with realistic qualifications and experience identified. This will include a mix of hard and soft skills related to the tasks involved. A job profile is usually written by the hiring manager, although care has to be taken that some of the qualifications are not inflated. This happens frequently.  Sometimes experts are brought in and can be part of a headhunting service.

# 2: Define skills and qualifications

It is also helpful to have the level of skill required. What that means needs to be precisely defined. Generic use of terms such as people skills, leadership qualities, communication styles are abstract and an understanding of what they mean in real terms for each role needs to be laid out in advance. This is vital when it comes to the assessment part of the process. It is useful to have about 6 core attributes as well as  the key hard and soft skills listed. A senior Director will need to score more highly on leadership skills, than a junior supervisor.

# 3: Design interview questions

Interview questions should be designed to examine the key skills and qualifications. Situational and behavioural questions should be job-related. Preparing questions which require responses to typical situations that the job holder would encounter included  in the process is valuable. They will also help guide the level of skill required.

Desrcribe a commercial situation which required you to use a high level of diplomacy

When was the last time you had to give negative feedback. How did you approach the issue and what was the outcome?

#4:  Create the score card

A neutral scoring system is necessary to reach objective decisions. A scale of 1-5 is very common with 1 being low and 5 high..

#5: Interview and unconscious bias training

For managers used to informal interviews this change can be a challenge and there can be resistance. Training maybe necessary to familiarize everyone with a new process.  Making clear and concise notes on a pre-constructed template is a helpful way to collate and refer to answers. Any scoring should be done at the end. Unconscious bias training should be compulsory for anyone involved in any hiring decisions. Creating an atmosphere where comments, evaluations and decisions can be challenged should be integrated into the process.

Read:  Why too many interviews is bad selection practise. 

Disadvantages and limitations

Many managers are not keen on structured interviews because they interfere with the natural flow of a conversation. Just as they control digression, they can impede spontaneity. Interviewers can also appear aloof and disengaged sticking to questions by rote. It’s important that the interviewers are relaxed and sociable, despite the structured element and convey friendliness and openness via non-verbal communication. But even then, structured interviews don’t eliminate bias totally. What they do is create an atmosphere where viewpoints can be challenged in discussions around the evaluations. They have an inbuilt possibility of allowing bias to be called out.

Structured interviews can effectively contribute to managing unconscious bias in the hiring process, especially when combined with other forms of assessment such as testing and behavioural exercises.

For support creating structured interviews

contact Dorothy Dalton 

How fast is too fast? Speed interviewing.

Speed interviewing

Would you move in with someone you’d only just met?

I was recently asked by a local journalist for a soundbite on speed interviewing. This is apparently one of the latest job hiring strategies to hit the job market and is seemingly being adopted by an increasing number of companies. The process, pretty much like speed dating, allows both the interviewee and hiring company to assess their potential match. It also exposes the applicant to a large number of hiring companies in a short space of time, as they rotate within a pre-arranged group of recruiters and hiring managers.

All of this supposedly maximizes the candidate’s chance of receiving an offer. Speed interviewing is also a great money saver for any employers who want to meet as many candidates as possible in the least amount of time.

Déjà vu
Because I’ve been around for a while, this type of interview process seems to me to be new speak for job fair, a system which was, and still is, commonly used to identify graduate potential at universities. I have attended many myself, on both sides of the counter. Typically, interviews last between 5 -15 minutes and allows large numbers of both candidates and employers to check each other out. At the higher end of the scale the hiring managers and employers are as much under scrutiny by the very top candidates, who usually have their pick of the best offers. As a student, I have vivid memories of the organisations getting the highest numbers, were the ones providing the best food. Apparently even today – pizza works.

I would say that the process has value to the extent that it gives a preliminary overview to both parties, based as it is, on first impression criteria only – such as physical presentation, body language, oral communication skills and so on. Any suggestion that this could be used as a substitute for an in-depth and thorough selection process – fills me with total horror. That was my sound bite! Do I think this is a valuable solution for busy people in today’s world? No I don’t. We spend about 2000 hours a year in the workplace. I think it’s a decision that should be made after careful consideration by both parties.

My sound bite: This process fills me with total horror.

The thought that this process might be drifting off campus into mainstream recruitment is worrying and I spoke only the other day to a professional person in their early 30s, who recounted an interview experience which was not far removed from what I have just outlined. He described the process as “dehumanising”.

The major weakness of this process, is that a little like it’s namesake ” speed dating“, it’s based on the chemistry between the individuals involved on the day, in that 15 minutes. So in a romantic context, it is highly unlikely that a couple would opt to move in together on the basis of a 15 minute conversation, no matter how well they hit it off. If the duo do get on, a second date would probably be the next step to progress the relationship. One would hope that corporations would exercise the same degree of caution. The risk of making a poor hiring decision leading to low retention rates and ineffective onboarding could be significantly increased. For any candidate, forced under pressure to make a hasty decision, the downsides can also be notable.

Nevertheless, if the system leads to a second interview, it should be taken seriously by all concerned. If it doesn’t, the organisation in my book has question mark on it.

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Candidate Preparation

  • Appearance First impressions do count, especially when it comes to speed interviews. Candidates should dress as if they were going to a full interview.
  • Research the companies you wish to target and ask meaningful questions. It could save time later and getting caught up in low value processes or missing a great opportunity.
  • Get the recruiters contact details so you can send your CV by email. Connect with them online afterwards on a professional platform such as LinkedIn.
  • Bring a supply of copies of your resume for anyone who might want one, more than the number of people you have signed up to see. You just never know. And always store an updated version on your phone – you can send it immediately.
  • Prepare and practise your Elevator Soundbites – you may need several different versions depending on the number of companies you are meeting.

If you are offered a job on the spot, treat this like you would a date. Be flattered, but extremely cautious. You simply don’t know each other well enough to make any committment.

Or putting it another way: would you move in with someone you’d only known for 15 minutes?  I didn’t think so!

Making the cut. How to ace a behavioural interview

Behavioural interviews have always been popular with major international organisations for carrying out in-depth selection processes. Recently however, interest in them seems to have peaked after being popularised by the TV show, The Apprentice just screened in the U.K. The reason I don’t write about this programme is because when I do watch it, for the most part I sit cringing, but also worrying that any potential candidates will take it seriously. Be under no illusion, this is a globally franchised game show where the real heroes are probably the film editors who reduce 100s of hours of material to a dozen hours of slick TV for our entertainment.

In it we have seen candidates lying or being facetious on their application forms, lacking basic knowledge of the company they are interviewing for, having very little idea what their transferable skills are and what they can indeed offer. It’s a miracle that anyone get’s hired at all, which is perhaps why there are rumours of 2 endings being filmed.

Behavioural-based interviewing is promoted as providing a more objective set of facts on which to base hiring decisions, rather than other interviewing methods. Underlying the philosophy is the idea that the most accurate predictor of future added value is either past performance in similar situations , or observable performance in something new. Competence in these circumstances is supposed to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is said to be only 10 percent predictive. So whereas candidates are unlikely to be chasing around global capitals looking for random items to purchase, or running London visitor tours, organisations are becoming increasingly creative in introducing more challenging situations for potential candidates, than the standard interview process.

Assessment Battery
Behavioural interviews can be part of a battery of candidate assessment tools which will also include: personality and aptitude testing, individual assignment ( e.g. making a presentation, analysing a problem, formulating a solution) group assignments and/or group interviews.

One-on-one interview
Some career columnists maintain that behavioural interviews are difficult to prepare for. In part this can be true – especially in any group task where all candidates are being assessed and you won’t know the other team members. However, if you’ve done your discovery work thoroughly, you will know the challenges in your life/career, what you have done to achieve them, the results and the skills required to achieve those results. These will be articulated in your mission statement of your CV and in your elevator soundbites. So not a problem. You will have an arsenal of experiences you can call upon to illustrate as required.

What any organisation is looking for is how you deal with situations, even those with some sort of negative outcome can have value. If you have never dealt with the problem thrown at you, don’t be afraid to say so. Perhaps you have seen someone else in action in the same or similar position (a boss, colleague, family member). Describe what you observed or even describe an experience of your own which required parallel skills. Even take an educated guess.

The behavioral interviewer will delve into specific aspects of your response and probe for greater detail “What were you thinking at that point?” or ” Tell me more ..” or “Lead me through ..” Let’s go back to” if you haven’t done your CARS work properly, or you are a shadow of your own resumé, this is where you risk coming unstuck.

Aptitude/Personality testing.
Increasingly these are sent out by employers and taken on-line and there are always possibilities to have practise runs. There are any number of propriety brands on the market which are used by the major organisations. Many even have their own in-house assessment and testing facilities.

Individual Assignment
Sometimes candidates are asked to come to an interview prepared to deliver a presentation or a project. In other circumstances they will be handed one on arrival and given time to prepare. It could be a sales or marketing pitch, a negotiation or conflict situation, a managerial issue or a business strategy. This will also involve digging deep into your C.A.R.S work and previous experience.

Group Exercise
These are team based exercises and evaluation is made on the basis of the different input of individual team members in exactly the same way as employees collaborate in the workplace. They are constructed/designed to make individual assessment in areas such as decision-making, confidence, strategic analysis or time management . They also illustrate how all group members act within a team environment : who emerges as a leader, who is the strategic thinker, who is the compiler, communication styles and how is conflict handled. Organisations look for skill set and personality diversity, so there is no right or wrong way of doing this. This can be anything from an office based theoretical project ( ” your plane has crashed in the Amazon rain forest, what items would you look for in the wreckage and why?”, to something practical such as building a fence or constructing a Lego project.

Group Interview / Assessment
I am hearing more and more about this particularly at entry-level, where significant numbers of candidates are interviewed simultaneously, as many as 12 -15 at a time where they are asked to deliver their elevator pitch in front of the group , as well as company assessors. In one case it was to camera (it wasn’t a media opening) and in another there was also peer evaluation, almost in the Apprentice way. This was possibly to save organisational time and to test the candidates under pressure. The candidate feedback I received was that it was a challenging experience, with most feeling they didn’t acquit themselves well mainly because of nerves.The organisation which asked not to be named said ” It was a cost and time effective way of identifying the best candidates. We screened 80 candidates in 2 days resulting in a shortlist of 6, who went on to in-depth, one to one interviews. We are delighted with the process“.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the ultimate winner of the 2010 UK Apprentice Stella English at 31, had previous interview experience. Practise makes perfect.

So will you be hired or end up on the cutting room floor?