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Behavioral Interviewing: A New Approach

Clint Maun, CSP

Interviewing is one of the most critical activities in an organization, yet it is possibly one of the most overlooked. If your healthcare organization maintains an "anything goes" attitude toward interviewing, perhaps it's time to re-analyze. After all, the decisions you make based on an interview could prove either invaluable or disastrous for your organization. Plain and simple, utilizing the best interviewing techniques is paramount.

For employers, a traditional interview approach includes questions such as "Tell me about yourself" and "What would you like to be doing five years from now?" While this approach can offer valuable information regarding a candidate, it doesn't necessarily indicate how an individual will perform at your organization. To better gauge how individuals will do at their organization, some managers are utilizing a new technique called behavioral interviewing. Behavioral interviewing forces candidates to explain how they would react in a specific situation, given the experiences and knowledge they have gained in the workforce. Ultimately, behavioral interviewing provides a more objective set of facts to make employment decisions.

Behavioral questions make your candidate provide specific examples of behavior, not general or hypothetical responses. For example, if you asked a traditional question such as, "Are you dependable?" all you'll most likely get in response is, "Yes." Some examples of effective behavioral interview questions include:

    Describe a situation in which you were able to use your persuasion skills to successfully convice someone to see things your way.

    Describe an instance when you had to think quickly to get yourself out of a difficult situation.

    By providing examples, convince me that you can adapt to a wide variety of people, situations and environments.

    Describe a time on any job that you held in which you were faced with problems or stresses that tested your coping skills.

    Give an example of a time in which you had to make a quick decision. What factors did you consider when making that decision?

    Give me an example of a goal you have set for yourself in the past, and tell me about your success in reaching it. If you failed to reach it, tell me what got in your way.

    Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.

    Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully communicate with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).

Keep in mind that these are not easy questions. Reassure your candidates of this fact and let them know that it's perfectly fine to take their time when answering.

Other Tips to Keep In Mind
Aside from implementing the kinds of behavioral questions described above, you'll want to execute a few other techniques during the interview:

    * Resist filling in every lull in the conversation. Wait to see if the applicant will do so. This could allow him/her to share information they feel is important for you to know.
    * Avoid either verbally or physically giving the candidate a clue as to how you regard their answers. Giving indications that you like what you hear could give the candidate false hope about getting the job. On the flip side, giving the impression that you don't like what's being said could leave the applicant with a bad impression of your organization. Bottom line: remain neutral.
    * Ask the candidates about their level of interest in the position. It seems like a "no-brainer" but you'd be surprised at how many interviewers forget to ask this. After you've discussed all the details of the position, the candidate may feel that the job isn't right for them anymore. So, explore any doubts or reservations the applicant might have.
    * Make sure that all of their questions regarding the organization and the position have been answered. If available, give the applicant a folder that contains information about your company.

After the Interview
Once the interview has concluded, you'll want to let the applicant know what's likely to happen next. Be sure to indicate whether another interview will be needed, and roughly how long it will be before a decision is made.

While you're not obligated, it's customary to either make a phone call or send a brief letter informing the candidates you didn't choose that you have decided to go with someone else. If candidates ask for specific reasons as to why they weren't offered the job, you can always tell them that you don't discuss your hiring decisions. Or, you can explain that you interviewed a large number of applicants with much more experience, and had to base your decision on that criterion. Just remember that it can create a very awkward moment if you merely tell an applicant that he or she is "unqualified" or "lacking experience." Be honest, but understand that it's a sensitive situation.

Knowing Your Boundaries:
What you can and cannot ask

Interviewing can be just as nerve-racking for the interviewer as it is for the interviewee. Aside from the pressure to pick the most suitable candidate, interviewers must constantly be aware of what they are legally allowed to ask.

The list below details what is acceptable to ask, and what questions you must never bring up.

The questions below are acceptable to ask:

    * Where have you worked before?
    * What duties have you performed on past jobs?
    * Why are you interested in this organization?
    * What education have you completed? (If a certain level is required for the job.)
    * How did you learn about this job?
    * Who are the people prepared to write or give references for you?
    * What is your social security number?
    * What is your address and phone number?
    * What special qualifications do you have for this job?
    * What are your greatest strengths and greatest weaknessess?
    * Why does this job interest you?
    * Why did you select this particular career?
    * What job skills do you have? (When specific skills are needed)

You should NEVER ask these questions:

    * Are you married?
    * With whom do you live?
    * If married, are you expecting to have children soon?
    * What does you spouse do?
    * Were your parents born in this country?
    * How old are you?
    * Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?
    * Where do you bank?
    * If you have children, what kinds of day care arrangements have you made?
    * What memberships do you hold in social, religious, and community groups?
    * What is you military service status?
    * If a veteran, what kind of discharge did you receive?
    * Are you physically handicapped?

This list is not all-inclusive. If you ever have a doubt, seek legal counsel, or err on the safe side, and just don't ask the question.