Contributed Column

An Entrepreneur’s Perspective

by Christopher Loso

Behavioral interviewing for good hires

The cost of a bad hire is steep, and it’s not just the wasted salary that’s expensive. Severance payments, training time, potential customer problems, and recruitment replacement are all costly. Many experts estimate that the cost of a bad hire exceeds the annual salary of a position.

Behavioral interviewing is a proven technique that employers across all types and sizes of organizations use to determine the best candidates for hire.

A behavioral interview does not focus on what a candidate would do in a hypothetical situation. Instead, it analyzes past behavior, actions, and experiences, which will provide the most accurate insight as to how a person may perform in the future. Behavioral interviewing is said to be 55 percent predictive of future behavior, versus 10 percent from traditional interviewing.

Prior to interviewing a candidate, it is important to review the job description to determine the competencies and skills required. You then create behavioral interview questions that ask for specific examples of a candidate’s experience. Examples of phrases to help you gain useful information from a candidate include:

• Tell me about a time when you …

• When have you ever been …

• How have you used [skill] to be successful in the past?

Wondering how these questions frame work in action? Here are a few competencies and skills linked to sample interview questions to get you started.

Teamwork: From time to time, we have all had to work with someone who is difficult to get along with. Can you remember a time when this occurred? How did you address it?

Initiative: Describe a time when you did something that you were not expected to do. What did you do? How did you do it? How did your employer react?

Interpersonal communication: Give me a specific example of a time when you had to address an angry customer. What was the problem and what did you do to resolve it?

Problem solving: Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures. Explain what you did.

Task execution: Describe a time where you had to juggle multiple concurrent assignments each with firm deadlines. How did you prioritize the work?

Don’t be afraid to dig deep during the interview. If a candidate’s answer seems generic, follow up with very specific questions to clarify the response. Shy away from asking situational questions that are framed hypothetically such as “How would you deal with …?” The answer that results will not provide you with useful information about a candidate’s experience or behavior, and may lead the candidate to fabricate an answer based on what he or she thinks you want to hear.

The most effective way for a candidate to answer these behavioral questions is using the STAR format (Situation, Task, Action, and Result). If a candidate does not answer a question clearly, you can use this technique for guidance. For instance, you may ask, “What was the situation you were involved with and what was your role?” Then, “How did you deal with that?” And finally, “What was the end result?”

As you drill down, you will better understand the candidate’s experience. Craft clear, specific, and descriptive questions. Be sure to instruct the candidates to use their best examples to answer them.

Remember that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to behavioral interviewing. You are simply seeking to understand how the candidate behaved in a given situation. The response will help you determine if there is a good fit between the candidate’s skills and the position you’re seeking to fill.

Christopher Loso is vice president of Loso’s Professional Janitorial Services, Inc. in South Burlington,, and former executive at Booz Allen Hamilton and Deloitte Consulting.

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