Selection Interview Techniques: Does past behaviour predict future performance?

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Barron Williams

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The CV, written application, checking references (and often psychometric testing) are all critical components in the selection process, however, using the right Selection Interview Techniques is still, in our opinion, the best way to get to know the real candidate.

Of course, it is vital in the current climate that recruitment decisions are not based on the results of one selection method alone, but that a consistent process is applied and tailored to the individual client and role.

Management selection remains a crucial issue for organisations of all sizes, and the selection interview still remains the most prevalent method of candidate selection.

Academic studies in this field suggest that the use of structure increases the reliability and validity of the interview. In other words, consistent questioning across all candidates will allow for better comparison, and ultimately a more balanced selection decision.

A bad hiring decision is one we want to all avoid but it does happen. The impact is much wider than just on timing too. 

Behavioural Interviewing is a preventative technique in which we can help our clients mitigate the risks and hire execs that are best matched to the role and client.

What are the different types of Selection Interview Techniques?

Multiple academic studies suggest that the use of Behavioural Interviews or “BI” questions is the most effective Selection Interview Technique when looking to hire senior management and executive-level roles.

Not only that, research also suggests that candidates also support the use of BI questioning, as it allows for greater discussion of relevant experience and past behaviour.

Common examples of BI-style questions include:

  • How did you prioritise projects when under pressure in the past?
  • How have you coped with changes in previous roles? Give us an example?
  • Tell us how you handled setbacks in your last role? What happened?
  • Tell me about the most difficult client issue you’ve had to handle?

According to the Society of Human Resources Management:

“Behavioural interview questions are a very effective interview technique working across various types of organisations making them an important part of the hiring process when evaluating a candidate’s work experience and work style.”

They go on to say that the benefits are:

“By adding behavioural interview questions to the screening process employers can avoid hypothetical what-ifs by extracting concrete answers on how candidates behave in different work situations and settings. When conducting onsite interviews these types of questions are a verified way to gauge a candidate’s potential and ability to communicate adapt, lead, and reinforce a company’s culture. When an employer looks at candidates’ past behaviour, skills, and critical thinking experience they can reveal if a candidate has the attributes necessary to match job description requirements.”

However, some senior exec candidates that we speak to feel that too much emphasis can be placed on this type of questioning, especially if the interviewer doesn’t ask enough questions that are relevant to the role under discussion.

Interviewers need to be able to deliver a consistent, good quality interview to ensure that the candidates are given equal opportunities to express themselves. It requires skill and effort, of course.

There could also be concerns that those who can “tell a tale” may gain an advantage, however, a good interviewer should be able to mitigate this.

At Barron Williams, our view is that BI questioning is an essential technique, a great asset in terms of candidate selection, and we use it as a standard for all interviews.

Selection interview techniques and practices vary greatly, however, academic research suggests that they are still the most relied upon selection tool at the senior exec level.

Unsurprisingly, unstructured interviews are less effective than those with a structured or semi-structured process.

Structure supports a more systematic and consistent approach and ultimately improves the quality of selection and decision-making.

The CV is a starting point. An overview of skills, job history and education… 

But what about soft skills such as leadership style, critical thinking, motivation, ambition, career goals, etc?

To help our clients in making the final hiring decision, we want them to know how that person has overcome challenges, grown in previous roles, and learnt from their past mistakes (we all make them, how we overcome them says a lot).

We must ensure that our clients can make the right decision with as full a view of the individual as we can establish.

Behavioural (BI) vs. Situational (SI)

Structured interview questions are typically classed as either Behavioural (BI) or Situational (SI).

The Situational approach involves asking candidates how they would approach an issue or situation and it’s useful for testing theory and planning.

With BI-style questions, candidates are asked how they did behave in relevant past settings/scenarios.

Examples of SI-style questions could include:

  • Tell me about how you will spend your first week/month/year in the role?
  • Describe how you would address dissatisfaction with a new team member?
  • What would you do if you made a mistake that no one else noticed?
  • What would you do if you were asked to perform a task you’ve never done before?

Both are more effective than unstructured interview-style questioning, however, at Barron Williams, we would argue that BI are the most effective as they best asses real behaviour, and arguably motivations, especially for complex or board-level roles where relevant experience is essential.

Situational interview questions can be valuable when there’s a need to assess team behaviour and fit. They can help to highlight interpersonal skills and are useful in predicting cultural fit and emotional intelligence.

Understanding actual (real) behaviour is, in our opinion, better at providing a more detailed picture and better at predicting future behaviour and performance.

Of course, using consistent, semi-structured interview techniques requires consistent application by those conducting the interviews.

We cannot realistically expect to be able to ask the exact same questions in the exact same way. Natural human interaction and chemistry will kick in and play their part. However, we do ask for consistency as far as is practicable.

It is impossible to remove all natural bias and filters – much of which is gained over years of interviewing experience at the top level – however, we strive to stay totally focused on getting them to see the real candidate that emerges from the CV.

Using gut instinct to help make a critical hiring decision is, of course, important, however, it’s never the only factor. Scoring metrics are helpful, even when measuring subjective answers.

In our experience, we speak to many candidates who on paper tick a lot of the boxes. Speak to them and they are professional, smart and eloquent. But what differentiates them from the rest?

Dig deeper into past experience and you might find an individual who demonstrates the ability to lead others, deal with pressure, operate in a certain environment or quickly problem solve on the fly, etc. Because they’ve done it all before. 

Braver candidates will talk about learning from their past failures. That carries a risk of course but it also shows true leadership to acknowledge weakness, take responsibility and overcome it.

With behavioural-style questioning, we can help our clients understand previous working patterns in order to establish which candidate is the best fit for the role, team and organisation.

And that is why we use a semi-structured approach to our interviews with a focus on behavioural-style questioning. We will often conduct first interviews with the client (at their discretion).

Consistency of approach and structure is critical in assessing key performance and candidate profile requirements, with a little built in flexibility to gain the full picture of the whole candidate.

We will cover all the key areas, often using the CV as a guide to understanding the ‘journey’.

This means that our clients can make informed decisions when selecting candidates for their shortlist, and the ultimate final hire.

Later stage interviews may focus on two or three key areas of performance as well as testing candidate ‘fit’ into the clients’ organisation.

It also means that our candidates know what is most important amongst the key deliverables in each role brief. By the time they get to the final stages they have a clear idea of culture and fit from their perspective too.

A good process will build value in the candidate’s perception of the client, the opportunity, and with us, the facilitator.

What we look for when asking Behavioural Interview (BI) Questions

With these types of questions, Barron Williams is looking to establish 3 things:

  1. We want to find out how the candidate has behaved in real-world situations. And why?
  2. We want to establish clear and measurable value the candidate has added to that real-world situation. Profit generated/cost saved?
  3. We are looking to understand how that candidate defines and copes with pressure in their role. Positive and negative.

For us, candidate success with this type of selection interview technique is all about focus. The subject areas are defined by the role brief, in short, we are evaluating how well candidates match the key deliverables and candidate profiles specified in the role brief.

By implementing this style of questioning, our aim is to get to know the real person behind the CV. Have they delivered similar requirements previously, and how.

We are looking for concise, clear and well-structured responses, ideally with something like the STAR (Situation/Task/Action/Result or PAR (Problem/Action/Result) method of answering behavioural-style interview questions.

A consistent approach is key

For the team here at Barron Williams, that consistent, improved quality of information (gleaned from past behaviour) leads to better quality selection from longlist to shortlist, and ultimately to hire.

Our clients appreciate our high level of consistency in approach and process when considering our recommendations and justifications. They trust our judgement based on experience and expertise – We work hard to match the right candidates to the right clients!

They also appreciate the opportunity to observe the ways in which different candidates respond to similar questions. 

It helps them to compare candidates against each other and against the role brief itself.

Feedback from candidates tends to be positive too, even when they’ve had a good grilling! There’s little more frustrating for a candidate than a poor interview.

They appreciate the opportunity to validate their skills by giving examples of where they’ve practically applied them.

And, of course, this method is universally applicable, regardless of whether we’re recruiting for a multi-national or micro-business.

This all comes with some words of caution

There is no perfect solution. Selection interview techniques are not a one size fits all deal. We’re all human. Both sides of the table. 

A big part of the selection assessment is the social side. Natural human interaction. Balance is required.

Overly-structured interviews can impede that vital cultural ‘fit’, but inconsistent or overly individual interviews hamper comparison.

It is a balancing act but two things are imperative from our point of view:

  1. It takes practice
    At Barron Williams, we’re all experienced, mature (there, I’ve said it) and comfortable talking with people in an interview and pre-interview setting. It is what we do! However, we are also balancing client and candidate expectations. Even with the best of intentions, sometimes the match isn’t there, that’s human nature.
  2. Be consistent
    Make allowances for personal styles and/or preferences but assess consistently. Scoring procedures should be fair and totally unbiased. The results should be valid and, therefore reliable. This is especially useful if you’re collecting multi-interviewer or stakeholder feedback.

NB: We get a rounded picture as there are usually three of us in a project team dealing with candidates at various stages.

What are the additional benefits of our approach?

What does this all mean for you, as our client?

First off, we can provide consistent feedback to candidates and report back to them with a fair and ‘scientific’ interview result. Valid, reliable, impartial, and therefore rarely a shock.

When explaining why other candidates were a better match to the role brief is always appreciated. If others have more of the most highly valued experiences, that’s hard to argue against.

We also find that interviewing candidates with a client using a consistent format gives us a clear picture of your up to date requirements too. The client will naturally talk about their up-to-date needs and focus on the most important elements of the role brief.

The value and emphasis placed on candidate responses best illustrate where a client’s priorities lie and what your real “nice to haves” are, as distinct from the 3 or 4 “must-haves”.

Clients often start with a broad view in mind but it can narrow sharply when they speak to the people they want to hire. Sometimes they can’t have everything they want within budget, other times there are some valuable bonus features.

At Barron Williams, we practice what we preach

When practised effectively and consistently, BI-based interview processes provide a valid and reliable assessment tool.

It can deliver a consistent and valuable interview process, critical to the effective selection, as well as enhancing candidate experience, which is incredibly important in itself in a market where demand is currently outstripping supply.

Experienced HR and in-house recruiters often use established tools, techniques and templates to create a consistent ‘journey’ for potential employees to give them a competitive edge in the talent war. 

Not all companies have the resources to do that, of course, but that could put some firms at a disadvantage when competing for the best talent.

We can help you there, of course…

How do you get the balance of your Selection Interview Techniques right?

As a full-service provider, at Barron Williams, we solve these problems for you.

If you brief us, we utilise the power of our brand to seek, attract and engage with the people (talent) you want to consider. 

We provide a consistent, highly professional service to your potential employees. 

Treating all candidates well is a strategic imperative, as well as good manners (they don’t cost us anything). We want candidates to become clients in the future, and this is how we do just that.

By the time we are conducting a semi-structured, BI-based interview with you or on your behalf, we’ve already had extensive contact with the candidate. We can ask challenging questions.

They are already positively engaged, on their journey with you and prepared for a rigorous selection process.

This means that we (Barron Williams and our client) can drill into relevant past candidate behaviour and experience to test and understand how they may behave in post if you choose to hire.

We practice what we’ve preached, we use BI techniques consistently. It ensures we can present high-quality longlists to our clients, and that means that we can easily narrow it down to high quality shortlists with our clients.

Of course, we blend BI-style questions with SI and softer questioning too. 

And we will vary our approach to suit individual roles and individual clients. 

All with the right result in mind – the best possible shortlist – engaged, well qualified and close matched candidates that you’ll struggle to split.

If you think that our approach is suitable for your hiring needs, then please use our Client Upload Form or Call Us now.

If you’re looking to find or apply for a new role, then please feel free to Upload Your CV or Call Us for an exploratory conversation.

Barron Williams

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