A Closer Look at Behavior-Based Interviewing

Behavioral-based interviewing has been around for 25 years, but just recently the practice has been gaining momentum along with the ever-increasing demand for skilled and competent employees. Recruiting Trends introduced its readers to the idea of behavior-based interviewing and promised to take a second, more in-depth look at the success of the technique.

In this follow-up article, we look at two companies that measured a decrease in turnover rates after they changed their interviewing process. Two experts in behavior-based interviewing also share some tips on how to get the most out of the behavior-based interview.

Behavior-based interviewing was developed by Behavioral Technology 25 years ago. The company trademarked the name Behavioral Interviewing and defined it as an analysis of a candidate’s potential abilities by examining skills that have been used in past job performance. The main difference between this type of interviewing and a regular interview is that the candidate is asked to give specific examples of how he or she has acted in the past, instead of being asked to share their opinion or ideals.

Case studies

Data Merchant Services Corp., based in Coral Springs, FL, studied its attrition rates for customer service representatives who worked at its authorization center in Omaha, Nebraska and didn’t like the results. It uncovered an attrition rate of between 120% and 180%, at a cost of $5,500 for each employee who left.

The data company felt compelled to develop a strategic plan to turn the attrition rates around. The changes included using behavior-based interviewing with the help of a consultant from Behavioral Technology. The strategy also included implementing new hire training, supervised coaching, drug testing for applicants, higher wages and enhanced benefits and interviewing candidates in a private room, instead of out in the open.

Data Merchant’s attrition rate has now stabilized to about 18%. Its supervisors believe that employee coaching and increasing salaries were the main reasons the rate was reduced. They also estimate that the new interviewing technique is directly responsible for 11% of the decrease, according to Hans Froehling, director of measurement and evaluations.

The company had originally been looking for knowledge, skills and abilities in its applicants. But, since the job the employees were performing required few skills, Froehling said that he decided to change the focus of the interviews to look for more behavior-based abilities that included versatility, following policies, decision making and problem solving.

Froehling says he continues to use the interviewing technique and is expanding it to use in interviewing higher level positions, such as supervisors, managers and analysts. The new set of behaviors he seeks in these candidates are how the candidates motivate and energize others to perform at their best. “We’re pretty happy with the results we see,” Froehling says.

Predictable results

“People repeat behaviors,” says Julie Montgomery of Sprint Paranet. “If you can see what a person did in the past, they’ll pretty much act the same way in the future.” Montgomery, who learned the technique from Behavioral Technology, told Recruiting Trends that it really works. She estimates that their 90-day turnover has decreased by 20% since they have started using behavior-based interviewing.

Montgomery says in one interview she asked an applicant to talk about an experience he had with a difficult customer. The applicant, who had previously worked as a cashier at Home Depot, told a story about a customer with a bad credit card who had rudely snatched his card back when it did not get approved. The applicant told Montgomery that he grabbed the customer by the collar and told him off – obviously unacceptable behavior from an otherwise qualified candidate. Montgomery explains that the questions help weed out candidates who appear to have the experience, but not the right attitude, for the job. One of the most important behaviors that Montgomery looks for in the behavior-based interview is tolerance of ambiguity, which is defined as flexibility in dealing with change.

“We have not hired people that we would have hired in the past. The overall community of employees has become much more customer-oriented,” she says.

Angela Dennis, consultant for the Texas region for Behavioral Technology, says behavior-based interviewing is increasing in popularity because it’s getting harder to get good candidates and turnover rates are lower. The key to success in using behavior-based interviewing is preparing beforehand a list of what skills and behaviors are relevant to the position, she says. If a position does not require teamwork, for example, there’s no point in asking a question about the applicant’s experiences with teamwork. Another important piece to the technique’s success: the qualities identified as necessary for the job must be included in the advertising for the position to attract the right candidates.

Cara Rennie, a staffing specialist at Mentor Graphics in Portland, Oregon, has been training hiring managers in behavior-based interviewing for five years. Rennie says the behavior segment of the interview can be combined with the technical part of the interview. For example, you can ask a prospective software engineer candidate to describe a time when he or she had to write a software under a tight deadline.

The important part of the interview is to get as many details as possible, Rennie says. The more details, the better picture the interviewer has. If the first account of the candidate’s experience is too broad, the interviewer needs to probe further. This may mean some period of silence to allow the candidate time to think about his or her answer.

Behavior-based interviews tend to be longer than regular interviews. Answers to questions usually take five to 10 minutes. It’s important to schedule enough time for the interview, Rennie says.




Nina Wasserman



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