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Hiring Winners: Selecting The Right Person
By Marcia Zidle   Printer Friendly Version

How do you as a manager, supervisor or team leader choose a winner? One very successful interviewing technique is behavioral interviewing---selecting the right person for the right job using a job-related rather than a gut feel approach. A job-related approach is asking for a behavioral example of skills and traits that are required for a position.

A behavioral example is a description, by the job applicant, of a specific event that shows in detail how she did something or handled a problem or made a decision. The rationale for asking for behavioral examples is the notion that the best predictor of what individuals will do in the future is what they have done in the past.

Let's take a typical interview question and turn it into one that leads to getting a good behavioral example of a specific trait required for a position.

Q. "What is one of your strong points?"
A. "I feel that one of my strong point is that I 'm very determined and hard-working."

Q. "Can you give me an example of when you went the extra mile to get your job done?"
A. "Last October we were facing the most demanding time of the year when a flu epidemic struck the office. Out of seven people in the office, five were sick, leaving me and one secretary to get all of the work done. What I did was commit myself to working 12-hour days, straight in a row for a week, in order to be sure that we were dealing with all of our customers' needs. My boss, who was one of the sick people, afterwards thanked me personally for going the extra mile and put a highly recommended letter into my file."

The key to behavioral questions is that you ask for specific examples of past performance. Behavioral questions typically contain phrases like:

  • "Tell me about a time when....."
  • "Give me an example of......"
  • "How did you.....?"
  • "Describe a situation in which you......"

Note how the following question has been rephrased so that it will elicit a behavioral example. Original: "Have you had experience training new supervisors?" Revised: "Tell me about a time when you had to hire and train a new supervisor. How did you go about it? Would you do anything differently?"

By using this technique of interviewing you can also gain behavioral examples related to specific skills. For example:

  • Motivate Others
    • Q. "Tell me about a time when you needed to motivate your staff and had to deal with a morale problems."


  • Time Management
    • Q. "Tell me about a time you had a very busy day at your last job. How did you organize your day and get your job done?"


  • Decisiveness
    • Q. "Give me an example of a decision you had to make quickly under pressure. How did you approach it, and how did it work out?"


  • Problem-solving
    • Q. "What was a problem that you had to deal with in your last job? Tell me how you went about solving it."


After the person has answered your initial question, you can then probe for more detail---what they did; how they felt; what they said; etc. Probes encourage the applicant to elaborate and to clarify. Some examples of probes are:

  • "Could you tell me more about that?"
  • "Explain what you mean by..."
  • "What did you do next?"
  • "What was going through your mind at the time?"
  • "What was his/her response?"

Probes often turn up unexpected nuggets of information. For example, an applicant may indicate having good rapport with a supervisor by saying, "We got along pretty well most of the time, but then, like most people, we occasionally had disagreements."

The probe---"Can you tell me more about the disagreements" will clarify ambiguous meaning. A disagreement could mean anything from a bloody nose to a mild difference of opinion.

As you hear answers to the various questions and probes, begin rating the applicant on the basic of evidence of the skill, knowledge, trait or experience. This could be a simple 1 to 5 scale from little or no evidence to very strong evidence that the skill/knowledge/trait/experience is present. These ratings can give you a more accurate assessment of the person's suitability for the position than just a gut feeling you have about the person.

Final Tips:

  • Always have your goal in mind---getting and clarifying information to make a decision.
  • Be thoroughly familiar with the job description and skills.
  • Avoid asking many yes or no questions.
  • Allow sufficient time for the applicant to respond fully.
  • Be flexible and willing to allow some level of discussion in promising areas, but be ready to step in when the applicant drifts off the subject.
  • Be prepared to reword questions if you are not getting a sufficient answer.
  • Be prepared to wait for an answer. Silence suggests that you expect more information.
  • Finally, create a relaxed atmosphere of respect and good will. In the end, you will get more accurate information to make a winning selection decision.


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