A Closer Look at Behavior-Based Interviewing
Behavior-based interviewing has been around for 25 years, but the practice has recently been gainingmomentum with the increasing demand for skilled and competent employees.
We look at two companies that decreased turnover rates after theychanged their interviewing process. Two experts in behavior-based interviewing also share some tips on howto get the most out of the behavior-based interview.
Behavior-based interviewing was developed by Behavioral Technology 25 years ago. The companytrademarked the name "behavioral interviewing" and defined it as an analysis of a candidate's potentialabilities by examining skills that have been used in past job performance. The main difference between thistype of interviewing and a regular interview is that candidates are asked to give specific examples of how they acted in the past, instead of being asked to share their opinions or ideas.
Data Merchant Services Corp., based in Coral Springs, Fla., was unhappy with its attrition rates for customer servicerepresentatives who worked at its authorization center in Omaha, Neb. The attrition rate was between 120% and 180%, at a cost of $5,500 for each employee who left.
The company felt compelled to develop a strategic plan to turn the attrition rates around. The changesincluded using behavior-based interviewing with the help of a consultant from Behavioral Technology. Thestrategy included implementing new-hire training, supervised coaching, drug testing for applicants, higherwages and enhanced benefits, and interviewing candidates in a private room instead of out in the open.
Data Merchant's attrition rate has now stabilized at about 18%. Its supervisors believe that employee coachingand increasing salaries were the main reasons the rate was reduced. They also estimate that the new interviewingtechnique is directly responsible for 11% of the decrease, according to Hans Froehling, director of measurementand evaluations.
The company had originally been looking for knowledge, skills, and abilities in its applicants. However, since the job theemployees were performing required few skills, Froehling said that he decided to change the focus of theinterviews 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 for interviewing higher-level positions, such as supervisors, managers, and analysts. The new behaviors he seeks in these candidatesinclude how the candidates motivate and energize others to perform at their best. "We're pretty happy with the resultswe see," Froehling says.
"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 BehavioralTechnology, told Recruiting Trends that it really works. She estimates that their 90-day turnover has decreased by20% since they have started using behavior-based interviewing.
Montgomery says that in one interview she asked an applicant to talk about an experience he had with a difficultcustomer. The applicant, who had previously worked as a cashier at Home Depot, told a story about a customerwith a bad credit card who had rudely snatched his card back when it did not get approved. The applicant toldMontgomery that he grabbed the customer by the collar and told him off -- obviously unacceptable behavior froman otherwise qualified candidate. Montgomery explains that the questions help weed out candidates who appear tohave the experience, but not the right attitude, for the job. One of the most important behaviors that Montgomerylooks for in the behavior-based interview is flexibility in dealing withchange.
"We have not hired people that we would have hired in the past. The overall community of employees has becomemuch more customer-oriented," she says.
Some Tips for Success
Angela Dennis, consultant for the Texas region for Behavioral Technology, says behavior-based interviewing isincreasing in popularity because it lowers turnover rates, and good candidates are harder to come by. The key tosuccess in using behavior-based interviewing is preparing beforehand a list of what skills and behaviors arerelevant to the position, she says. If a position does not require teamwork, for example, there's no point in asking aquestion about the applicant's experiences with teamwork. Another important piece to the technique's success: thequalities identified as necessary for the job must be included in the advertising for the position to attract the rightcandidates.
Cara Rennie, a staffing specialist at Mentor Graphics in Portland, Ore., has been training hiring managers inbehavior-based interviewing for five years. Rennie says the behavior segment of the interview can be combinedwith the technical part of the interview. For example, you can ask a prospective software engineer candidate todescribe a time when he or she had to write software code under a tight deadline.
The important part of the interview is to get as many details as possible, Rennie says. The more details, the betterpicture the interviewer has. If the first account of the candidate's experience is too broad, the interviewer needs toprobe 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 scheduleenough time for the interview, Rennie says.
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