Identifying Talent

Last week I spoke of the benefits of hiring industry outsiders and referenced my post on behavioral based interviewing. In this post I will describe a methodology for crafting an interview that identifies candidates who are most likely to succeed in your organization, regardless of their experience in your industry.

Before I start, a quick primer on Behavioral Based interviewing – it is based on the concept that success predicts success (big shocker) and that it is how people behave that allows them to be successful. To conduct the interview you ask for specific examples from the interviewee’s history when they should have exhibited a particular behavior in response to a particular situation.

The process is simple – Identify the behaviors that are most likely to ensure success and then find situations that would elicit that particular behavior.  Easy right?  I will elaborate –

Identifying the Right Behaviors

My favorite route is to pick the 3 most successful employees who have held the role.  Ask yourself what it was that they did that set them apart and made them successful.  Be very discerning about this – when looking at former superstars identify the specific behaviors that set them apart. “What did Paul consistently do, that no one else did (or rarely did) that made him so successful?”  You should whittle your answer down to the core behaviors that allowed the superstar be successful.  For example, if your original answer was “Paul was good with customers” than go deeper – what specifically did Paul do when interacting with a customer that was so effective?  For instance, “Paul was good with customers because he understood the pressures they were under, was reassuring and had immediate follow-up.” These are behaviors indicative of empathy, detail orientation, and follow through. Narrowing it down like this would then enable you to design an interview that targets more specifically what you are after. When you do this with 2 or 3 superstars you should have 4 or 5 unique behaviors.

Next look at the job description – specifically at the tasks that need to be performed on a regular basis.  Ask yourself how someone would need to behave to be extraordinary at those tasks.  Again be specific and keep whittling down your answers to the core of how someone should behave to be highly effective in executing that particular task.

Now CONSOLIDATE THE LIST! I usually conduct an interview in two sessions, with 4 or 5 questions per interview session.  You will want to focus on the quality and depth of the answers and that can take some time so any more than 4 or 5 questions will be exhausting.  If try to ask too many, you may end up rush through the interview, decreasing the chances you will miss gems buried in the interviewee’s answer. Write all your behaviors on a list and look at the similarities – I bet there will be things you can merge.

Identifying Situations that Elicit the Behavior You Want

I think this is the easy part.  Once you have the attributes find situations where someone should respond with the attribute you are looking for.  For example – if the attribute is “attention to detail” think of situations that require a strong attention to detail. Perhaps a project with a significant loose ends or moving parts.  Or a project where there were multiple steps and deadlines.  Then put it in the form of a “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example of a time when…” question.  Tell me about a project you worked on where there were multiple steps and deadlines.  How did you manage it?

You can also just come right out and name the behavior – “Tell me about a project that requires significant attention to detail.”  If the interviewee knows what you are looking for it doesn’t matter.  You are looking for the candidate to tell you about a specific situation and what they did.  You will determine whether or not they displayed the attribute you are looking for.

After you write your question run through this checklist –

  • Is the question anchored in a specific time in the past?  Avoid hypothetical situations at all cost – they are excuses for interviewees to tell you what you want to hear.
  • Is the question most likely to elicit a response that will include your attribute?
  • Is it a simple, one sentence question?

After the interview,  I make a yes or no determination on each behavior I am looking for –  for example the candidate is either detail oriented or not.  I find it helpful to have a score sheet to correspond with the interviews.

In a future post I will write about asking the questions, and describe a methodology for determining whether or not the candidate has displayed the sought after behavior.

Until then, happy interviewing.

Peter Laughter