December 12, 2010

Behavior-based Interviews

Behavior-based interviews are increasingly being used by organizations for hiring people. This interviewing style is essentially based on the premise that "how a person has worked in the past" is as important as "what the person has worked on in the past".

The answer to the question "what the person has worked in the past" is generally captured in the resume. Also, this can be gauged by asking following functional and technical questions:
  • Can you please tell about yourself? The candidate is expected to talk about his/her professional experience till date in brief. Follow-up questions can be asked as needed.
  • What do you think are your key professional accomplishments till date? This shows some of the key functional and technical areas where the candidate claims to have excelled in the past
  • How will you perform xyz task? xyz has to be replaced with a certain functional or technical activity relevant for the position for which hiring is being don.
However, this ignores "how a person has worked in the past". This is important as the "how" (PROCESS) has a direct influence on the "what" (PRODUCT).

There are many sites and articles which provide sample behavior-based interview questions. Some of the examples of such questions are listed below:
  • Describe a situation where you had conflict with a peer team member and how you resolved it?
  • Describe a situation where you disagreed with your supervisor and how you went about handling it?
  • Describe a situation where you mentored a poor performer in you team to improve his/her performance?
As is obvious from the above, behavior-based interviews are essentially aimed at profiling the candidate on the following parameters:
  • Behavioral characteristics (team player versus loner, assertive versus aggressive, risk-taker versus conservative, strategic versus operational, autocratic versus democratic, logical thinker versus creative thinker etc.)
  • Fitment against competencies needed for the position for which hiring is being done (over skilled versus right skilled, individual working style versus organizational working culture, etc.)
These interviews are no doubt quite effective at what they attempt to uncover about a candidate. But they have certain inherent limitations and fail to uncover many areas. Some of the following points bring this out:
  • Human behavior is never black and white - it is mostly gray and situation-based. How does one explain the fact that a rough-mannered and dreaded gangster becomes mild-mannered and mellow with his one year old kid?
  • Human behavior is strongly influenced by the psychological factors. How does one explain the fact that a generally very calm and controlled person suddenly blows his lid off on something apparently very trivial?
  • Human behavior is ever changing with time. How does one explain the fact that a person behaves differently (and generally matures up) when he becomes old versus when he was middle-aged versus when he was a youngster?
  • Human behavior cannot be ascertained with certainty. How does one explain the incidents of a small school-going kid shooting down his own classmates?
There are many more such questions. The fact is that, behavior-based interviews seem to be here to stay. So it's important to be prepared in advance.

The preparation needed is similar to what what one sees in a Beauty Pageant. We all generally feel that the contestants are not really what they claim to be but we expect them to behave and answer questions in a certain - politically correct - way. And in some sense they ought to be great actors to wear the "mask of charm and goodness" for the entire duration of the contest.

After all, every contestant in the Beauty Pageant wants to wear the crown of "Beauty Queen" and similarly every interviewed candidate wants to wear the crown of "Hired for Joining".

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