Blog > Using Behavioural Interviewing to learn from past experiences and predict future performance

Using Behavioural Interviewing to learn from past experiences and predict future performance

by Erin Scheel, Community Manager at College Pro, posted on October 19, 2016

It’s fall recruiting season, and interviews are in the air (leaves too).  If you play a role in the selection of candidates, boning up on your interviewing skill is a good idea.  Specifically, your skill at behavioural interviewing. 

They say practice makes perfect, and at College Pro we conduct around 2,500 behavioural interviews each year.   So we definitely have the reps in.  In our world, the ability to effectively interview someone is critical as we select him or her for what is likely to be their toughest experience to date – running a business.   No, we are not perfect – our introspection is higher than that (more on that later), but we’ve certainly learned a lot about effective behavioural interviews, and it’s one of the core skills we coach our recruiters and leaders on.   

Why B.I.?

While we can all agree that the interview is an important part of the selection process and is intended to give us perception that we’re hiring the best candidate – it can actually offer more insight.  Your interview can help predict future performance and also bring clarity to coaching and management implications for each candidate. 

As an example of this in action, you could learn that someone is incredibly focused on accomplishing goals, but is also low introspectively.  This could mean they’re likely to externalize their first big miss and will need some very direct coaching through it.

What are you looking for, anyway?  

It’s important to be clear what you’re looking for in an interview; is it technical or is it behavioural?  A sense of technical skills a candidate has can be acquired outside of an interview, e.g., on a resume, in a portfolio, through an assessment. Spoiler Alert:  If you are looking primarily for technical skills in an interview, the rest of this article won’t really help you.    

Behavioural characteristics on the other hand, require some skillful digging to unearth.  And, while behavioural interviewing is the trend and norm in campus recruitment, it takes work to develop a framework which is effective, limits interviewer bias, and is easily and universally applied.  

We approach our interviews focused on 8 universal characteristics that are critical in the role we’re selecting for at College Pro.

Our 8 characteristics look like this:

  1. FUNDAMENTAL – the ability to manage emotions in pursuit of a meaningful goal.
  2. INSTRUMENTAL – the basic life and interpersonal skills to function in the role. At Google, they call it  ‘Googliness’ and one of their recruiters described it to me as whether you’d want to be stuck next to the person at an airport gate when your flight is delayed.
  3. VALUES – congruence with corporate values and a sense that you trust this person.
  4. ATTAINMENT – the need or preference to set realistic and immediate goals.
  5. LEADERSHIP – directs group activities, functions as a leader, comfort in leadership roles.
  6. TENACITY – completes tasks, persistent until all loose ends are wrapped up.
  7. PRECISION – orderliness, systematic planning, predictability in routines.
  8. INTROSPECTION pays attention to self and others in analytical fashion.

You need to be clear what these characteristics are for your company and the role you’re selecting.

While the above preferences and abilities are universal, their weighted importance varies in different roles.   Accountants need high precision, not leadership.  Team captains needs high leadership & values, not precision.  Executives need high fundamental and introspection, not necessarily instrumental.

In application, one of the best ways to ground yourself in the characteristics you’re interviewing for is by rating yourself and others you’ve worked with to establish what high and low aptitude looks like.  Have you ever worked with someone who flew off the handle bars every time something didn’t go to plan?   They most likely had low fundamental ability.

So, how do you find the characteristics?  By probing into past experiences.

  1. Gather broad data from relevant past experiences.

  2. Dig into the data to get your candidate to ‘paint the picture’ of different experiences. You want them to tell you stories such that you could picture yourself there.

  3. Ask “why?” often. Why was that important? Why did you quit? Why did you like that?

  4. Go deeper.   How did you feel?  What else was going on at that time? Tell me more.

Always ask open-ended questions, to elicit stories rather than yes/no answers.  Through these stories, you can find examples of the characteristics you’re looking for, in action.   You then ask “why?” and dig deeper to find examples of how someone has responded in the past and predict how he or she is most likely to behave in the future.  

For example, a great place to start is by asking someone about a challenging time when they were working toward something important.   These situations are gold mines for your behavioural interview.   When someone is challenged, it brings their strongest and weakest characteristics to bear, and when it’s meaningful to them, emotions surface.   You want your candidate to paint the picture of this situation as vividly as possible, including timelines, other people, obstacles, emotional peaks and valleys, etc.

Some things to be conscious of and avoid in behavioural interviewing:

  • Hypothetical Questions. “If you were in that situation again, what would you do?” In dreamy future-land, we are all great decision makers, but this tells us little about how someone actually responds in critical situations.
  • Leading Questions. “After that loss you must have been upset.” Any sharp listener can shape their answer in favour of what they think you want, if you ask questions in such a leading way.   Keep your perceptions out of your questions.  Maybe they weren’t upset by that loss (which might tell you even more).
  • Halo Effect. Just because you like the candidate and see yourself in them, doesn’t mean they’re a perfect fit.   When we believe a candidate is ‘like’ us we loose rigor in our process.   Stay objective.

Happy Behavioural Interviewing.