June 18, 2021

The Genesis of Interview Questions and Indicators

The Managers’ Corner:

This blog looks very briefly at the use of behaviour-descriptive questions and indicators in terms of possible candidate responses.  Is your organization using these two aspects when interviewing?

Behaviour descriptive questions should not be simply pulled out of the air.  They should be based on several factors, chief of which is the job description which should generate the job advertisement.  Take a hard look at that job description and core competency profile and confirm what it is you are looking for.  What are the skills, understandings, professional values and mission advancement capabilities that are required for this position?  What skill set el al is already present on the team?  What is missing?  The answer to those two questions and the information from the job description will give you some fertile ground to come up with questions that should allow candidates to demonstrate how they fit the position you are attempting to fill.

And that’s where the behaviour-descriptive format comes in.  Once you know what you are looking for from your review of the job description and your assessment of staff needs in terms of current employees, design a question around those considerations and invite the candidates to answer in two specific ways:

  1. Have them give you a clear example from their past of what they did (not what they would do) in a specific situation, and
  2. Ask them to comment specifically on how they see that experience being replicated in the organization to which they are applying – for the betterment of the organization.

So, let’s look at an example.  A job description for a high-tech firm includes a reference to the practice of using strategic response teams to address presenting problems creatively and efficiently in a highly competitive field.  It is clear from the description that the organization places a high priority on working cooperatively with others in very close quarters under constant time pressures.  In addition, you know that the team to which this applicant may be assigned is made up of some strong-willed individuals who are not afraid of contesting the opinions and ideas of others.  That translates into the following questions:

Working in small teams in a pressurized environment is always a challenge.  Inevitably, that pressure generates some internal conflict in the team that must be managed if the team is to be productive. 

Tell us about a situation in your past where you were working in this kind of environment and conflict did, indeed, arise.

  1. What role did you play in managing the conflict?
  2. Were you successful? How do you know?
  3. What have you learned from that situation that would help a team in our organization move effectively and efficiently through its assigned tasks?

This question gives candidates ample scope to “tell their story” and invites them to apply what they have learned to their new situation.  In other words, it gives interviewers a window on past performance and a sense of how past performance will likely impact on future performance.

Now it’s time to examine the need for indicators or look-fors for each question.  Let’s be very clear about what we mean by that.  Indicators or look-fors are suggested answers that the interviewers expect to hear in candidates’ responses, but they are not cast in concrete.  It may be that candidates suggest other possibilities that the interviewers did not expect and should be considered as entirely reasonable alternatives to the set indicators.  Use indicators but be prepared for other responses as well – and judge accordingly.

To go back to our question, here’s some suggested indicators you might consider:

  • Recognition that conflict is a regular occurrence in the pressurized world of 21st business
  • Capacity to clearly articulate the nature of the conflict situation in the past
  • Confirmation that the candidate was an active participant in solving the problem
  • Evidence that the candidate has a win-win attitude in conflict resolution
  • Evidence of sensitivity to others’ points of view
  • Demonstrated capacity to learn from past experience and to be able to apply that learning in new and different situations

It is important as well to note that there really is no mathematical calculation to be made based on the number of indicators evident in the response (i.e. a candidate must have shown evidence of four of the six indicators for an answer to be deemed successful or adequate or outstanding).  Rather, these indicators are meant to be guideposts only and are to be considered with all other responses before a final judgment is made.  Human behaviours can rarely be reduced to a five-point scale!  In the end, it is your fair, unprejudiced and data-based judgment that counts.

Next week’s blog will focus on the art of scripting candidates’ responses during the interview.

Dr. Dan

Need more information?  Check out our Management Group Webinars or Individualized Coaching for selection techniques (customizable to reflect your particular needs and conditions).