Friday, November 15, 2013

What You See May Not be What You Get

One of my clients is building his company and has specific requirements for rounding out his current team. While coaching him on interviewing, I realized much of what's on the Internet about "behavioral interviewing" unwittingly invites candidates to say what they think the interviewer wants to hear, instead of showing themselves authentically. 

There's a problem with questions such as "Give me an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem." This signals that the company wants someone with logical thinking, and candidates will do their best to impress the interviewer with their sound logic. Another problematic question: "Have you handled a difficult situation with a co-worker? How?" For someone who wants the job, the only possible answer to the first question is "Yes," and now the candidate's thinking, Hmmm... they want someone who's willing to admit difficulties, and someone who's able to manage difficult situations. Better be on my toes with this one. They're now psyching out the INTERVIEWER instead of vice versa. 

So, when you're coaching clients about behavioral interviewing, here's an approach I learned from a company that helps corporations choose candidates for key executive positions. Their reputation depends on getting it right. And your clients' satisfaction with people they hire also depends on that new employee's continued demonstration of characteristics apparent during interviews. NOT examples of past behavior, but what's right in front of the interviewer's nose. Here's how to elicit authentic behavior.

Before the interview, define the key characteristics being sought:
  • What will fulfill the job requirements?
  • What will serve the company's mission?
  • What will match customer and industry needs? 
  • What will complement the current team composition?
During the interview:
  • Create a climate for relaxed conversation (up to 1-1/2 hours if possible). You want to elicit authentic behavior, instead of "best foot forward" that might only show you what the candidate wants you to see. And you want them to do 90% of the talking.
  • These questions will keep them talking and give you more data (as opposed to short answers that don't tell you much):  Broad, general questions ("Tell me more about..."), Value-judgment questions ("What was your favorite part of that? What made it your favorite?"), Probes ("How so...?" "Because...?"), Reflection ("So that interested you..." then be silent to give them time to continue).
  • Observe behavior during the interview that matches or doesn't match the key characteristics you've identified: (1) Compare what they say with what they do in the interview (if their resume emphasizes creativity and you ask about their creative work, you have no guarantee it was actually their idea/work; instead, invite them to do creative problem-solving with you and observe for yourself how they think). (2) Listen to their language for underlying characteristics. For example, someone who asks, "Am I going into too much detail?" may not be highly confident or a great risk-taker. IMPORTANT: This is only one data point; check it out by listening for more evidence. (3) You can also listen to language to make an educated guess about their personality style (voice loud or soft, focus of attention, etc.); it's unethical and even silly to look for a certain personality -- you want to find someone who's emotionally mature -- but it can give some ideas for building a diverse and complementary team.
  • Be aware of your nonverbal behavior; be pleasant without encouraging any particular line of conversation (they would take apparent encouragement as a sign of what you want and try to give you more what you want).
  • Write down your observations immediately after the meeting. If you take notes during the interview, do so in an easygoing, non-obtrusive way (you might have a checklist of the key qualities you're looking for, and put a check mark when you see one). But note-taking is nonverbal behavior and may detract from the safe atmosphere that makes candidates comfortable enough to show their real selves.