Leadership Connection: Competency-Based Interviewing
Each Leadership Connection article is approved for 1 hr CE for CDM, CFPPs and 1 CPE hour (level 1) for RDs and DTRs.
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(reprinted from Dietary Manager, July/August 2009)
Hiring Mistakes Hurt
People can be hard to read. Every hiring manager can relate to the “super hero” candidate whose actual performance on the job falls significantly short of their self portrayal during the interview process. The impact of this bad hire cannot be ignored. Co-workers become annoyed, morale is negatively affected, additional training may be required, and customer service is interrupted. Even worse, if the employee needs to be terminated, additional time and resources will be required to find a replacement. All of this activity is expensive to the organization. A hiring mistake costs upwards of two to six times a position’s annual compensation, not including the effect on customer service. In today’s competitive environment, the ability to identify candidates who will enjoy their responsibilities, seek continuous improvement, and add value to the bottom line is critical to the success of every organization. After all, organizations have access to roughly the same business resources.
How do you win in today’s competitive landscape? You win by building an exceptional workforce.
Good Decisions Require Good Data
Almost everyone has experienced a “traditional” interview during their career. This type of format involves basic questions such as, “what are some of your strengths and weaknesses, how would you describe yourself, where do you see yourself in five years,” etc. From the candidate’s standpoint, these types of questions are easy and most, if not all, have prepared answers beforehand. After all, there are literally thousands of websites and books that provide candidates with the “right” answer to these types of questions. While some candidates may welcome the ease of this type of interview, they may also leave frustrated because their true strengths and abilities were not able to shine through the interview process.
From the interviewer’s standpoint, the answers to these types of questions offer little insight into the candidate’s qualifications, leaving hiring managers without guidance to make a sound hiring decision. Even worse, this type of format leaves hiring managers susceptible to asking illegal or non-job related questions, make decisions based on stereotypes or bias, misinterpret applicant information, or make snap decisions. In any case, the organization lacks the ability to locate “star” performers.
What is Behavioral-Based Interviewing?
Behavior Interviewing has been widely used by companies since the mid ‘70s. Its popularity has risen greatly over the past 10-15 years, and many Fortune 1000 companies have readily adopted the format. Behavioral-based interviewing was created on the assumption that past behavior predicts future behavior, and interviewers are trained to focus on an employee’s actual past behavior. For example, let’s say that a company is looking to hire a kitchen manager to work in a fast-paced environment. In a traditional interview, the candidate might be asked, “how well do you work in a fast-paced environment?” to which a candidate might answer, “I work the best under pressure. I believe that every challenge can be solved by being organized and I excel at that.” In this instance, the interviewer has not been given much information, other than the candidate’s philosophy on the importance of organization. We still don’t know whether the candidate can handle a fast-paced environment or even if he/she is organized. In a behavioral-based interview, the question is posed a little different, “Tell me about the last time you felt overwhelmed at work and why? What did you do?” In this instance, the interviewer learns how the candidate has actually handled a fast-paced environment in the past. Also, the interviewer learns what a fast-paced environment means to the candidate. After all, one candidate’s perception of a busy kitchen might not begin to compare to the reality of your organization’s environment.
Before an organization can implement a behavioral-based interviewing program, they must first identify the core competencies for each position. Competencies are simply the behavioral characteristics needed for each position — these are the mission critical components and include the behavioral traits that a candidate will need in order to be successful.
Suppose you are interviewing for a new kitchen manager. A list of competencies might include:
- Customer Service Oriented
- Supervisory/Development of Direct Reports
- Conflict Management
- Quality Oriented
Having trouble identifying a list of competencies for an open position? Start by identifying what the employee will be doing in the open position. Create a detailed job description which identifies the requirements of the position. Next, determine the required outputs and success factors for the job. Determine the behavioral traits of the individual whom you believe will perform the job successfully. Pick a current or past employee whom you feel exemplifies these traits and narrow the list to your key behavioral traits for the job.
Putting Your Plan into Action
Once you have identified the core competencies for each position, you can create 2-3 questions for each competency. Keep in mind that you are seeking evidence of the behavioral traits established at the beginning of the hiring process. Using our earlier example of the kitchen manager, some of our questions might include:
- Adaptable: Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a significant change in your organization. What did you do?
- Customer Service: Describe a time that you had to respond to a customer request or complaint.
- Organized: Tell me about a time when you could have done a better job of organizing a particular event. What happened?
- Development of Direct Reports: Tell me about a time when you coached someone on the job and their performance improved. Give me an example of a time that your coaching did not produce the desired result. What did you do?
- Conflict Management: Tell me about a time that you handled a significant conflict at work. What was the outcome?
- Quality Orientation: Describe a time when the quality of your product or service was compromised. What happened and what did you do?
- Follow-Up: Have you ever had to follow up with vendors on the status of products that you ordered? Give me a specific example.
With answers to behavioral questions such as these, you can make comparisons between candidates and their approaches to managing a kitchen operation. In addition, you will have a good idea how the candidate has approached situations similar to your environment in the past. The values and behavioral characteristics and traits you have identified and sought out give you a much better idea whether the selected candidate is a good fit for your position. Interviewing is never an exact science, but utilizing a behavioral-based interviewing process will provide you with a consistent and practical approach to identifying star performers for your organization.
by Sarah Russell, MBA, PHR
Sarah Russell, MBA, PHR is the director of human resources for Sysco Atlanta, LLC.