Interview techniques

Interviews remain by far the most popular technique used in recruitment. This is despite evidence that they can be affected by many subjective aspects that may undermine their reliability. Various actions can improve the validity of employment interviews.

This article is based on writings by Mike Toten, HR writer/consultant. It has been updated and revised.
 
Interviews remain by far the most popular technique used in recruitment. This is despite evidence that they can be affected by many subjective aspects that may undermine their reliability.
 
Improving interviewing techniques
 
Various actions can improve the validity of employment interviews.
 
Training interviewers more thoroughly, taking a more structured approach that treats all applicants equally, and assessing applicants by more than one person can all help. Perhaps the buzz term at present is 'behaviour-based interviewing'. This term refers to presenting the applicant with a series of scenarios that are directly relevant to the job and asking how he/she would respond to each one. Alternatively, the questions ask whether the applicant has encountered a similar situation in the past and, if so, how he/she responded at the time and what was the result.
 
Issues relevant to 'similar situation' approach
 
The 'similar situation' approach is based on the belief that a person’s past job behaviour is a reliable predictor of his/her future behaviour.
 
While this view may have merit, the following issues may affect its validity:
  • People can learn from experience and past mistakes. Questions based on past behaviour should therefore also ask what the applicant would do if a similar scenario arose in the future.
  • People with limited previous work experience to draw from may find it hard to answer the questions. School leavers are an obvious example. A partial solution here is to ask the applicant to consider other situations that required skills and judgment, such as school projects or participation in community group activities. While these clearly involve different circumstances and pressures than work situations, applicants’ responses can still provide some useful insight.
  • If people previously worked in situations where equal opportunity did not apply, behaviour-based interviews may have the side effect of encouraging discrimination to continue.
Provided the above limitations are understood and compensated for, behaviour-based interview questions can add considerable extra objectivity and relevance to employment interviews. This is particularly so given the current trend in many organisations towards recruiting people for their 'values' rather than particular technical skills.
 
Behaviour-based questions
 
Behaviour-based questions may relate to issues such the following:
  • organisational skills, such as planning, delegating and prioritising
  • technical skills, such as problem-solving, applying knowledge/skills and compensating for your limitations
  • interpersonal skills, such as customer service, working in a team or dealing with different levels of employees
  • communication skills
  • taking initiatives and risks
  • commitment to the job or organisation
  • commitment to personal learning and growth.

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Guide to behaviour-based questions
 
Obviously, you need to customise the questions to suit the particular job each time, but you could use the following examples as a starting point for a list of behaviour-based questions:
  • Describe a work situation where you had to apply some new skills or knowledge you had recently gained. What knowledge/skills were involved? How did you use them? What was the result?
  • Describe a work situation where you had to plan an entire project or event. What steps did you take? What was the result? 
  • Describe a work situation where you had to ask for help from others. Whom did you ask? What was the result?
  • Describe a time when you had to work closely with a work colleague at a higher (or lower) level than yourself. How did you feel about having to do so? What was the result?
  • Describe a work situation where you managed a project or task with help from others. What parts of the project/task did you delegate and how did you do it? What was the result?
  • Describe a work situation where you part of a team and a problem within that team arose. What was the problem and what caused it? What action did you take? What was the result?
  • Describe a situation when you had to balance busy work commitments simultaneously with outside-work ones (such as family commitments or studying for exams)? How did you prioritise and organise the competing demands?
  • Describe a situation where you had to deal with a particularly difficult customer (eg one who could not pay the bill or made unrealistic service demands). How did you handle this person? What was the result?
  • What has been the most difficult work-related situation you have faced? How did you deal with it? What was the result? 
  • Describe a situation where a work colleague or manager misunderstood what you did or said. How did you try to sort out the misunderstanding? What was the result?
  • Describe a work situation when you had to exercise effective listening skills to solve a problem. What did you do? What was the result?
  • Describe a work situation where you took the initiative and did things a different way. What action did you take? What was the result?
  • Describe some things you have done in your career so far that demonstrate your ability to take the initiative.
  • Describe what 'teamwork' means to you in a work context.
  • What type of management style achieves the best results from you? How and why?  
For an extensive library of policies, agreements, forms, correspondence and checklists, designed to make human resources (HR) management easy for your business see our HR Advance website.

 

 

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