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Predicting Future Behavior

May 26, 2011
by Tim Tolan
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Mining for Revealing Answers During the Interview
Tim Tolan
Tim Tolan

As a CIO, I'm confident you've had lots of practice at interviewing potential new members of your team. You've probably heard questions like, “Tell me about a time when you were on a team and one of the members wasn't carrying his or her share of the workload.” If this is how your last interview began-congratulations! You are already a member of the world of behavioral-style interviewing!

Just using the traditional interview questions that we've used for years does not give you the hiring manager enough information about the candidate. Behavioral-style interviewing, on the other hand, helps predict future behavior by examining past behavior. This method of interviewing is used by many organizations (including executive search professionals) to better assess candidates before making a critical hiring decision. Behavioral interviewing is designed to minimize personal impressions that can influence judgment.

Too many times, we make hiring decisions because we “like” the candidate better than the other finalists, or because “he/she has great experience.” That's not enough of a reason to pull the trigger. The cost of hiring and replacing talent is far too expensive to make the wrong choice. You're much better off focusing on the candidate's actions and behaviors, rather than on subjective impressions that can sometimes be misleading.

I'll often tell HCIT candidates to take their time when answering questions during a behavioral interview. This process really forces them to stop and think about a specific example to answer the question being posed, and as a result, behavioral interviewing can occasionally stump even those who are “quick-on-their-feet.” Instead of asking candidates how they would behave in a particular situation, ask them to describe how they did behave. Raise probing questions-get the candidate to provide precise details about their experiences. Short, vague, or general answers won't give you the information you need. For technical team-leads who'll be reporting to you, ask questions like, “Tell me about a situation where you were leading the development team and you knew you would miss the deadline/milestone you agreed to. How did you feel about missing that deadline, and how did you explain the delay to your boss?” The answer will reveal a lot of information about the candidates and their leadership qualities (or lack thereof), in particular.

Follow-up questions are a must, too. Follow-ups measure consistency from question to question and help you determine if their message remains the same or changes in any way. Useful follow-up questions include:

  • “Please give me an example.”

  • “How did you feel?”

  • “What was the outcome?”

  • “Knowing what you now know, if you could do it again, what would you do differently?”

  • “How did you react?”

  • “What was the result?”

Always be prepared to encourage candidates to discuss the details of situations that demonstrate behaviors or actions, especially those involving project work, work experience, teamwork, initiative, planning, service delivery, and leadership. You need to completely understand exactly how a candidate handled a certain task or situation, so ask, then pause to give them ample time to give a thorough answer (silence is golden here). If a candidate attempts to generalize their answer, stop them and encourage a more detailed answer until you find what you're looking for. I tell them to take their time and think about a situation, and I never pressure them into giving me a quick response. I am looking for details and accuracy-not speed.

Behavioral interviewing is a style of interviewing that is increasing in popularity due to its effectiveness. For most of us, it can also become challenging and intimidating to the candidate on the other side of the table. The best candidates on paper and in person may not turn out to be the ideal candidate you want to add to your IT team. While this style of interviewing may be different and perhaps a bit uncomfortable for you and the candidates you are interviewing, the end result will likely be worth the extra effort. Of course there are lots of other boxes you need to check before making a hiring decision. Just make sure you add behavioral interviewing to your hiring process.

Tim Tolan is a senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or at (843) 579-3077 ext. 301. His blog can be found at Healthcare Informatics 2011 June;28(6):80

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