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Why Behavioral Based Interviews With Context Are Vital

More and more companies are moving to Competency Based (also called Behavior-Based) interviewing.  We feel strongly that Performance-Based interviewing yields better hires, when compared to competency-based interviewing.  We are advocates for doing the work during the interview to find the candidate’s precise skills in context (in directly comparable situations) that align with the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals that apply to the position.

Competency-Based Interviewing, focuses on specific personal traits, and seeks to find examples of how the candidate has demonstrated the trait.  Common traits included in this type of profiling include: leadership, teamwork, decision-making, ethics, communications, etc.  A typical CBI question would be: “Give me an example of how you have exhibited leadership in your job.”  Interviewers find CBI easy, because it follows a script, conversation flows, and it feels like a high quality information exchange.  There are several flaws and pitfalls to using CBI:

  • Candidates know how to win the game. There are too many books and articles instructing job seekers on how to prepare and rehearse great-sounding answers to CBI questions.
  • The information has no context – you won’t find out if the candidate can do what you need done. Even if the candidate answers sincerely, you’ll only learn how they behave in general terms.
  • You will end up judging the candidate based on presentation, not true capability.

Performance-Based interviewing takes behaviors and puts them in the context of the specific results needed when that behavior is used.  The performance-based approach requires an up-front definition of the performance objectives (SMART goals) for the job.  Once those are determined, each goal can be turned into a question that is contextual.  For example, suppose you need “leadership” to be exemplified specifically by improving profitability and efficiency.  Your question to the candidate might be: “We need this person to turn around production, improve efficiency and increase gross margin.  What specifically have you done that would prepare you to achieve this goal?”  Candidates can’t rehearse that answer.  Mediocre candidates will be uncomfortable, employ generalities, talk around the subject, and their lack of substance will be evident.  Highly qualified candidates will have specifics, facts, figures, percentages, and will be excited about giving you the answer.  The difference will be palpable to you.

Constructing a Performance-Based job description and interview profile takes more work.  The interview itself takes a more structured approach (than CBI), and being willing to dig for details – the evidence of capability in context.  The result is knowing that you can predict the new hire’s performance, and be better assured of success.