Training your staff to give effective behavioral interviews can be a straightforward process, especially when the people you’ve selected to train are responsible, level-headed and understand the subtleties inherent in the types of questions they’ll be asking. In general, behavioral interview questions ask job applicants to describe how they behaved in a former position when presented with a set of challenges. Properly trained interviewers can discover much about a candidate; behavioral interviewing can highlight specific skills while revealing a lot about the applicant as a person.
Provide an Explanation
Ask your trainees to first tell you what they think behavioral interviewing is. Asking this question does two things: It enables you to get an idea of the depth of knowledge in the room and also provides an opportunity for your audience to learn by comparison -- what they believe versus the facts. Use prepared handouts to reinforce your explanation, so your staff will have something to review after the training session is over. Clearly explain what behavioral interviewing is -- a technique to learn about an applicant’s past behavior in specific situations -- and that you're using it as a good predictor of future behavior.
A good method for teaching behavioral interviewing is to set up some role-playing exercises for the trainees. Role-playing demonstrates the concept of behavioral interviewing by using real-life situations. For instance, have one of your staff members act as an administrative assistant answering a phone call from an extremely upset customer. Then ask the staff member how she'd respond to the customer. Explain to the group that this demonstration is a visual example of the types of behavioral questions they’ll ask a job applicant and the responses they can anticipate.
Give the group some break time to reflect on the role-playing activity. When all are back in their seats, describe the differences between weak behavioral questions and strong ones. For example, a weak behavioral question might be, “Do you consider yourself to be a people person?” A somewhat improved question could be, “What would do if you had to handle an irate customer?” The best format for a behavioral question would be one that asks the applicant to respond using an example from her past, such as, “Describe a time when you had to deal with an upset customer and how you resolved the situation.” Other good questions might include, “Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision and its outcome,” or “Give me an example of what you’ve done in the past to encourage teamwork."
Teach What Not to Ask
To assist in keeping employers from discriminating against applicants, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prohibits certain types of questions. Teach your staff to understand the nature of employment discrimination and to avoid asking questions that might result in a discrimination lawsuit. Advise trainees to avoid interview questions of any type, including behavioral, that elicit responses regarding race, sex, national origin, age, religion and disability. A prohibited question might be, for instance, “Tell me about a time when your religious affiliation (or age or nationality or gender or other discriminating term) prevented you from doing your job.” All behavioral interview questions should relate strictly to the requirements of the job for which the person is applying.
Michelle Reynolds has been writing about business, careers and art since 1993. She was the publisher of a newsletter, “Working Parents Monthly," as well as a graphic design guidebook. Reynolds also served as human-resources director at a resort/spa for eight years. She is an artist and promotes the arts and other artists through ElegantArtisan.com, a website she developed and maintains.