Would you agree that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior? And if so, how do we as small business employers guide candidates to share those past behaviors that are applicable to the position we are working to fill? Might I suggest a cleverly designed one-on-one interview (but only when you are satisfied as to the “advertised” details about your applicant)…

A resume and a qualifying phone interview usually can determine the facts about an applicant’s work history. Likewise, you should have all the material you’ll need to run a background check on the employee’s claims to schooling and job chronology. No matter how big or small your business is, make sure you get this done before moving forward with a hire.

Too many small business owners, though, pressed by their needs and calendar, fail to bring importance to the interview that investigates past behavior. Too many tell me that they know a good employee “when they see one,” or they’ll say, “my gut tells me this is the right guy/gal.” Often, these are the same folks who complain about employee turnover and the work ethic of today’s generation.

Experience tells me that 90% of the bad hires made are made because of poor interviews – by the employer. If you want to fix this, prepare an interview that seeks to uncover past behavior trends:

  • List the questions you are going to ask.
  • List the questions that you might ask if the conversation takes you there.
  • Include space for your notes after each question.
  • Include a scale of 1 – 5 regarding the quality of the response.
  • Use a checklist to verify the issues, facts, and behaviors covered.

Do not intimidate the applicant. Present a positive and welcoming personality. But do start the questions immediately.

Ask Open Questions up front: “Did you have trouble finding the office?” “Have you met any of our people, and what was your impression?” “Take a look around and tell me if you would have trouble working in the environment you have noticed so far?” Such questions require more than “yes” or “no” answers.

Revert to Closed Questions: “I see by your resume you graduated from High School. Is that correct?” “You’re here to interview for the customer service position?” “You wrote on your application that you are available to start immediately. Is that right?” By now, you have like established a bit of a comfort level with the candidate and can be more confident in the honesty of the behavioral questions to follow.

Push on to Behavioral Questions: Behavioral Questions expect the applicant to reply at length. I suggest you tell them up front that you are interested in the action they took to fix a problem and in the result their action achieved.
Pose a Problem: “We had been receiving complaints that a customer service rep was losing his temper on the phone with customers. The complaints were reported to me by one of his co-workers. Our workers are encouraged to solve such problems on the floor. Have you been in a position where you were concerned about the behavior of a co-worker?”

Listen: You want to listen with your script and evaluation survey in hand. You are interested in the applicant’s answer and the results of his action. But, you are also interested in the way the applicant answers. For examples, does he take time to frame his answer? does his answer reflect an understanding of the question? and do his “results” match the behavioral need?

Prepare your questions with the job description in mind: “Tell me about a time when you . . . ?” “Imagine that you find yourself in the following situation . . . ” How would you fix a situation like . . . ?” Establish metrics and a point system for each question. If there is more than one person on the hiring team, put the script in each of their hands and discuss the scores and any variances.

Then – and only then – having followed a process such as this, if you have two candidates with equal scores, then, by all means, please go with your instinct – this time backed up with preparation and investigation.


By Steven Schlagel