Find a win-win way to play at job interviews

Even those who don't get hired this time could get a second chance. By Joanna Parfitt
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The Independent Online
Playing the interview game can be dangerous, particularly if the wrong person wins. It can be bad for the employer, and even worse for the employee.

Employers want to recruit the right people. People who will stay, enjoy their work, and, if the opportunity arises, progress in their career. This is why behavioural interviewing has been adopted by many organisations.

Sometimes also called "competency-based interviewing", it is a method that allows interviewers to accurately assess the job and performance skills of a candidate.

"One of the rules of this kind of approach," says Janette Hurles, a freelance change management consultant, "is that the company must assess the skills and competencies required by the position from the outset. At the same time the company has to look at itself and its culture with complete honesty. It is important to be objective about what kind of person would fit in. Once a person has been recruited the company has to be certain that the reality will live up to the new recruit's expectations. This way companies put in more preparation and obtain closer matches."

Technical or job-related skills concern the specific knowledge required to perform the work, such as typing, brick-laying or accounting, while performance skills illustrate work habits and behaviours. Typical attributes are leadership, organisational, technical, coping, and written and spoken communication skills.

"A CV or application form is often used in conjunction with this kind of interview," says Ms Hurles. "Through interview we can probe more deeply and see how a person reacts under pressure."

It is common for the interview to centre around two to five of the most vital skills and related questions will have been written beforehand. During the interview skills are rated according to the candidate's responses.

Often it is wise for more than one interviewer to be present so that one can concentrate on asking the questions while another takes descriptive notes.

One recent job hunter experienced a sequence of five separate interviews, one of which was by satellite link, each concentrating on a different attribute.

If, for example, a call centre were looking for someone to work in customer care, their selection process would typically centre around spoken communication skills and flexibility.

A typical question could ask the candidates to describe the types of experience they have had talking with customers and then to talk about a time when they had to communicate under difficult circumstances.

The interviewer would then assess whether the candidate understood the problem and talked helpfully or whether he expressed negative feelings. Evaluating past behaviour is the key to this kind of selection.

"Let us not forget that an interview is a two-way process and that the candidate should learn as much about the company as the company finds out about the candidate," says Ms Hurles. "Before the adoption of such a structured approach to selection it was too easy to be influenced by a gut reaction, employing someone who had charisma rather than a solid skill set. This is what we sometimes call 'the halo effect'."

There are no trick questions in a behavioural interview. People are assessed on their skills and competencies. No longer is it necessary to request that candidates have 10 years' experience of a particular environment. Instead it is possible to recruit the skill-set needed for the job regardless of the amount of time spent acquiring those skills. The technique is useful when recruiting for teams, for, rather than employing a set of clones, each team member can possess his own skill-set, which, when combined, produce a dynamic and effective result. "These interviews have a limited value if the interpreter is insufficiently skilled in assessing the responses," says Ms Hurles. "A good interviewer would not lead the candidate to the desirable answer nor indicate the kind of person they are looking for. But when an interview is conducted well, it can lead to an unsuitable candidate being recalled for a more suitable position. And a candidate's suitability for future training and career development may be evaluated ensuring that today's employees can be part of tomorrow."

Janette Hurles can be contacted on 01372 277575