Behavioral Interviewing Techniques

One of the most important elements of selecting the right employee in any organization is in taking the time to assess whether or not the individual fits the standards and exhibits a certain behavior the company is looking for. This calls for behavioral interviewing, which is a key part of the employee selection process.

What is behavioral interviewing?

Consider this – a prospective employee has a history of suing their employees for one reason or another. Although these actions may have been warranted, it demonstrates a litigious mindset that may be carried into their new role if hired. For some employers, it also raises a red flag. While this is an extreme scenario, this information could be valuable in determining whether or not the candidate would be a good fit. Finding out this information is part of the behavioral interviewing process, and may come out in general conversation.

Another instance would be inquiring as to how the candidate worked under pressure and how they reacted to conflict. Also called competency-based interviewing (CBI) and behavior-based interviewing (BBI), it relies on the notion that past behavior predicts future behavior and actions. Every role has specific behavioral competencies that should be demonstrated throughout the interview.

What occurs during the behavioral interviewing process?

Prospective candidates are asked about real-life situations that have occurred in their past employment to help assess their knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job they are interviewing for. Again, the role they are interviewing for has specific behavioral objectives that mesh with the culture of the company and help define the position. In accounting, this may include how they communicate, being detailed oriented, problem solving, initiative and follow-through.

What are some traits to look for in behavioral interviewing?

Some of the most common traits for any role include problem solving, stress management, and credibility. For management roles, this means having the ability to lead others and being able to persevere when things get tough. Once the common traits have been established, the interviewer must touch on the technical competencies required for the job. Technical skills are industry specific. While understanding whether or not the person would be a good fit, the interview process goes beyond that. Candidates should be able to demonstrate the technical skills needed for the job they are applying for.

Examples of technical skills would be demonstrating proficiency at completing case study reports, or investigating erroneous charges that may be impacting the bottom line. Getting the right person for the job involve both elements (technical sills) and the ability to demonstrate other competencies. In the accounting industry, there must be technical proficiency, so focusing on their behavioral competencies can make a huge difference.

Why is behavioral interviewing important?

Behavioral interviewing adds value to the organization, and is effective in selecting the right candidate the first time. When a bad hire is made, it affects the company in a number of ways:

  • Costs of finding a new employee
  • Costs of training a new employee
  • Loss of productivity
  • Low morale
  • Poor customer retention
  • Reduction in sales

With all of these factors affecting the bottom line, using the behavioral interviewing process becomes more important with each good hire. To date, it costs approximately $7,000 to replace a salaried employee, $10,000 to replace a mid-level employee, and $40,000 to replace a senior executive. In the accounting field, a bad hire may have additional implications, such as tax reporting errors, financial fraud, errors in financial statements, incorrect management reports, and more. If any of these occur, it could severely impact the firm’s reputation.

The Interviews

In addition to behavioral interviews, there are two additional types of interviews that may be used to select prospective candidates, but the behavioral interview is the most effective. Here’s why:

  1. Traditional: The traditional interview asks questions that usually require a direct answer. This is the most popular form of interview, and is easier for interviewers to conduct. The interviewer can be creative with their questions, but will usually have generic answers. There are issues with this type of interview, because candidates can rehearse what they will say. Additionally, there is no gauge for a candidate to stand out from the others, and there is no basis for determining the real knowledge, skill, or ability of the candidate.
  2. Situational: Interviewers use this to form hypothetical questions. This is useful because interviewers can easily recognize the answer they are seeking. For an accounting position, this helps determine what the candidate would do in certain situations, but that is not necessarily true. If the candidate does not have practical experience in the situation, they would only be answering as to what they may do, not what they have done.

Preparing for a Behavioral Interview

In order to effectively prepare for behavioral interview, there are a few steps that must be taken:

  1. Job Analysis: Interviewers must fully understand the position and the requirements needed to be effective in the role. A thorough job analysis should be conducted to outline the responsibilities, KSAs, minimum hiring requirements, and qualifications.
  2. Job Description: If there is no job description, the analysis should be used to put one together. It should include an overall summary of the position, responsibilities, KSAs, preferred qualifications, and minimum requirements to be considered for the role. A job description is also a legal document, and should be co-written by a HR professional or employment attorney.
  3. Identify the Competencies for the Interview: Once you have the analysis and description in place, it is essential to identify the technical skills needed to be successful in the role. For an accounting candidate, giving them a short skills assessment to determine their level of comfort and proficiency in doing the work is warranted. These tests must be validated to avoid discriminatory practices. Determine the competencies that will be used to select the candidate. They should mirror those of the role and should be in line with the duties that are most essential.
  4. Defining Positive and Negative Indicators of the Review: Each competency should have a positive and negative indicator that will be used to evaluate each candidate. These indicators should be organization specific, and mirror the values of the organization.
  5. Create a Rating Scale: Rating scales help determine the best candidates based on competencies, and also assist in avoiding discriminatory practices.
  6. Write the Questions: The most effective formula for behavioral interview questions include:
  • Using an opening starter
  • Adding a competency-based action
  • Including any needed qualifiers

This will help get the best results from the answer provided by the candidate. An example would be questions like, “Tell me about a time when you,” or “Describe a situation in which you.” Then, add in an action to measure competency. An example would be, “… how you faced a problem.” Finally, add qualifiers to that situation for further explanation. Using phrases like “…in order to respond to the needs of a client, customer, or your manager.”

Asking questions that are directly related to the role is key. They should be situations that are likely to occur on the job to effectively process how the candidate would react in the situation. Questions should not be asked that are not related to the position, but should be formulated based on competencies needed to be successful in the role.

For management positions, the types of questions being asked should be more detailed in order to fully assess experienced candidates. In most cases, the STAR method is used. Each letter of the acronym represents a part of the response from the candidate that will help the interviewer determine their KSAs. If the candidate does not reveal that response, the interviewer can probe deeper.

Here is what STAR means:

S-Situation

  • This is where the candidate gives an overview of the situation

T-Task

  • The candidate should be able to fully explain the tasks needed to be done in the situation

A-Action

  • The candidate should speak in specifics about actions they took in the situation

R-Results

  • The candidate should be able to provide results of their actions

In this instance, it is important for the interviewer to probe for the answers, and offer follow-up questions to gather additional insight. When evaluating candidate responses, both positive and negative indicators should be used as a basis. Every candidate should be asked the same questions for fairness and transparency.

The STAR method should be used for candidates with and without experience, using the same behavioral interview questions. This provides consistency across the board. For candidates without past experiences in the role, they should be encouraged to draw from other experiences such as internships, volunteer work, activities in school, etc.

In any interview process, the interview should be able to put the candidate at ease by greeting them warmly, making eye contact and engaging in small talk prior to the interview. Avoiding discriminatory questions is key. Stray away from anything about family life, native language or religious clothing. Offer something to drink, be positive and have a relaxed demeanor.

The normal order of an interview of should follow the agenda:

  1. Introduction to the organization
  2. Explanation of the interview process
  3. Details about the position
  4. Candidate questions

The interviewer should have already studied the candidate’s resume and have questions formulated. They should keep organized notes to distinguish one candidate from the other. If using a rating scale, make clear notes to support the rating. Do not write notes on resumes, but on a separate pad of paper. It is important to let the candidate do most of the talking. Standard interviews take about an hour, with at least six to eight behavioral interview questions.

Understanding how behavioral interviews can provide insight and assist in selecting the right candidate can be beneficial to the organization. Asking the right questions will save time and money. Do it right the first time, and the benefits will be noticeable throughout the organization.

If you are on the other side of this equation and are the one interviewing with a company for a job, be sure to check out my Job Interview Manual.

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MBA, JD, CPA, CPA National Lead Instructor at Becker