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OCTOBER 2013 issue of
Rental Management

Behavioral interviewing
Behavioral interviewing

Get the hiring process right the first time

The economy is improving. What’s more, the American Rental Association (ARA) Rental Market Monitor™ is telling us that the equipment rental business is growing four times faster than the economy in general. In this environment, we all will need to again bring new people into our businesses. In the interest of efficiency, we need to get the hiring process right the first time. Hiring the wrong person is a huge waste of time and money.

Experience has taught us that the traditional hiring process turns out to be highly inefficient. All too often, we hire people who have all the experience and skills necessary to succeed at the job, but then we end up firing them anyway.

Why? It is not because they lack experience or skills. We make sure to confirm that they have the necessary skills and experience through our interviewing process, including appropriate reference checks.

On the contrary, we fire them for behavioral problems, such as work ethic, teamwork problems, inability to follow directions, inability to build positive relationships with customers and other employees, inability to work independently and disrespect for the company’s assets.

We have all been taught to ask all the key questions to determine if the person’s resume is accurate and the candidate has the experience and skills necessary to succeed at the job.

However, direct questions don’t work very effectively in an interviewing situation. Candidates are on their best interviewing behavior. They also know the “right” answers we want to hear. Consider these typical questions:

  • “Are you hard working?”
  • “Are you a good team player?”
  • “Can you follow directions?”
  • “Can you build positive relationships with customers and other employees?”

Everyone will respond in the affirmative. Most will be able to provide specific examples. They have heard these questions before and they rehearsed the answers.

Reliable reference checks also are very difficult to obtain. Former employers are on guard and know the legal liabilities associated with “bad mouthing” a former employee.

So, how do we hire the right people for the job, the first time? The answer lies in the behavioral interviewing technique that I learned several years ago from Robal Johnson, an expert in the field of identifying and developing highly effective employees.

Simply stated, this technique encourages the prospective employee to reveal his or her everyday behavioral patterns during the interview. This proven technique includes a simple seven-step process.

Step 1: Make the candidate comfortable. Your goal is to discover the candidate’s normal, everyday behavior. Resist the temptation to create a high-pressure atmosphere. Instead strive to make the candidate feel as comfortable as possible. Start with some pleasant chit-chat. Here are some specific examples:

  • “How was your drive in?”
  • “Any problems findings us?”
  • “Can I offer you a drink of water or a soft drink?”

Towards the end of the interview you can delve into how the candidate handles tough situations. In the beginning, you simply want to get the candidate to relax and be comfortable, showing his or her normal behaviors.

Step 2: Put the resume aside. It is important to physically put the resume aside while saying something like: “I have been so looking forward to this meeting. Based upon your resume, I think you have all the experience and skills you need to be highly successful here at this company. I would just like to use this time together to get to know you a little better.”

Step 3: Ask the critical first indirect question. Begin the questioning with this specific, indirect question: “Please tell me a little about yourself.” Some candidates will respond with “What would you like to know?” or “Where would you like me to begin?” Your answer should be non-verbal, just a shrug that suggests whatever he or she likes. If the candidate asks again where to begin, you should again respond with another gesture. If the candidate asks where to begin a third time, make a mental note that this candidate may need a lot of direction, which is not a good sign. If absolutely necessary, give the person a starting point.

Step 4: Interrupt. After the candidate has talked for about two minutes or so, interrupt with another question: “That’s great, but I would like to really get to know you. Please go back in time and tell me about your earlier experiences.” This will serve to further relax the candidate. He or she will no longer be delivering a monologue. Rather, the candidate will feel more like he or she is being engaged in a pleasant conversation with someone who is both interested and congenial. It also encourages the person to begin telling his or her whole life story from an early stage.

Step 5: Use only nudges and probes. Use gentle probes and encouragement to help the candidate tell his or her life story and help you learn the motivations behind the key decisions in the candidate’s life so far. For example:

  • “That’s great, what happened next?”
  • “Then what?”
  • “Very interesting, why did you do that?”
  • “How did you reach that decision?”
  • “What did you learn from that?”

The trick is to always ask short, indirect, diagnostic questions to which there are no obvious correct answers. Throughout the next 30 or 40 minutes or longer, you will be able to see how the candidate makes decisions, how he or she treats other people, what the candidate thinks makes him or her successful, what the candidate is proud of, what the candidate has learned from his or her mistakes and many other important behaviors. In short, many of the candidate’s most important behavioral tendencies will unfold before your eyes.

Step 6: Look for behavioral clues. Throughout the interviewing process, look for clues into the candidate’s behavioral characteristics.

  • Listen to the candidate’s speech pattern. Is it direct, detailed and energetic?
  • What is his or her self image? Is the candidate full of himself or herself or does the candidate have a realistic view of his or her abilities?
  • What does the candidate like to talk about?
  • Does the candidate mention specific contributions or is he or she only providing vague and unconvincing generalities?
  • How has the candidate treated others along the way?
  • Does the candidate take responsibility or is it always the other guy’s fault?

These clues will tell you mountains about the candidate’s values and resultant behaviors.

Step 7: Next, use more specific indirect questions.

Once you have completed the above steps, it’s time for some more specific indirect questions to which there also are no obvious “correct” answers. Here is a list of some great ones. Naturally, you would leave out any questions that have already been answered.

  • What did you like best and least about your last job?
  • What attracts you to this job?
  • How do you go about reaching decisions?
  • How do you approach solving problems?
  • How do you deal with unreasonable customers?
  • Give me an example(s) of how you have dealt with high-pressure situations.
  • What are your proudest achievements?
  • What are your best strengths?
  • What weaknesses are you working on?
  • What kinds of people do you best get along with and are there some you don’t?
  • Do you prefer working alone or with a team?
  • How do you do deal with interpersonal conflicts?
  • Give me an example of working with a team where you failed to reach your goal. What was your role? What did you learn?
  • What do you like to read?
  • What are your career goals and life goals?
  • Do you have a “Ruling Passion?”
  • How do you react to setbacks?
  • How do you deal with unfair criticism?
  • Describe your work area in your current or last job.
  • Who are some of the people you most admire?

Put less emphasis on skills and experience. Experts tell us that we need to put more importance on behavioral tendencies, general intelligence and basic talents, and less importance on specific experience and learned skills. After all, with a smart person who brings the right on-the-job behaviors, we can successfully provide training and experience. On the other hand, we can’t change basic talents and ingrained behaviors.

  • Get the candidate to do most of the talking. In the most productive interviews, the candidate will have done 90 percent of the talking. Resist the temptation to tell your own story or sell the company. That can happen at another time.
  • Make reference checks productive. Make it a point to check at least one reference not provided by the candidate by calling a previous employer not listed as a reference. When doing reference checks, try to give the person permission to be candid. For instance, “We have pretty much decided to hire Betty Johnson. As you know, she is terrific, but I will be her supervisor and I am hoping you can give me some insight into what I will need to focus on in order to help her become as successful as she can be.” Remember to multiply any negative aspects by a large factor. Mindful of possible legal consequences, most people will go out of their way to be positive.
  • Be aware of the questions you must not ask. Another advantage inherent in this approach is that you will not be asking direct questions. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to review questions that are illegal to ask. You can find examples online at http://humanresources.about.com/od/interviewing/a/interview_quest.htm.

Tom Ross is the chairman and CEO of Alert Management Systems, Colorado Springs, Colo., developer of Alert EasyPro rental management software. He has been with Alert for almost a decade. Prior to Alert, he was executive vice president, account management, of the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency, which was the largest privately held advertising agency in the world. Over the years he worked on the advertising accounts of a long list of American icon consumer companies, including Nestle, Green Giant, Mattel, Memorex, Procter & Gamble, Kimberly Clark, Keebler, H.J. Heinz, Star-Kist, Kraft, Allstate, McDonald’s, Altoids and others. Visit alert-ims.com for more information.




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