Prevent Your Next Hiring Mistake: Conduct Behavioral Interviews

Ron’s company needed to hire a salesman. A friend recommended that Ron interview another friend, Ken (not their real names). Ken talked himself up in his interview, as a good sales person can, assuring Ron that he had tackled much more difficult obstacles than those facing Ron’s company. When Ron made the hire, his hopes were high that Ken’s loudly touted sales ability would bring in a flood of robust orders that his team would have to work hard to fill. But instead of his fulfillment team being overwhelmed…Ken underwhelmed them all with his lackluster results. Yet in one-on-one meetings with Ron to troubleshoot ways to improve, Ken continued to talk as if he were highly competent and performance-driven.

Ron tried to encourage and mentor Ken, but after many months of dying sales, Ron realized with disappointment that Ken was a legend only in his own mind, not a top producer. Ken lacked the focus, drive, and skills he’d claimed to possess. When he finally took a medical leave and decided to change careers, Ron was more than relieved to be rid of this hiring mistake.

If you were Ron, what would you do differently to prevent your next hiring mistake? Conduct behavioral interviewing, I hope, because past performance is the best indicator of future behavior! Your goal in an interview is to engage the candidate in dialogue to learn how he or she has behaved in past workplaces to help you understand how he or she will likely behave if you hire him or her. (Try our free behavioral interview guide generator!) Here are a few important reminders that could’ve helped Ron make a better hire:

  • Avoid asking questions that are leading (“You’re fluent in Microsoft Office, I assume?”), overly general (“Tell me about yourself” or “What’s your greatest weakness?”), or hypothetical (“What would you do if…?).
  • Ask questions that start with, “Tell me about a time when…” to elicit real stories from the candidate. For instance, Ron could’ve asked Ken, “Tell me about your sales successes at your past two jobs,” and then probed to specifically quantify Ken’s past results.
  • Remember that attitude, emotional intelligence, and initiative matter, too. Ron could have asked, “Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skill or knowledge to complete an assignment?” Probing followup questions might have revealed a flaw in Ken’s resourcefulness or persistence.

Another tip from Scott Kuethen, Amtec’s CEO, is that for any job, character, intelligence, and conscientiousness are the best predictors of future success.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that no matter how thoroughly you conduct behavioral interviews, the candidate just wows you or you miss something. In Ken’s case, he came highly recommended, and it could be that Ron’s view of Ken was so positively colored from the start that he assumed Ken had better skills than he actually did. (Click here for how to guard against this.) We know for a fact, after the fact, that Ken was a great talker with an extra dose of self-esteem, so the fact that he presented himself so well didn’t help!

When you realize you’ve made a bad hiring decision, what do you do? Cut the cord, advises David Lammert of Pinnacle, a security placement firm:

Within three to six months, and sometimes sooner, you will know if you have made a bad choice. An even larger majority agreed that you should cut your losses as soon as you realize the hiring error. In rare instances organizations have been able to turn a hiring mistake around, usually at the cost of many man-hours and other resources. The overall consensus is to face the reality and move on. Holding on tight and hoping it will get better means more frustration and angst. Understand fault generally lies on both sides and just move on. (For Lammert’s extensive article on this subject, click here.)

Behavioral interviewing isn’t foolproof, just as anything can happen during the hiring process! But with these tips, you stand a better chance of getting to know your candidates in order to make an informed hiring decision.

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