The Benefits of Behavioral Interviewing

It didn't take long for Woodbriar, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility, to earn its payback from a healthcare consultant's advice.

Woodbriar is a successful organization with a clearly defined mission and culture. But in its industry (healthcare) and specific niches (long-term care and short-term rehabilitation), recruitment is an ongoing challenge. Retention is also an issue.

To tackle these hiring issues, which go well beyond healthcare, Woodbriar brought in a consultant to help the organization improve its results in recruiting and retaining staff. The consultant introduced the concept of behaviour-based interviewing to help Woodbriar find the candidate with the right skills, knowledge, and fit for the organization.

Get Beyond the Canned Answer

Behavioural interviewing requires candidates to respond with specific examples of past experiences rather than generalized or hypothetical responses. At the root of this interview style is the belief that past performance is the most accurate predictor of future performance. Typical behaviour-based questions begin with, "Tell me about a time when…" or "Give me an example of…" and require candidates to provide a complete, three-part response in a format known as SAR: situation, action and result.

At Woodbriar, the consultant provided a quick overview of the methodology and recommended it as a useful tool for evaluating candidates' specific knowledge and skills, as well as fit for the job and the organization. Soon after, Dennis Sargent, Woodbriar's executive director, found an immediate opportunity to put the method to the test as he began to interview for a new assistant director of nursing.

"The first candidate I saw was extremely impressive," Sargent explains. "She made a great first impression — very polished, very professional, and she could really ‘talk the interview talk.' I was about ready to make her an offer!

"Then I started — very awkwardly, I felt — to try some of the new style of interview question(s)," he adds. "I asked her for specific examples that related to what we would need her to do at our facility. And all of a sudden, this great candidate didn't look so great. What I found, as I asked repeated behavior-based questions, was that she was very glib and could spout canned answers, but she couldn't give me any specific examples!"

Without relating his impressions, Sargent passed the candidate along to the director of nursing as the next step in the interview process. Her experience was identical to Sargent's — an initially positive first impression, followed by disillusionment when the candidate couldn't back it up with specific, relevant, believable examples.

"The experience really opened up our eyes to the value of this kind of question," Sargent says. "We were ready to put our next candidate to the test — and she passed with flying colors!"

The second candidate presented a professional appearance but without the immediate wow factor of the first candidate. Yet she was able to provide example after example of how she had behaved in prior situations relevant to the position and work environment at Woodbriar. This second candidate was hired.

Use Behavioural Questions as Specific Screens

Sargent used behaviour-based questions to establish organizational as well as position fit. "She had a great sense of humour, and that might sound trivial, but at Woodbriar we think it's so important that it's in our statement of core values," he says. "And she has certainly been a great addition to our staff."

While behaviour-based interviewing is not a panacea for complex recruitment and retention challenges, it is a time-tested methodology for improving hiring results. It has been studied, evaluated and practiced for more than 30 years and is a central component of selection strategy at some of the world's best known companies. Sargent and the team at Woodbriar found the approach to be immediately useful, and they have since introduced behavior-based interview training for all hiring managers companywide.

According to Sargent, the primary lesson is that hiring decisions shouldn't be based on gut instinct or first impressions — no matter how impressive.