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Get Behavioral Interview-Ready

Monday July 2, 2001
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Hiring the best people represents a key goal for many healthcare organizations. After all, few hospitals can afford to make poor hiring decisions. The costs of recruitment ads, recruiters' orientation and training time, lost productivity for the person who is training the new employee, salary, benefits, and other factors can easily add up to four times the salary of a "wrong" employee.
Many healthcare organizations are beginning to use behavioral interviewing, an employment interviewing technique that results in faster, more accurate hiring decisions. It is gaining in popularity as organizations strive to weed out candidates who do not "fit" and hire top performers.
Behavioral interviewing is based on the premise that your previous job behavior will determine - with a high degree of accuracy - how well you will perform in a new, similar role. These types of interviews are not just a fad. Twenty-five years of research support the behavioral interview as a better and easier way to make hiring decisions and decrease turnover. Traditional interviews can only identify top performers 15% of the time, while behavioral interviews accurately identify top performers 75% of the time.
So what can you expect if your next interview is a behavioral interview? The basis of behavioral interviews is to discover if you have key competencies. Competencies - patterns of behavior that distinguish top performers from others - help clarify job requirements in meaningful terms.
There are three types of competencies: system- or organizational-level competencies, job competencies, and technical competencies. System- or organization-level competencies apply to all employees, regardless of their positions - customer service is an example. Job competencies, which define the role for a job, are developed in collaboration with staff involved in a particular position. Focus groups help identify job competencies, which include communication or decision-making skills. Technical competencies are specific to the skills a person performs; for nurses, these competencies include patient teaching, pain management, and discharge planning. Assess-
ing system- or organizational-level and job competencies during interviews gives the hiring organization the ability to evaluate your past performance in measurable terms. In addition, subjectivity is reduced when behavioral interviews are properly conducted.
Once an organization defines its system- or organizational-level and job competencies, it drafts in-depth, behavioral interview questions for use by recruiters and nurse managers during interviews. Behavioral questions are designed so candidates will describe prior work experiences that demonstrate if they have the right competencies and, if so, to what degree. Working as a team, the nurse recruiter may focus his or her portion of the interview on the system- or organizational-level competencies, while the nurse manager may focus on job competencies. Some organizations include peers on the interview team. All will probably take notes during the interview to help recall your specific responses to questions.
In some cases, the behavioral interview process begins with a brief telephone interview to identify candidates with the desired core competencies. Telephone interviews save time as the hiring team uses a structured interview guide to keep the process focused on competencies.
To prepare yourself for a behavioral interview, think about your past experiences with patients and their families, coworkers, and your manager. During the interview, share concrete experiences that describe behaviors important to the hiring organization. Your answers will take the form of a story, so prepare a wide range of stories that illustrate specific competencies. If you believe a teamwork competency is important for the open position, focus on your role in particular situations, the teams you led, the strategies you used, and the results you achieved. For example, the interviewer might ask, "How did you organize your team and assign responsibilities? What methods do you use to motivate? How effective were you? What could you do to improve?" Or, if the desired competency is relationship-building, be prepared to answer questions such as, "Tell me about a time you needed to develop rapport with someone in your organization but had a difficult time doing so. What was the situation? What were the barriers? What did you try? What was the response?"
Whether you are interviewed in the traditional manner or with behavioral questions, many things remain the same. Dress appropriately, arrive on time, bring a copy of your resume, and be prepared to tell experience-based stories that demonstrate your competencies that complement the organization's mission, vision, and values. To further prepare, visit the organization's website.
The time-tested behavioral interviewing technique does more than help prevent costly turnover; it also saves time for all employers and job candidates, and it improves the likelihood of establishing positive working relationships.