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If you have a behaviour/value system and you want to recruit people in a way that this value system is taken into consideration, and if we take the well-established principle that the strongest prediction of future behaviour is past behaviour, then, crafting the questions you will ask in an interview is a crucial task.  This ‘behavioural recruitment’ is not new but it is often poorly executed.

There are books and guidelines on how to create the right set of questions, but the crucial point is how to use those ‘obvious questions’. For example, one website (of the very many that you will find by asking Mr Google) gives this question as an example: ‘Give an example of how you set goals and achieve them’. I’ve seen and used myself many variants of this. The principle is sound. If one can’t give an example of this, it would be fair to be ‘suspicious’. But more often than not, people will give you an answer. However, with no other qualifications, chances are, people will give an answer referring to their previous job, or the one before that. It is a predictable, contextual answer.

You are applying for a Business Development job, you will probably give an example of what you’ve done as Business Development head in your current company (the one you are about to leave) or the previous one, perhaps, where you were Head of Marketing.  It is all neatly linked, a continuous narrative of achievement geared towards giving the interviewer the comfort she seems to be asking for. Not difficult. Nothing wrong with that.

I am far more interested in the ‘de-contextual’ questions and answers. The non-Business Development context in that case. Things that have to do, perhaps, with life outside work, social life, community life etc. These are stronger questions as predictors because they tap deeper into the character of the individual as a whole.  They tell you more about possibilities and hidden skills of the person, which the proposed working environment may make use of, or enhance.

A good example is something that happened at Google at a time when ‘cloning engineers’ had reached a level of proficiency, but Google needed more than that.  In fact, Google was progressing fast towards social connectivity and social networking, not just ‘search’. I am conscious that I am using this historical remark as a bit of a caricature. Google wanted to hire people who understood ‘social’, who understood ‘putting people together’. In that context, the questions were of the type: tell us something you’ve done in high school that shows that you put people together, perhaps created a club, or led a community, or made people join in towards a common goal. Google was not going to create clubs or communities in that sense but, having that in your pedigree was thought to be a good predictor of ‘understanding social’. The Masters in Computer Science was the foot in the door, the community organizer was the real qualification.

A good behavioural interview must have ‘context’ and ‘de-context’ questions. These questions may be the same but the predictive value may be different. It should not be difficult to craft the questions associated to a value system and then think of scenarios outside the work context, that one should explore.  So, if you look for accountability, for example, stories of having been accountable in the previous job should bear less weight than stories of taking accountability in multiple life situations.  I personally would be more interested in the later.

One of the criticisms, in my view overplayed, in behavioural recruitment when associated with a value or behavioural system, is that it runs the risk of creating clones. The ‘de-context questions’ that I am proposing, lower this risk a lot since they will point to the direction of the ‘deep character of the individual’, not somebody with a set of carbon copy skills looking for a set of boxes to tick.

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