Interviewing Tips for Startups – Part 2

By Saurabh Deshpande|29th May 2013
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Busy Businessman

This post is part 2 of a 3 part article on interviewing tips for startup. To read part 1, click here.

In part 1 of this article, we shared 3 key tips for conducting interviews. In this part, we will delve deeper into the specific nuances of the Behavioural Event Interview (BEI) and how to conduct one.

A BEI is an interview technique in which you ask the candidate to respond to open ended questions basis a past event(s) in the candidate’s life. The premise is that past behaviour is really the best indicator of future behaviour and performance. In a normal interview, the candidate can tend to just focus on what he/she thinks that the interviewer would like to hear. By asking about a situation and how the candidate reacted, there is lesser scope for such ‘creative speech’, especially when interviewer probes deeper into specific aspects of the situation.

Using competencies

BEI is a way of assessing a candidate on various competencies. A competency is a set of beliefs, skills and actions that lead to superior performance. Communication, Business Acumen and Customer Focus are some key competencies for sales. Innovation, Technology Understanding and Teamwork are some key competencies for engineering. Competencies are generally broken in to proficiency levels to enable comparison and development. Eg: Communication can start with ‘Routinely conveys information’, build to ‘Influences others through persuasion’ and reach ‘Negotiates on long term/ strategic issues’ at the highest level.

While assessing a candidate, if your company has a competency framework where proficiency levels are already described, all you need to do is to select the appropriate level of the competency observed, along with your justification/ comments. However, if you don’t have a framework, you can create one; just ensure that you don’t make more than 5 levels and that each level can easily be distinguished.

Information to be extracted

As such, the BEI is an investigative tool and requires some practice to achieve the desired level of results. There are 4 core aspects of information to be extracted:

  • Sequence of events: This is the background of the situation to help you understand the context
  • What other people said or did: This provides more context and also offers an opportunity to understand interpersonal traits of the candidate
  • What the candidate said or did: This is the most meaningful bit as it gives a clear understanding of how the candidate behaved
  • Feelings & thoughts: This is where you get to interpret the behaviour and also understand what the candidate learnt from the event

Interview structure

The efficacy of a BEI is driven by how it is conducted. Instead of a formal interview, make it seem like a genuine conversation so that guards are down and the candidate doesn’t feel compelled to make up things. Here is a suggested structure/ flow:

  • Introduction: The BEI is best placed in the interview after the initial questions have been asked. When you decide to move into BEI mode, you could start by specifically calling it out and setting ground rules. Explain that you will require the candidate to respond to questions based on a past event. This event should ideally be related to work and be recent (in the last 2 years).
  • Development: Now get into the BEI, with a specific, open-ended question like – “Tell me about a situation in which you led a group of employees to achieve significant results while facing major constraints?” Give the candidate some time to think of a relevant example before they start. A good way to guide the conversation is to mentally map out a STAR response: S – Situation (what was the situation at hand, additional constraint/ influences), T - Task (what was the task and objectives), A – Action (what did the employee do) and R – Result (what was the outcome).
  • Conclusion: Once you feel that you have got adequate information to make an assessment, look to politely close the BEI. At this stage, it would be good to ask the candidate for their reflection/ learning from the situation and how they would have behaved differently.

Probing

Probing holds the key to a good BEI. You need to get the right information out and get into the depth of the situation. A probing question helps the candidate to recall and organize their thoughts. Ask things like – “How did you..., give me an example, tell me more about...” Persist with your questioning till you get the information you are looking for, as long as you do this politely.

Avoid leading questions where the answer is implied in the question, because you don’t want to be influencing the response. If the candidate speaks about a situation in which the customer did not agree, don’t assume that it became a conflict. Instead, ask something like – “So how did the customer respond?”

Watch out for and probe the use of the word ‘we’ – in a BEI, you need specifics so ask “who? Another important aspect of probing is to get specifics of behaviour. If the candidate says something like “I managed the project” or “I followed up” – probe to understand exactly what they did and how. Whether the candidate followed up by sending an email, making a telephone call or meeting face to face can tell you a lot about their intrinsic behaviour.

Ross Clennett, the US based recruitment expert is a huge proponent of BEIs. According to his blog, the answer he would like to hear after a good candidate interview is “the three most important criteria for this job are X,Y and Z and here’s what I found out about the candidate’s specific capability and/or motivation with respect to X,Y and Z….”

In the next part of this article, I will be summarizing some of what I have covered in parts 1 & 2 and sharing some additional suggestions/ guidelines for conducting better interviews.

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