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Or having the right people ask them
You start your interview with, "Tell me about yourself" and end it with the dreaded, "What’s your biggest weakness?" In between are a dozen other questions — open-ended questions because you know better than to ask ones that can be answered yes or no — that are supposed to point you to the right candidate. But they may not. Indeed, chances are, the questions you ask are the ones that any candidate worth his or her salt has thought of and prepared a pat answer for. All you’re going to know in the end is if the person interviews well.
In this day and age, that’s not good enough. Finding the right person for the job makes it less likely you’ll be interviewing someone else for the same position next year. So what can you do? Try asking different questions.
Behavioral interviewing is all the rage now. According to the career services office at the State University of New York, Brockport (SUNY Brockport), 30% of all organizations are using the techniques to find employees. Rather than asking traditional interview questions, they require the candidate to relate specific instances when they used a skill or dealt with a troubling situation.
It’s something that Christy Pearson, MBA, director of recruitment and human resources information systems at the six-hospital Orlando (FL) Regional Health Care has used for nearly four years now. "It’s a method where you can tap into the candidate’s past experience," she explains. "That’s important because we know that the best predictor of future behavior is what someone did in the past."
Behavioral interviewing is about specific examples, rather than leading questions, she continues. "If you ask whether someone thinks punctuality is important, the only right answer is yes. But if you ask someone to tell you how he or she handled a time when they were running late for a meeting when they had to give a presentation, you can really learn something about them."
Pearson says that along with the questions about hard times faced down, she likes to ask candidates about their biggest successes, too. "If you ask them about a situation where they did great, they get a chance to brag," she says, adding that candidates often open up more on these positive questions. She also asks follow-up questions that require the potential employee to say what he or she learned from a particular situation. (For a list of sample behavioral interview questions, click here.)
Orlando Regional Health Care started using behavioral interviewing after someone in Pearson’s office saw a video about it. While there are plenty of consulting firms that could have helped the system build a program to teach managers how to use this technique, that was an expensive option. Instead, Pearson and her team created a four-hour course that is offered six times a year. Every manager with interviewing and hiring responsibility has to take it.
Not all managers liked the idea. Most thought they already were doing this kind of interview, she says. "When they said that, our answer was, Great. Tell me some of the questions you ask.’ When they did that, we were able to show them the gap between what they were doing and behavioral interviews."
While many of them were headed in the right direction, their questions were more hypothetical: What would you do if, rather than what did you do when, says Pearson. "We want to know about real situations."
The goal of the new process was to reduce turnover, and so far, the system has achieved that aim. While she won’t provide specific numbers, Pearson says Orlando Regional Health Care is at or below national averages for turnover, and vacancy rates also are down. In addition, there is a consistent interviewing process that every department can hang its hat on, she says. "This has become a part of the culture. When you talk to managers, they know what behavioral interviewing is. And I know we are more consistent and that everyone gets the same questions. It is simply a more objective process now."
It also offers a way to interview people who have had limited work experience in a more meaningful way than in the past, says Pearson. "If a candidate is a student who hasn’t worked a day in his or her life, we can ask about leadership roles in studies, about projects that were due when six other tests came up and how they prioritized. For people who have been out of the workplace for a while, we can tailor the questions around their home life, like how they delegated responsibilities in the family, or how someone communicated with neighbors. You can structure an interview like this around any level and any type of experience."
Some people think it sounds hokey, she says. "But you get a better interview, with the candidates talking more than interviewers. You don’t have these situations where the interviewers are filling in all the silences."
While behavioral interviewing is one technique of screening out candidates who don’t meet your needs, what they answer also is important. At Baptist Health Care in Pensacola, FL, candidates who don’t agree to accept the five-hospital system’s 10 Standards of Performance from the outset aren’t asked to go further in the interviewing process. From the first time they walk into the human resources office, they are given and must accept those standards — attitude, sense of ownership, and teamwork, for instance — if they are going to be part of the organization, says Celeste Norris, human resources director at the organization.
"We know that the impression made by human resources makes a huge impact in the hiring process," Norris says. "It is a process that is a critical step in building a customer-friendly company." Applicants are presented with the standards when they first walk into the human resources department, and they must agree to adhere to these standards if they are hired. If they don’t, no matter how critical the needs of a particular unit or department, and no matter the credentials of that candidate, they are not going to be hired.
Staff interviews are another option
Questions and answers are important in finding the right fit, but who asks the question may be just as critical. At Meriter Health Services in Madison, WI, staff interviews have taken the place of manager interviews in the oncology unit of Meriter Hospital.
"We started it three years ago to give the candidates a chance to meet the people they would be working with and ask them questions," explains Helen Rice, RN, MSN, nurse manager of the unit. "We have extremely long-serving staff here — some of them have been with us for 30 years — so candidates are coming into a culture that is already well established. Employees have to know that a new person is going to work well with them."
Typically, the nurse manager or human resources first screen candidates on the phone. If they make it through that initial screening, Rice says they come in during a day shift for a first interview. Rice will ask some specific questions about their background, their education, and their expectations. She’ll tell them about the shift they will be working and some of the policies of the hospital. She then conducts a unit tour and introduces the candidate to everyone working that shift, from the unit clerk and the CNAs to RNs. Every staff member who is available then takes about a half hour to do a group interview with the candidate.
The staff has a list of specific questions to cover with the interviewee, depending on whether the person is a new graduate without experience or an experienced nurse. "For new grads, we’ll ask them about what kind of clinicals they’ve had, whether they are currently working in another role like as a nursing assistant. We ask them about their last job and what they liked and didn’t like."
The interview then turns informal and gives both the employees and the candidates the chance to ask other questions — "the kinds of things that nurses tell other nurses," says Rice. New graduates tend to ask the younger nurses about the orientation process, she adds. Experienced nurses are more likely to ask questions of some of the longer-serving employees.
At the end of the interview, she tells the candidate to drop in any time, to come in unannounced and see what it’s like on the unit during the time they would be working. "They just have to come in and tell the staff who they are and that they are thinking about taking a job here. It’s good for them to see what it is like when we aren’t warned they are coming."
Some candidates may be asked to come in for another interview, but that’s rare, she says. "There’s only a limited amount of stuff you can find out during an interview."
For the most part, the employees make the decision about candidates. "They are the ones who will be orienting and working with that person," says Rice. "Our unit makes all unit-based decisions." Rice will talk to staff about whether they liked the candidate. If they don’t, then she won’t make an offer. "We almost always agree, though."
The human resources department takes over after the interviews, doing reference checks within 24 hours and making offers in one to five days.
Half the staff on Rice’s unit has been there for more than 15 years, and she thinks it’s vital that they have a sense of empowerment. "They find the time they spend on the interviews extremely meaningful," she says. They like being in a decision-making role."
Rice says the process works, particularly for candidates who are interviewing in more than one facility. "They’ll choose us, and I think that’s because staff have more influence in getting someone to join us than a manager does."
So far only Meriter’s marketing department has also jumped on the staff interview band wagon, but that could change. "Last week a manager missed an interview with an employee because she was sick," Rice says. "She had to cancel it. I asked her why the staff couldn’t do the interview. It made her think. The old philosophy is that manager makes those decisions. But I don’t like that theory. We have to work with these people. In a unit, especially in a place where turnover is low, you have to ensure a new hire will fit in."
Baptist also makes use of staff interviews. "Our turnover, at 30%, was too high and was terrible for our service to our patients," Norris says. "The data reflected poor selection practice. We enlisted the help of staff in the peer interview process and realized immediate improvements in retention. Staff members do a good job articulating the job details and can also help to glean the potential candidate’s strengths. When a selection is made based on the recommendation of the whole team, the sense of ownership with the new hire is incredible. Since peer interviewing has been phased in the selection process, turnover has been cut in half."
"Look at it this way," concludes Rice. "It’s a lot easier to hire the right employee than to hire the wrong employee and try to fix the problem. This is one more way to make sure you hire the right person."
Celeste Norris, Human Resources Director, Baptist Health Care, Pensacola, FL. 1000 W. Moreno St., Pensacola, FL 32501. Telephone: (850) 434-4011. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christy Pearson, MBA, Director of Recruitment and Human Resources Information Systems, Orlando Regional Health Care, 1414 Kuhl Ave., Orlando, FL 32806. Telephone: (321) 841-6104.
Helen Rice, RN, MSN, Nurse Manager, Oncology Unit, Meriter Health Services, Meriter Hospital, Six East, 202 South Park, Madison, WI 53715. Telephone: (608) 267-6143.