Behavioral interviews take guesswork out of hiring

Mark Jacobs wants to rely on more than reference checking, a review of credentials, and "good vibes" when he interviews prospective employees at the Bloomfield, CT, campus of CIGNA Corporation.

"Say a person is interviewing for a position in which they will have to make decisions that will directly affect the corporation’s bottom line," says the assistant vice president of corporate staffing. "The wrong choice on our part can affect us financially — not only in terms of poor decisions, but if there is a bad fit it will also affect us in terms of time off."

Jacobs sees a clear link between what he calls "behavioral interviewing" and the likely health of the employee. "If you describe a job as a stressful job, some interviewees might be discouraged, while others would say, I don’t consider that stress, I consider it a challenge; it’s the kind of thing that makes my day go fast.’ We’re all different, and those are the kinds of differences we’re looking for."

The basic premise of behavioral interviewing, he explains, is that past behavior is a best predictor of future behavior. This type of interviewing helps identify a person’s behaviors in a particular business environment or area. "We’re not trying to play psychologist," he says. "I’ll ask questions like: Tell me a time when you had to deal with an irate manager. . . . What did you do?’ Then, I might ask what happened that made them irate; how they responded; and how it turned out. Or, I might ask how they deal with stress, or what they have done to provide excellent customer service."

Above all, Jacobs favors behavioral interviewing because it is consistent. "We ask everybody the same or similar questions so we can evaluate each of them in the same way," he explains. "It’s also more professional; how an employee looks, for example, is not as important as how he feels about certain situations and how he reacts to them."

[For more information, contact: Mark Jacobs, CIGNA Corporation, 900 Cottage Grove Road, A-11 mail stop, Bloomfield, CT 06152-1011. Telephone: (860) 726-6743.]