Bored of Competency-Based Interviewing?

Let’s face it, most candidates are prepared for competency-based interviews, the classic “tell me about a time when…” questions.

Because of that and frankly a fair bit boredom using the same technique for so many years, many interviewers are questioning whether this format is really adding value anymore.

But what’s the alternative?

There is no doubt that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Whilst we can of course learn and adapt, we are creatures of habit and so the way someone goes about managing a difficult customer today is probably similar to the way they did it last month. The approach we take to writing emails, managing projects and leading teams will be somewhat consistent over time.

This is why the “tell me about a time when you managed a project” question, also known as competency-based interviewing or CBI is effective.

The issue is that many candidates have been prepared for this and there are books and countless online articles showing them how to script a good answer. Whether they have had the experience or not of running a successful project, candidates may well be prepared to describe their upfront planning, careful stakeholder analysis, risk management and ultimate delivery to the deadline.

This has led some businesses to move away from CBI and try out Behavioural Event Interviewing: a more demanding form of the interview which requires in-depth training and can get to the heart of a candidate’s capability and potential.

What is Behavioural Event Interviewing?

Behavioural Event Interviewing or BEI starts with the same premise as CBI: the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So the first question often sounds the same like, “tell me about a time when you dealt with an unhappy customer.”

The difference here is that the focus is on digging deeper and deeper to discover what the candidate actually did, how, what they said and how the other person reacted, how they felt at the time, what they found easy and more challenging.

As well as using different probing questions, the interviewer is trained to spot changes in the candidate’s non-verbal communication, to identify areas of relative confidence and anxiety or discomfort.

Because this approach is designed to dig deeper into personality traits, emotional responses and how this manifests in behaviour, additional questions are used to find out more about the candidate and what is behind their behaviour. Things like:

Tell me about the best boss / colleague you have worked with. What made them so good? This gives an indication of what the person values in others and if you go for the boss option, also tells you about how they like to be managed.

Of course we don’t get on with everyone, so tell me about colleagues or a boss you have struggled to work with. What did you find difficult? What frustrated you? Again this gives an indication of the sorts of people they work more and less well with. This can give a good picture as well of the culture they fit well with.

Likewise not everyone like us. What have people who do not get on with you so well complained about or raised as frustrating? As well as revealing potential weaknesses, the things other people find frustrating in us are often over-played strengths. This question can therefore give an insight into personality tendencies and natural strengths.

What is the worst mistake you have made in a previous role? What happened? What could have prevented it? This reveals how much the person has learnt from their mistake and you can dig deeper into how they felt at the time and what was driving their behaviour.

(For people managers) what would previous team members say about you? What about those who did not seem to like working for you? What would they say? What do you think you did that caused that reaction? What did you do about it?

This approach takes the positive principles of CBI and simply digs deeper. That means that candidates will struggle to be so prepared for scripted answers and will need to tell you the real story of what happened, which can reveal deeper insights into behaviour, personality and ways of working.

How could I give it a go?

Just like CBI, this interview approach requires careful preparation. Consider the core skills and behaviours required for the role and the culture of the team. What does someone need to do in this role to excel? What kind of environment will they be working in? Having clear answers on these questions will help you assess how well each candidate meets the criteria and will fit with the team.

Accreditation is recommended for this approach because of the detailed probing questions required – and the fact that scripting these is not as effective as following the flow of conversation with the candidate in the moment. Training is also needed to understand the cues to look out for in non-verbal indicators of relative confidence, enjoyment, anxiety and discomfort during the story-telling.

That said, there is always benefit in adding a few questions into your CBI, in order to gain futher insight. Why not try some of the examples above, or add in to your probing questions things like, “what did you find most challenging?” and “how did you overcome that?” remembering always to dig for detail on what they actually said, how and how that was received and then what they did next.

We can all state with ease that we “tackled the difficult conversation with tact and patience and made clear what needed to happen next.” But when we are pushed to tell the detailed story of what we said and how they reacted and what we did next: you really learn the truth.