How to interview a candidate to identify the right behaviours.


In our previous blogs, we have argued that to find the right person for the right role, behaviour is more important than experience – and yet it is experience where most recruiters focus their attention. They ask questions based on someone’s CV, around what they did previously and what this means in terms of how effective they can be in the new job they are applying for.

We believe that hiring on experience alone is wrong – past experience is actually the least best predictor of future performance – only 25% accurate. This is further backed up by our own observations that businesses hire on skills but they fire on attitude.

Our belief is backed up in a book from the revered HR entrepreneur, speaker and author, Mark Murphy. For his book, Hiring for Attitude, he began by looking at people who performed well – and conversely those who didn’t perform well – and found that 90% (89% to be precise) of this is linked to behaviours.

In a survey of 20,000 hires over a 3 year period, 46% of people failed in their roles – and were either fired or were continuing to under-perform – due to a lack of:

  1. Coachability – 26%
  2. Emotional Intelligence – 23%
  3. Motivation – 17%
  4. Temperament – 15%
  5. Technical Competence or Experience – 11%

That’s right, only 11% under-perform due to a lack of experience! We would argue therefore that’s it’s more important to test for the right behaviours in the interviewing process, than experience.  You should be considering the wider characteristics of a person – the complete individual.

So, where should you start? Begin by understanding the behaviours that will make someone a success in a particular role. Start by looking around your existing people.  What do the very best do to make them the very best? How do they behave? What makes them different to anyone else? Conversely, if no one you currently have exhibits the ideal traits, ask yourself what don’t they have and, then, what would make them the best?

Next list those behaviours. In recruiting a Project Manager recently we identified the ideal behaviours to be:

1) Initiative 2) Self-starting 3) Influence; 4) Collaborative 5) Persistence; 6) Delivery 7) Adaptability.

Based on each of these behaviours, what you can do is determine what differentiates between a high and low performer. For example, for Initiative, the difference might be:

High Performer: They figure out what they need to achieve and then what they need to do in order to achieve it. If they don’t know how, they actively find out the right information or other resources to help them gain the skills / knowledge they need.

Low Performer: They regularly respond with the reasons why something will not work or cannot be done, rather than trying to understand what success might look like try and trying to create it. When things don’t happen, it’s always someone else’s fault.

Then simply what you should do is ask a question that identifies a situation that will elicit different responses from high and low performers. Always begin with the phrase “Could you tell me about a time when……” and then finish the question by inserting the Differential Situation you just identified.

So, in our Project Manager example, in seeking to understand someone’s ability to use their initiative, it might be:

“Could you tell me a time when you had to find a solution to fix a problem?”

You score someone’s answer – ability to exhibit the behaviours you’re seeking – based on whether their response meets either the high performer or low performer description. Repeat the same approach for all of the behaviours you are assessing.

So there you have it, a simple way to think about how to differentiate between high and low performers – and find the best candidate – based on the ideal behaviours that are being sought for a particular role. It’s a way of differentiating between the complete individual rather than just someone with previous experience – and it’s what we do best at Anderson Scott.