Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior

Written by Paul Glatzhofer, VP of Talent Solutions

Most employers and hiring managers have conducted interviews for years and believe that they are doing so effectively. The truth is that many are not. Over fifty years of research demonstrates that pleasant and articulate candidates score well in traditional interviews – even if they are a poor fit for the job. It is critical that organizations learn how to conduct accurate, efficient, and legally defensible interviews.

The power of past behavioral interview questions for informed candidate assessment

A critical part of any valid, reliable, and efficient interview involves the interviewer asking past behavior questions. The key here is that your best predictor of future behavior is past behavior or past performance in a similar situation. If you’ve always done something a certain way, you’re likely to do that same thing in the same manner in the future. The same goes for on-the-job performance.

As you’re interacting with a candidate, you’re essentially trying to determine whether that candidate is going to be a good performer for your organization. The best way to do that is to ask specific, open-ended behavioral interview questions that are designed to elicit what behaviors he or she has exhibited in the past.

For example, a good past behavior question could be, “Tell me about a time when you had to work on a team. What was your input into that team and what were the outcomes?” This type of behavioral interview question allows you to uncover valuable details about a candidate, while simultaneously empowering him or her to give you specific examples of past behaviors that might indicate a future problem.

Unveiling the B-A-R (Background, Action, Result)

After asking a past behavior question, it’s important for the interviewer to ask follow-up probing questions to better understand the situation surrounding the candidate’s answer. The goal of the interviewer’s probing questions should be to learn relevant information about the interviewee and collect three key pieces of information about that question, what is commonly referred to as a ‘B-A-R:’ Background, Action, and Result.

What is the background of the situation? For instance, let’s use the example above. In response to asking about a candidate’s experience working on a team, relevant probing questions for the interviewer to ask could be, “What type of team were you on?” or “Why was the team created in the first place?”

Their answer should reveal what action(s) the candidate actually took as they worked on a team, which can be a future predictor of how they’ll work within your team. Therefore, it’s especially important to get specific details of the situation to learn as much as possible.

What was the result of that situation? For instance, “Was the supervisor or the manager happy about the outcomes?”

By asking detailed past behavior questions and follow-up probing questions in a structured interview, you gain valuable insight into the candidate and how he or she may perform on the job and in your organization. Remember, it’s easy to stretch the truth in general, but it’s hard to do so in detail. Someone who is answering honestly can easily recall details, while someone who is answering untruthfully cannot.

Encourage candidates to get specific. Have them tell you a story about a time when they were able to satisfy a customer. Ask about the background of the situation, what they did, how the customer reacted and how the situation ultimately turned out. Make sure you ask questions and get all of the details you need to get a specific past behavior example for each question you ask. It is your job as the interviewer to ask the right probing questions to get the complete story.

So, does past behavior predict future behavior?

No matter what job you are hiring for or which competencies you are measuring, utilizing behavioral interview questions is your best option to get an accurate picture of how the candidate’s past experience will play a role in the future at your company. Asking these types of questions can help you predict which candidates are going to be successful. Following a structured and consistent selection process will help you become more effective in hiring great employees. And yes, past behavior does predict future behavior.

The continuing importance of competencies

Make better talent decisions now and for the future.

Today’s world of work is marked by continuous change, presenting a significant challenge for organizations when hiring and managing their most important resource: their people. Competencies provide a simple, clear, and observable way to measure performance and determine what good looks like in a job.

  • How do you know which competencies are important to focus on today?
  • How can you highlight key competencies for tomorrow’s workforce?
  • What’s the point? Are competencies still relevant?

Understand how a well-functioning, future-focused competency framework can provide clear, accurate insights for talent measurement – both for the current world of work, and for the changing demands of the future.

Find out how competencies are still critical to your hiring strategy – download the whitepaper now.

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