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Past Behavior is the Best Predictor of Future Behavior

April 8, 2014

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.

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 past behavior questions to elicit what behaviors he or she has exhibited in the past. You can do this by asking specific, open-ended behavioral questions.

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 past behavior question allows you to uncover valuable details about a candidate and allow him or her to give you specific past behavioral examples.

After asking a past behavior question, it’s important for the interviewer to ask follow-up probing questions (this is a critical component to any past behavior question). The goal of that 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 —

  1. What is the background of the situation? For instance, let’s use the example above. Relevant probing questions could be, “What type of team were you on?” or “Why was the team created in the first place?”

  2. What action or actions did the candidate actually take as they worked on that team? Make sure to get specific details of the situation to learn as much as possible.

  3. 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’s 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.

Asking these types of questions can help you predict which candidates are going to be successful.  Make sure to follow a structured and consistent process and that will help you be more effective in hiring great employees.

hiring for cultural fit

Paul Glatzhofer Paul Glatzhofer is the VP of Talent Solutions based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. He works primarily with organizations that are implementing global assessment and development systems at the leadership level. Paul’s work includes leadership development, leadership skills training, coaching, leadership and executive selection, turnover and ROI analysis, and ongoing feedback development.