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Have job interviews become an arid question and answer session?

MANY organisations put much time and effort into making their selection process as rigorous as possible in the hope of making more watertight hiring decisions.

This has led to a concentration on the use of what is loosely called either competency-based interviewing or behavioural interviewing.

The thinking is based on the premise that it is by examining the range and depth of particular skills and competencies that the job holder has shown in previous roles and how they have behaved in the past that we get the strongest insight into how they will perform if we offer them a job.

This thinking has inspired companies to examine the skills, behaviours and attitudes that are most relevant to each job family and to design a format of questions to find out whether candidates have these in abundance.

The usual format goes something like this: the candidate is asked to give an example of when they showed, say, strong decision-making capability.

The interviewee gives an example and the interviewer then asks for detail of exactly what they did and what was the outcome or result. If there are measurable outcomes that can be quoted by the interviewee, then all the better.

The interviewer is right in taking a good look at exactly what the interviewee has done in the past, how they have gone at things and what the outcome of their actions was.

However, there is a worrying trend in many companies that obliges the interviewer to ask the exact same sequence of questions, while moving laboriously through the prepared list of competencies.

The interview runs the risk of becoming an arid question and answer session and the interviewee who is well prepared will have a rehearsed line for each of them.

By the end of the interview, all the boxes are ticked, but has the interviewer got a thorough and complete picture of the candidate?

In these efforts to develop a robust competency-based approach to interviewing, some of the pieces of the jigsaw never get put in place: time will never allow for an exhaustive list to be covered in an interview. The list can never factor in every eventuality.

Sometimes when you listen carefully, you hear more than you bargained for: an interviewee in responding to one line of questioning may give away something that can give you insight into their attitudes or motivation.

It could be a deal-breaker, but you haven't allowed for it in your list of competencies, so how can you include it in your overall assessment?

Interviews should be dynamic enough to allow for the unexpected and for the candidate to ease into their real selves and not simply be the automaton who is ready to give the "right" answers to the interviewer.

Get them talking about their particular experiences, projects and tasks by all means, but let them paint a good pen picture that creates a context first, then zoom in with your competency-based questions.

Have a list in your back pocket of different ways of asking the same questions.

The interpretation of the law as it applies to recruitment and selection (mostly through the Equality Acts) suggests that you should be consistent in what you ask of all candidates.

This doesn't mean that you have to simply act as a parrot and word your questions exactly the same way for each candidate – because if you do, you will bore yourself silly and find it even harder than normal to distinguish one candidate from another when you are trying to remember them at the end of a day's interviewing.

Mary Hanson is a HR consultant and joint author with Brian McIvor of the recently published guide: 'The Interviewer's Book – Hiring the Right Person'

Irish Independent