Have you ever interviewed an applicant and afterwards still weren’t sure if this is the “right” person for the job? Have you ever hired an individual based on your “gut” feeling to later find out you were mistaken? Your NMU Human Resource Team is here to help you through the hiring process so you won’t feel this way again!

This whitepaper is to help you through the interviewing process using best practices. Using our guidelines will help you pick the most effective interview questions that are legal, easy to use and invite communication. Let us begin our focus on “Behavior Based Interviewing” techniques when interviewing applicants.

Behavior based interviewing questions are designed to look at past behavior. The most accurate predictor of future behavior is past behavior. For instance, when a candidate makes an error on the job – you want to find out what the error was, how it occurred, what the candidate could have done differently to prevent the error and what has the candidate learned from that experience. When a candidate has developed a new process, you want to find out how the candidate foresaw the need for a change, what was their rationale, what was their thought process, who else was involved with the change process and what was the outcome. Asking these open ended questions helps you articulate how the candidate adapts to different situations and helps you hone in on certain characteristics you are looking for.

  1. As you and your selection committee review the job application, focus on three or four skills that you want to address in interviews. Make sure you all agree what that skill exactly means so there is no confusion.

    Example: Interviewing for the position of Accounts Payable Clerk

    Duties on the job description state: Manually matches vendor invoices, purchase orders, and receiving documents to assure conditions for payment are completed; Using PC and related software, enters invoices into Accounts Payable System; Demonstrates the ability to learn new skills and personal initiative to seek out learning opportunities

    One skill needed would be Attention to Detail: Definition: The ability to accomplish tasks through concern for all areas, no matter how minor. Shows concern for all aspects of the job. Accurately checks processes and tasks.

    Another skill set needed to do the job successfully would be Ability to Learn – The ability to assimilate and apply in a timely manner new job related information that may vary in complexity.

    For faculty interview sample questions, please click here.

  2. Once you choose the skills you want to evaluate (click here for Skill Definitions) then pick two or three behavioral based questions for each skill identified*.  For additional behavior based interview question examples, please click here.

    Example: Attention to Detail – Behavioral questions to ask would be:

    •Describe the job that required you to pay the most attention to detail. (If the candidate doesn't get specific, ask specific questions so you have a complete picture of what is being described.)

    •Give us an example of a time when you needed to meet a deadline and how you insured the accuracy of your work.

    Ability to Learn – some sample questions you might ask could be:

    • How did you gain the experience or learn the necessary skills to successfully perform your present duties?

    • What skill(s) have you found the most difficult to learn? Why?

    • How best do you learn? Where do you feel you have had the best learning atmosphere? Why?

    See how you have gained an understanding of this individual just be these two skills? Again, the key is to get a complete picture.

  3. Create an interview packet of each candidate for your interviewing team. The interview packet contains a list of all the questions you and your interviewing team agreed upon, the candidate’s resume’ or application and a copy of job description. A consistent set of questions will ensure you assess the candidates on the same skill sets and will be able to accurately rate each candidate.
  4. Interview. After each question, you will have space to make notes and you may also want to summarize your analysis with a mark**. This will help you rate the individual and guides your consistency as you go through your interviewing process.

    **Typically, you can use a check minus, check, or a check plus. 

    •A check minus demonstrates that the candidate does not meet the knowledge, skills and abilities you are looking for.

    •A check mark means that you think the candidate meets acceptable knowledge, skills and abilities. 

    •A check plus shows that not only does the candidate demonstrate the acceptable knowledge, skills and abilities, but has demonstrated extraordinary qualities or skills that will excel in the position.

Here are some points to remember as you go through your interview process. This will further help you develop conversation through the interview and make the process more effective.

Rapport-Building - In the interview, you want to reduce the applicant’s stress. Demonstrate that the interview will be conducted in a non-threatening, friendly atmosphere. Start off with friendly conversation regarding “safe” topics such as the weather, if they had trouble finding the office, etc. Offer water or coffee. Next, explain to the applicant what is to be expected during the interview. For example: Introduce yourself with your title and those of the other interviewers, explain the process and that you will be taking notes. Invite the interviewee to take notes as well.

  • Don’t start the interview telling the applicant what skills you are looking for throughout the interview. That may steer them to give you the answer they think you are looking for. Remember, they read the employment ad, applied and have at least the minimal qualifications you are looking for. They already have an idea of what the job entails.
  • If you start with a negative question such as “Tell me about a time you made a mistake…” follow up with a positive question “Now, tell me about a time when you were commended for going above and beyond your job duties.” You want to maintain the applicant’s self esteem and to remain positive.
  • Be observant of physical cues (i.e., body language) during the interview.
  • Don’t be quick to judge. What you hear first may only be a small part of the story. You can always ask clarifying questions.
  • If the applicant starts giving information that you know is inappropriate/illegal to discuss in an interview, politely interrupt and state that you are following a consistent set of job related questions that you are sticking to in order to be fair to all interviewees. You can either re-ask the questions or move on to the next one.
  • If you are not sure the person is being honest with an answer to a question, you can either ask it again in another way or ask the question again telling them to use another example.
  • At the end of the interview, always ask if they have any questions regarding the job or of the University.
  • Remember diversity and set aside our biases.

At the end of each interview and the candidate has left, you should evaluate the candidate using the Interview Rating Chart. (Click here for an Interview Rating Chart) This will help streamline the process as you move forward. Feel free to discuss the candidate’s answers with your interviewing group. This will help clarify any questions and to get the group’s overall rating.

If you have any questions with this process, please feel free to contact Human Resources and we will be happy to meet with you and discuss this in further detail or answer any questions you may have.

*For a more comprehensive list of interview questions, please contact Human Resources and we will be happy to provide them to you.


January, 2010