The Golden Rule of Interviewing: Past behaviour predicts future

Posted June 7, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

There’s no question that getting the right people on the proverbial bus (or mini van) is probably one of the most important jobs any leader will undertake.  One of the golden rules that one of my bosses shared with me about hiring was that past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour.  I wondered if big name CEO’s had indications of past behaviour red flags in current performance gaffes, so did some investigating.

CEO Tony Hayward of the embattled BP corporation is having his share of sleepless nights these days.  Freshly into the Gulf of Mexico environmental disaster, Hayward was quoted as saying There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back.”  This of course got him promptly raked over the coals by the press and US politicians alike.  Certainly it’s a statement that shows a certain “it’s all about me” arrogance, but I wondered was this a mere slip by a guy under too much pressure, or has Hayward unleashed this type of behaviour in the past (thus proving my former boss’ point)?

Sure enough, if you dig deeply (or rather, check out Wikipedia), you find another interesting quote from Mr. H.  This time, in the run up to his succession as CEO of BP, he breaks a cardinal rule of management (specifically that one should criticize your team in private, support in public) by declaring at a company town hall meeting: “We have a leadership style that is too directive and doesn’t listen sufficiently well. The top of the organisation doesn’t listen sufficiently to what the bottom is saying.”

Hmmmmm… I assume he wasn’t including himself in this “top management” bashing, even though he was top brass at the time.  A tad arrogant, mais non?

So, back to the question of hiring and past behaviour.  The reason that past behaviour is such a good predictor of future is because it’s so hard to change.  If you’ve ever tried to stop snacking after 8 p.m., to stop biting your nails, to stop gesturing as you talk… well, you know how difficult that can be.  Now try changing engrained behaviours like being ultra competitive, dismissive, interupting when you’re excited, controlling your temper… and you’ll get why “behavioural” interviewing is a skill worth boning up on.

Not sure where to start?  Here’s a helpful link.  In the meantime, stop asking candidates what they would do in certain situations, but rather ask them what they DID do in said situations.  “Everyone gets frustrated on the job from time to time.  Tell me about a specific time when you were frustrated.  What was the situation?  How did you handle it? What was the result?  What did you learn?”

Hiring better at the start saves you time, money and emotional energy all the way through.

Happy leading!


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