CWS 3.0: September 7, 2011 - Vol. 3.23


Feature: Interview with Purpose

You don’t have to be clairvoyant to select great contingent workers; instead, ask insightful interview questions and use the candidate’s past behaviors to forecast their future success.

Industrial psychologist Dr. Tom Janz is credited with developing the modern behavioral interviewing format, which relies on preparation and purposeful questions to boost the chances of hiring the right worker by nearly 50 percent.

“Managers mistakenly use interviews to get to know a candidate, instead of drafting a list of specific questions to evaluate their transferable skills and experience,” says Dr. Wendell Williams, managing director of Scientific Selection., which works with organizations and test providers to develop solid methods to screen, hire, measure, direct, and promote workers.

Step One: Job Analysis
Start by creating a list of required work-related skills and experience — without referring to the job description. Dig deep to uncover and prioritize the foundational or underlying traits of a top performer, because previous work experience may not lead to success in your environment or structure.

For example, two contract programmers may have similar experience with a software program, but one may not have the patience or desire to review and correct a history of poorly written code.

Screening for transferable or innate skills can also help managers lower bill rates by creating a bigger pool of candidates.

“Start with a clear picture of the skills you really need,” notes Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics, “because the best applicant or interviewee is usually not the best person for the job.”

Step Two: Gather Examples
Once you’ve identified the critical skills for a project or position, create a list of questions that require candidates to provide examples from the past to demonstrate their competencies. It takes training and about 15 to 20 minutes to prepare a list of targeted interview questions, but the up-front investment ultimately reduces turnover and the resulting rehiring and retraining.

Discourage emotional selections and undisciplined decision making by using multiple interviewers and assigning them different questions. If the job is highly specialized or technical, one interviewer should focus on technical competencies while the others focus on soft skills and previous behaviors.

The goal is to gather enough examples to assess the workers’ skills by comparing their responses to a scoring template or key based on the ideal answers.

Behavioral questions traditionally start with: “Tell me about a time” or “describe a situation,” but Kleiman says savvy interviewees often launch into a canned diatribe when they hear a familiar cue.

“You won’t get meaningful results if you signal what you’re looking for,” says Kleiman. “Practice structuring your questions so they sound like a conversation instead of an inquisition.”

Step Three: Analyze the Results
Did the contingent provide detailed examples? Or did his or her answers reveal a superficial mastery of the subject? Interviewers should compare notes and scores before rendering a decision, in order to avoid mistakes when selecting contingent workers.

“Managers expect contingents to perform the same duties as full-time employees, so my advice is not to rush or short-change the behavioral interviewing process,” Williams says.

Leslie Stevens-Huffman is a freelance writer in Southern California who has 20 years' experience in the staffing industry. She can be reached at


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