The Workplace

You're hiring the wrong employees. Here's how to find the right ones.

Editor's note: This popular story was republished on Feb. 24, 2020.

By Jackie Kimmell, Senior Analyst

Part one in a series on the seven conversations you should be having with your employees

You know the statistics: Staff turnover at the typical hospital is high—a rate of about 13.7% in 2017. Each employee who leaves costs an average of 1.5 times the employee's annual salary to be replaced. For the typical hospital, then, turnover is literally a multi-million-dollar problem.

“Too often, staffers quit simply because they were never the right fit for the job in the first place.”

Some turnover is inevitable as employees retire or seek out new opportunities—but too often, staffers quit during their first year or two of employment simply because they were never the right fit for the job in the first place. So how can you make sure you hire the right employee every time?

Research shows a candidate's past behavior is the greatest indicator of their future performance. For this reason, our experts recommend a type of interviewing called behavioral-based interviewing (BBI), which dives deep into how an interviewee's specific past actions predict their future job performance.

What is BBI?

The premise of BBI is simple: Rather than asking interviewees whether they have the behaviors you're seeking (and relying on them to answer with perfect frankness and self-awareness), instead ask about their past experiences to see if they have demonstrated those behaviors.

For instance, if a key component of the job is the ability to maintain calm during stressful situations, it doesn't do much good to ask if someone is able to stay calm. Rather, you could ask: "Can you tell me about a stressful experience in your past? How did you face this challenge?"

BBI questions consist of three sequential parts:

  1. Prompting the candidate to identify a past experience when he/she had the opportunity to exhibit a certain job competency;
  2. Asking the candidate to outline the concrete situation;
  3. Asking the candidate about his or her response to that situation.

BBI is often confused with situational interviewing, which involves asking candidates to describe how they would respond in theoretical situations. What sets BBI apart is its focus on determining not only whether a potential candidate is aware of desired behaviors "in theory," but whether they've applied these behaviors in practice.

The three critical steps to implementing BBI

Changing the way you interview can be daunting. That's why Advisory Board has outlined three crucial aspects of successful BBI:

  1. Analyze the behaviors required to succeed in the position

    The key to using BBI successfully happens before the interview: You must identify which behaviors are necessary to do well in the role you're filling.

    “The key to using BBI successfully happens before the interview: You must identify which behaviors are necessary to do well in the role you're filling.”

    Admittedly, that's easier said than done. Some organizations have created focus groups to identify behavioral competencies, especially when seeking to fill high-impact or hard-to-fill positions. Such a group might include high-performing incumbent(s), supervisors, direct reports, and internal customers. Then, HR leaders guide the group through a series of questions such as:

    • What does the person in this position do on a daily basis?
    • What duties require previous experience versus those we can teach through on-the-job training?
    • What challenges will this position face?
    • What competencies are needed to face these challenges?

    Once those answers are in hand, the focus group can narrow down the top behavioral competencies needed to excel in the position. Keep in mind: during an interview with a candidate, you’ll need about 10 minutes per competency, so it’s important to limit the competencies to a manageable number. In a single interview, we recommend focusing on just two or three behavioral competencies.

  2. Create both BBI and non-BBI questions to evaluate whether candidates possess the right competencies

    Once you've drafted a list of the desired technical and behavioral competencies, you'll need to prepare two or three questions to probe for each competency.

    Not sure where to start? Use Advisory Board's interactive BBI Interview Builder tool to select from a sample list of competencies, add or delete suggested questions linked to those competencies, and download the resulting list to a printer-friendly template.

    One word of warning: As valuable a technique as BBI is, it shouldn't be the only component of your hiring interviews. You should also make sure to allow time to explore technical competencies—such as licensure, technological skills and past experience—to determine whether the candidate has the background and qualifications to perform the non-behavioral functions required by the job. In general, we recommend BBI questions account for about 40-60% of the total interview time.

  3. Listen for the right evidence

    The final step to successful BBI is in actively listening to evidence demonstrating a particular competency. The goal is to focus on signals about a would-be employee's ability to fulfill the job requirements, rather than letting yourself get swept up in the candidate's story.

    We suggest that, before you interview your first candidate, you spend some time thinking about what elements of a candidate’s response would suggest he/she has the critical competency you’re looking for—and what would be "red flags" (Advisory Board's BBI Interview Builder tool has you covered here too if you need suggestions). For instance, if you're asking questions to evaluate a candidate's capacity for teamwork, you might look for responses in which the candidate:

    • Distinguishes between his or her own efforts and contributions made by others;
    • Is proud of team accomplishments;
    • Shares critical information up, down, and across the team; and
    • Maintains a positive attitude during times of disagreement.

    At the same time, you should be on the lookout for the following red flags:

    • Does not understand opposing viewpoints;
    • Is unable to delegate;
    • Prefers to work alone; and
    • Uses "I" rather than "we" responses when discussing teamwork.

    Identifying the specific evidence you're looking for also can help maintain standard scoring across multiple interviewers, interviews, and candidates. For instance, you might score responses on a 1-4 scale where 1 equals "strong evidence skill not present" and 4 equals "strong evidence skill is present."

Doing BBI successfully can be difficult, but following these three steps for success should set you on the right path. To get more information and details about the technique, including templates, sample questions, example scripting and more, visit our behavioral-based interviewing toolkit.

Access the Toolkit

If you're a hiring manager, make sure you view the manager's guide to BBI with 8 resources you can use to make the right hires. 

Get the Guide