By Yvette Pittman, PhD and Prasanna Satpute-Krishnan, PhD
If you are transitioning to academe or the private sector in the coming year, you may find information from NICHD’s recent workshop “Building an Effective Team: Interview and Hiring Practices in the Sciences” helpful as you staff your lab or office. The workshop highlighted the benefits of using behavior-based interview questions and an objective evaluation process to help identify the strongest candidates.
Behavior-based interviews prompt candidates to describe specific experiences for different categories, such as technical skills, interpersonal skills, organization and time management, and personal motivators. For example, an interviewer could ask: “Tell me about a time when your protocol failed to give you the expected outcome and how did you proceed?” or "Tell me about a time when you worked on multiple projects at once and how did you handle it?" Behavior-based questions often provide more insight into the candidate’s work ethic and personality than traditional questions such as “Can you perform these (desired) set of tasks?” or “Do you work well in a team?” which typically yield socially desirable answers (i.e., “Yes”).
With behavior-based questioning, the candidate’s responses reveal true strengths and weaknesses while showing the candidate’s thought processes. This allows the interviewer to identify the best individual for the job by using previous learning experiences and past responses to predict future behavior.
To maximize the benefit from these interviews, the interviewer should utilize an evaluation form. This forces the interviewer to thoroughly consider the job requirements before beginning the interview process and provides a format to keep an account of every answer the candidate provides. Rate each response on a one to ten scale—a one corresponds to an illogical answer and a ten indicates a superb answer. An ideal candidate will share very logical and articulate responses, indicating his or her ability to work effectively in your position.
The evaluation form will prove to be invaluable for comparing and ranking a diverse pool of candidates for job placement. Standardization of forms and questions will help reduce the likelihood of personal bias or forming an overall favorable impression of a candidate too soon during an interview.
The workshop also focused on the intricacies of the interviewee-interviewer interaction. In a properly structured interview, the candidate will spend 80 percent of the time in “listening mode,” whereas the interviewer should spend roughly 20 percent of his or her time in this mode. Occasionally, an interviewer may feel the need to “rescue” a candidate when a period of silence occurs; avoid that temptation! Moments of silence allow candidates to process information and to formulate a clear, concise response.
Overall, Drs. Diane Epperson andElaine Brenner conducted an extremely effective workshop to help us better understand effective interviewing and hiring practices. We hope that this information can assist you as you build your scientific team.