Safety practitioners need interpersonal skills – five tips for behavioural interviewing

Introduction – why bother with behavioural interviewing?

In a previous blog ‘Do we need a new approach to safety education’ , I outlined the types of knowledge, skills and attributes (KSA’s) we were told through focus groups made the best supervisors and site managers. They were overwhelmingly interpersonal – technical skills and experience were important but were not what made a GOOD supervisor/manager. This is being more and more recognised – IOSH also recognises the importance of what I like to call ‘soft power’ (I hate the term ‘soft skills’) as the increased interest in non-directive coaching training shows.

There are two ways that you can ensure your safety practitioners and managers have the interpersonal skills needed. One is to develop them in-house. The other is to recruit for them – often more successful. That’s where behavioural interviewing comes in.

What is behavioural interviewing?

Behavioural interviewing is also known as structured or competency-based interviewing. The questions in behavioural interviews are designed to test for the specific KSA’s associated with a job. The questions are very specific, with the answers matched against criteria that have been developed based on the job role. This helps to make things fairer for the candidate and easier for the interviewer.

Behavioural interviewing is great for establishing if a candidate has the behavioural attributes, for example interpersonal skills, rather than just the operational or technical knowledge and experience, needed for a role.

The KSA’s that can be tested in an interview depend on the job and the organisation. Some common KSA’s are:

Team work
Compliance Influencing interest in others
CommunicationFlexibility Integrity
Dealing with conflict

What follows is our five top tips for behavioural interviewing:

1)  Use behavioural questions

Behavioural interview questions measure the interviewee’s behaviours, abilities and experience in a particular field, using examples from personal experience rather than from theory or in general.

Generally questions are ‘funnelled’ from the general:

‘How do you deal with conflict at work’?

To a specific example:

‘Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a conflict with a contractor?’

To specific probing:

‘How did you deal with the stress the conflict caused? How did you manage your team through the conflict? What did you actually say to the contractor which helped/didn’t help? What would you do differently next time?’

2. Use the STAR approach when preparing for interview

The acronym in this context isn’t stop, think act review! STAR here stands for:

  1. Situation or Task
  2. Action
  3. Result

This is a helpful acronym both for interviewers – it helps you to recognise and match/mark the information provided to the success criteria, and for interviewees – if you use the structure to prepare for interviews it will help you to give answers in the right way.

  1. Situation/task – describe the situation or task, focusing on what is relevant to the question
  2. Action – explain what you did; use detail; focus on self not team; explain how and why
  3. Result – explain what happened eventually; explain what you accomplished and learned

3. Matching/marking

Before a behavioural interview the interviewers decide on the type of answers that would score points for or against the candidate. Then they can match the responses to the criteria. For example, for conflict management the behavioural indicators may be:

Positive indicatorsNegative indicators
Accepts more than one
point of view,
Listens to understand
situation and needs of
Accepts own part in the
Strives to find a workable
Understands impact of
conflict on a team,
Learns from experience,

Sees conflict as the other
person’s problem,
Imposes own view of the
Apportions blame externally,
Unaware of effect on
those around them,
Leaves issues unresolved,
Does not reflect on or
learn from situation,

4.  Beware ‘psychological bias’

Any human decision has some degree of bias – we take an instant liking to some people and disliking to others. The behavioural interview questions, the agreed criteria and mark schedules are designed to reduce the chance of this. However, there are psychological influences that will still have an effect. An interviewer might ask more questions if they have a positive impression of the interviewee, and stop asking questions if they have a negative view. Some common biases it is helpful to be aware of are:

Halo/Horn Effect – when you rate a person high or low on all performance factors because of the general impression the individual has created, (‘She seems nice, she must be good at her job’) or because of a single factor , (‘He supports Man U, he must have good judgement’)

Negative or Positive Leniency – some interviewers are consistently too hard or too easy in evaluating candidates – people are never bad enough for a low mark or never good enough for a high one – or stick to the middle line too much. Ratings that are consistently middling, too harsh or too easy can result in the whole interview process being skewed.

5.  Reduce psychological bias using the ORCE Model

Using the ORCE approach can help reduce this. ORCE stands for Observe, then Record, then Classify and then Evaluate. It’s a way of approaching the interview process which will help you to gather all the information you need. It also helps you to be fair about the person’s performance. Take each stage in turn and ask your fellow interviewers to make sure you’re on the same page.

What’s your experience of interviewing? How successful have you been?

Beehive can provide Behavioural Interviewing workshops to support companies shifting to recruiting for a wider skill set. We also provide interpersonal skills development through our b.SAFE D2iP Safety Leadership Programme. In addition, we offer a unique Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Level 3 and 5 certificate in Coaching for Safety.

Author: bsafebuzz

Sara Lodge is co-director, along with Mark Sykes, of Beehive Coaching and Leadership Development Ltd and b.SAFE Safety Culture, an organisational development consultancy specialising in behaviour change and safety culture.

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