Tag Archives: job interview

What is Your Signature Story in Behavioral Interviews?

Behavioral interviews require advance preparation for both the interviewer and the job applicant, in contrast to the frequently unplanned volley of unstructured Q&A intended to assess candidate fit and potential effectiveness in a work role.

Tom Janz

Tom Janz

Behavioral Interviews, developed by Tom Janz, now Chief Scientist at peopleassessments.com, ask job candidates to provide examples of past behaviors in specific situations deemed relevant to the target role.

The questions are typically framed as an invitation to tell a story about a situation, a challenge, the candidate’s action or solution, and the outcome:

  • Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem
  • Think of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it
  • Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you implemented it
  • Tell me about a time you went “above and beyond the call of duty
  • When was the last time you handled interruptions to your schedule?  How did you do it?
  • When and how did you convince a team to work on a project they didn’t like?
  • Provide an example of handling a difficult situation with a co-worker
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure

Sometimes the questions are structured to explicitly request that the candidate reply in the “STAR” format:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Results

Candidates increase odds of memorably and skillfully conveying relevant qualifications by preparing “Signature Stories” – theirs alone – to demonstrate how they resourcefully and innovatively:

  • Solved challenging problems
  • Improved strained work relationships
  • Met deadlines and budget
  • Applied “Lessons Learned”
  • Initiated transformational change
  • Demonstrated courage and integrity
Gary Oliphant

Gary Oliphant

Besides being noticed and remembered, signature stories told in behavioral interviews can help both the candidate and interviewer evaluate whether the fit between the role requirements and the candidate’s skills would likely lead to strong future performance.

Becky Oliphant

Becky Oliphant

Evidence for the predictive validity of signature stories told in behavioral interviews was provided by Gary Oliphant and Becky Oliphant of Stetson University with Katharine Hansen of quintcareers.com in their evaluation of 10 Gallup Organization “Life Themes” relevant to loan sales.
From these signature stories, the researchers accurately predicted post-hire performance and retention at a large financial sales organization.

Katharine Hansen

Katharine Hansen

Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts or figures alone,” contends Jennifer Aaker of Stanford, and she offers four elements that increase the impact of signature stories:

  • Goal: Defines a clear purpose and Call to Action, conveying what the listener should think, feel, do
  • Interest: Attracts focused attention by using a “hook” of surprising truth, visual effect, unusual problem-solving approach
  • Caring: Establishes empathic emotional connection with the storyteller’s challenge and journey to reach a meaningful goal
  • Memorable: Makes the story compelling, unforgettable, “re-tellable” and worth “going viral.”
Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

Aaker suggests testing stories by asking others to what extent the story:

  • Changed the listener’s perspective
  • Resonated with the listener’s experiences, values, interests
  • Delivered “Moments of insight”
  • Had incomprehensible, inconsistent, or disjointed parts

She says that the mark of an effective “signature story” is that “others look at you differently” and the story moves you closer to a goal.

-*How do you craft dramatic, memorable Signature Stories to illustrate your values and capabilities?

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Hypothetical Questions May Lead to Bias

Baba Shiv

Baba Shiv, Stanford Graduate School of Business profession, showed that hypothetical questions can sway opinion and affect behavior through innuendo and implied rumor.

One example is a political “push poll” during the 2000 South Carolina Republican Primary Elections, which asked voters whether they’d vote for John McCain if they learned that he had fathered an illegitimate child.

Shiv and Duke University Fuqua School of Business professor Gavan Fitzsimons  conducted experimental inquiries of voter attitudes and behavior in 2001, and found that hypothetical questions increase information “accessibility” because the implied criticism is memorable and may align with existing stereotypes, becomes “top-of-mind,” and can direct behavioral choices.

Gavan Fitzsimons

The researchers found that participants simply focus on the hypothetical content, and don’t evaluate its credibility, even when reminded that the situation is hypothetical.

This effect was seen in one experiment where researchers gave a pretrial jury selection questionnaire to a group of actual prospective jurors.

The potential jurors were told not to use the questions to draw conclusions about the case, then some of the prospective jurors were asked how their decision would be affected by learning that the defendant was a gang member.

Participants who received the hypothetical question gave more hypothetical guilty verdicts and harsher sentences than those who received no suggestive questions.

Shiv cautions against posing hypothetical questions in situations where they are frequently used: Jury selection, political polls, marketing focus groups, job interviews.

Despite research findings (by many including Wiesner & Cronshaw’s classic 1988 article in Journal of Applied Psychology) that hypothetical questions about future behavior in work situations do not predict job performance as effectively as actual past job performance, this interview tactic is still used by some employers.

Astute job candidates can respond to hypothetical questions by citing actual past behavior as a “proof-point” of expected job performance, and may explore the interviewer’s underlying concerns in posing hypothetical questions.

-*What impact have you observed for hypothetical questions posed in the workplace?

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