IT Employment

Is this IT job applicant a good worker—or just a good actor?

Some readers tell us they strongly oppose one popular method of interviewing job applicants. Others tell us it's THE best way to find good workers. Who's right? You decide.

What’s the best way to choose future members of your IT team? A recent TechRepublic article described one interviewing technique known as behavioral-based interviewing.

The e-mail we’ve received in response to the article delivers mixed reviews on this method. Some readers told us this popular interviewing style helps them find good workers, but other readers strongly oppose it.

Asking creative questions really works
Behavioral-based interviewing means that an interviewer asks job applicants to describe how they solved problems and dealt with various situations in their previous job. It forces job applicants to tell a story about themselves. For example, you might ask applicants to describe a situation when they worked on a team, and how they took part in a particular project.

Kbellock is an information systems manager who interviews potential hires using these types of questions.

“I have hired people who are technology experts but fail miserably with the human element with the end user. On the other hand, I have hired less technically talented people who end users praise for their work and knowledge. So I would find it more important to test for personal skills versus technical skills,” kbellock wrote.

Here’s another endorsement from a professional who has hired all levels of staff, from senior management to front line service staff:

“As a company, we have been using competency-based interviewing as you have described for over two years and the results show that the quality of our employees is increasing. Previously, the line managers recruited using the ‘favorite question’ technique,” wrote graham.legg.

Create a comprehensive hiring plan
Another reader, tgb, has this caution: Select an appropriate method of interviewing based on the individual job applicant, because some IT workers may not perform well with behavioral-based questions.

“Today’s IS&T professionals are complex, creative people with an added pressure of being the highest paid employee in the back office. We ask them to spend countless hours behind their terminals, in meetings, and learning some of the most advanced technology there is. Then we want to make sure that they fit into this perfect employee model and do as we want with little friction…and total cooperation.”

A case against behavioral-based questions
Several readers do not recommend using behavioral-based questioning. Most of those readers thought it was more of a personality test.

“What about the person who can get the job done effectively and efficiently, who has the personality of a badger? If you want results and profits, personality should not be a priority,” wrote bwhite.

Swilson said that job applicants who answer behavioral-based questions well only demonstrate that they are good at acting. She wrote, “Don’t always rely on imaginative responses to questions…remember, they can be just as imaginative in response to questions about why they didn’t complete a task on time.”

Cwood has a very different concern. She believes this interviewing method is a discriminatory practice that hurts minorities in the workplace.

“I am a black female, and although I’ve been getting the IT jobs, they are always the lower-paid ones. I feel that this type of questioning…is another way of singling out certain groups of people,” she wrote.

Interview tips to try
Here are a few interviewing tips that other IT pros mailed to us.

Nholsh is a strong advocate for leaving the HR department out of the interviewing process.

“The …manager should be the only person to screen applicants' resumes and determine which individuals meet the requirements for open positions, interview applicants, and extend offers. If the manager is unable to do so, either get them help or get a new manager,” wrote nholsh.

From reader tim.norton:
  • The candidate must ask at least one good question on his own; otherwise, regardless of how much I want to hire this person, I don’t think he/she wants us.
  • Ask the question about what happened when they were thrown in the fire and how they handled it. This is a situation where a worker will learn and grow the most. I want to know how often the candidate has experienced this.
  • I NEVER sit behind my desk. I always come around and sit at a common table, or in some cases, I put the candidate in my chair. I look for how they handle this.
A few headhunters tell TechRepublic that Web development pros are especially scarce. What position is the toughest to fill in your shop? Post a comment below or send us some mail. We may use your response in an upcoming article.