“So how do you bring about conflict resolution?” asks the interviewer.

“First, I believe any conflict resolution needs to be grounded in Matthew 18. That’s essential. From there, when a grievance is brought, I clarify to make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings, then we give everyone a chance to be heard….”

Sounds good. This pastoral candidate must be good at conflict resolution, right? Yet candidates for pastoral positions often default to answers like this—brilliant, well-thought through theories… with no real-world examples. The trouble is, the only way to know whether someone can actually do this is either by watching them do it or—in the second-best scenario—hearing about several specific instances in detail where they have done it.

That’s the function of a behavioral interview: rooting out specific instances of past behavior that shed light on a person’s proven abilities.

Most interview questions are unhelpful because they don’t help you understand how that person actually behaves. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If, for instance, you’re looking for someone to start a new ministry and grow it, then they should have a history of starting and growing new things. You should be able to see that pattern of behavior. If there are no places where they have done that before, the probability that they can do it now is slim.

However, be careful not to just look at church or ministry experience. Candidates can have demonstrated their abilities through behaviors in a club or as a student or in the business world. Frequently overlooked is the pool of stay-at-home moms. They are often great managers with vast experience in communication, conflict resolution, logistics, budgeting, and planning.

Just because someone had a certain job doesn’t necessarily mean anything—position titles are often misleading. Dig deeper to find out what they actually did in that role. Sometimes if you probe deeply enough, you find that other people played important roles in accomplishments… and you’re not looking at hiring them. You need an accurate picture of the pattern of behaviors across time and across multiple situations. That’s what will be the best predictor of their success in this new role.

Unless you’re experienced with doing behavioral interviewing, it’s better to outsource it. Although regular interviewing doesn’t get you the data you’re looking for, doing behavioral interviewing incorrectly won’t get it for you either.

Done well, behavioral interviewing requires 4-5 hours of disciplined data-gathering, and then evaluating each specific skills on a scale of 1 -5. Then you’d need another couple of hours of analyzing and evaluating the data to get a clear picture for a report that articulates the capacities of the candidate. A good behavioral interview report should provide enough data so that you could be able to write a script of this person in action—it’s that level of clarity.

Behavioral interviewing—done well—requires an investment of time and money (although less money than you might expect). But consider the much greater cost of making a bad selection in the hiring process. That includes not only financial and time costs, but damaged relationships and missed opportunities. A behavioral interview provides the insurance you need that you’re making hiring the right person to begin with.

Contact me if you’d like to get some referrals for quality behavioral interviewing.

Reflection questions:
1. What steps can you take to ensure you’re interviewing candidates effectively?
2. What are the potential costs in your situation of hiring the wrong person?
3. What investment are you willing to make to ensure hiring the right person?