4 Steps to Behavioral Interviewing

4 Steps to Behavioral Interviewing

There’s a saying I remember from my time as a writing student that I know made many of my classmates groan – “show don’t tell.” For example, “don’t tell us its cold outside, show us!” or “don’t tell us this character is mad, show us.”

While this concept seemed unimportant to a class of elementary school kids who just wanted to go outside for recess, “show don’t tell” actually has an important lesson to teach us about how we can conduct interviews that are illustrative, effective and fair.

As a hiring manager, you want to make sure you’re hiring the most qualified candidate for the job. However, it can be hard to gauge a candidate’s potential job performance when your interview questions get responses that don’t really get to the meat of what a candidate can or can’t do, knows or doesn’t know, or that give you the feeling they’re just giving you the answer they think you want to hear. When you want to dig deep into a candidate’s experience, asking behavioral interviewing questions can get you there.

What’s behavioral interviewing you ask? Great question! Behavioral interviewing – considered by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to be the most effective interviewing strategy – is a strategy that employs asking questions that prompt a candidate to give direct examples of skills and experiences that will provide you with a better idea of how they will react to potential situations they might face on the job.

For example, if being able to use sound business judgment while working independently is super, super, SUPER critical to your position, having candidates tell you “I have good business judgment, and I’m independent” likely doesn’t give you everything you need to determine if they truly have these crucial skills. Instead, go for a question like, “Tell me about a time you needed to make a time-sensitive decision, and your manager was unavailable for consultation. What did you do, how did you come to that conclusion and what was the outcome?” A question like this will prompt the candidate to give you an example that will help you evaluate whether they have the skills and experience to deal with situations that may arise in the position. Plus, it will help you gauge whether or not their response to the situation fits what you’re looking for in your future employee – you want to make sure they’re a culture fit, too!

You might be saying “this behavioral interviewing sounds great, but I’m not sure how to get started – I’ve already got so many things on my plate!” Fear not – I have laid out some steps below, with some help from the good ol’ SHRM, to help you get you started.

  1. Define the critical competencies for the position: Between you and your selected interview team, come up with a list of the most important skills, behaviors or specific knowledge that will be crucial for success in the position. You’ll likely take these from the job description. If you can, keep the number of competencies between five and ten to allow for a more in-depth interview process around these competencies. Additionally, the quicker you can get your answers to the most pressing questions, the faster you can turn around a potential hiring decision and score that top candidate.
  2. Design behavioral interview questions based on these competencies: Using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Results), come up with interview questions that will prompt candidates to respond with a situation they faced and the task they needed to complete, what action they took and what results came out of it.
  3. Create a simple rating scale: Whether it’s “1-5,” “exceeds expectations to beneath expectations,” create a rating scale that will allow your team to rate the candidate against the agreed-upon competencies. This rating scale will help you compare candidates easily and also potentially cut down on potential bias as each candidate is being evaluated based on the same set of competencies and questions.
  4. Assign competencies to interviewers that best exemplify them: So you aren’t having the candidate sit through the same interview multiple times, assign specific skill sets to interviewers that best exemplify them on the job. They’ll be responsible for asking those behavioral interviewing questions relevant to their competency to gauge whether or not this candidate fits the bill. Ensure that you are keeping your interview panel and questions consistent across candidates to allow for a more direct comparison.
  5. Interview away!

For your next open position, take some stress out of finding your next hire and employ behavioral interviewing tactics – get your candidates to show you what they can do so you can be confident that your next hire is the right one!

Blog inspiration and informational source:  Behavioral Interview Guide: Early Career Job Candidates from SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management)


Job Postings and Gender Neutral Language

Job Postings and Gender Neutral Language

What is the purpose of a job posting? To attract candidates with a desirable skill set for a specific position, Right?

So why do so many companies overlook gender coding in their online job postings and job descriptions?  The answer is fairly simple:  Folks may not realize the impact the words they use have on their audience.

Everyone wants their advertisement to stand out from the rest, which is why we will see a number of ‘buzz’ words or phrases used (does the phrase ‘we are looking for a rock star’ make anyone else roll their eyes a little?).  Facts are that some words skew more masculine and some skew more feminine and that impacts who is applying to your job.

So what do we do?

  1. Educate yourself – What adjectives are more masculine vs. more feminine? What are their gender neutral alternatives?

As a quick example, we can explore one of the more commonly used adjectives – Bubbly – often times we’ll see this word in an advertisement for front desk personnel, administrative roles, or receptionist positions.  While we may use this word to attract someone who is outgoing the word itself sits on the more feminine side and may screen out those that don’t identify in that way.  Consider replacing the word all together with something more neutral.

  1. Review, change, re-post

It’s easy to make the right changes in your posts – especially with tools out there like the Gender Decoder for Job Ads.  This is my all-time favorite tool and I frequently double check what I’ve written to ensure that the post uses neutral language that will not unknowingly screen out qualified applicants.

  1. Make it part of your everyday

Last but not least – embrace gender neutral language in your everyday communication.  Using the ‘they, them, their’ pro-nouns when referring to someone (either in a written post or in conversation) keeps your language inclusive!  While some of these changes can be tricky, you are ultimately ensuring that every individual you interact with feels comfortable.

There is A LOT we as staffing professionals can do to weave this into our everyday (job postings, interviews, etc.).  This only scratches the surface, but is certainly a step in the right direction!

The Evolution of ‘Shirley’ – PSG’s Resume Robot

The Evolution of ‘Shirley’ – PSG’s Resume Robot

Technology has taken us to places we never thought we’d go before.

  • Real time health and wellness tracking? Check
  • A drone delivering your paper towels for that week? Double Check
  • Snapchat filter that turns you into a baby? Triple Check

So why did it take us till 2017 to leverage technology to do the tedious work for us?  We didn’t know where to start!

Once upon a time, one PSG team member was tasked with sitting in front of their computer, Outlook inbox open, poised and ready to qualify a resume as soon as it came in.  We figured out a while ago, that if we reached out to a qualified applicant in 5 minutes or less – we were (x) amount more likely to get that individual on the phone.  Of course – getting that person with the stellar resume to answer a call from an unfamiliar number is not always the easiest.  So we started emailing them.

As we took steps to modernize our recruiting process, we kept asking ourselves ‘there must be a better, faster way to qualify these resumes’.  We were having a valuable member of the PSG team spend countless hours staring at an inbox when they could be impacting other areas of the business, and while this is a crucial role we knew that there had to be a better, fast, more efficient way.

Here’s what we did:

  • We pulled together tens of thousands of resumes
  • We reviewed resumes of candidates successfully placed into opportunities with our clients
  • We pinpointed common keywords on those resumes, and fed them into our algorithm? (Think ‘administrative’ or ‘Microsoft Office’)

After that a dedicated team met daily to review the results.  How many resumes were qualified correctly? How many were missed? Why were they missed? What changes need to be made to push the qualified % up?

It took months of tweaking key words, working with the algorithm to make sure the right words were identified in the right spot, and A LOT of painstaking attention to detail.

But we got the robot to be 90% accurate in qualifying incoming resumes.

The best part? Since this is now out of the hands of a human, technology moves so much faster!  We went from scheduling one out of every 5 candidates, to one out of every 3! AMAZING!

3 Ways PSG Improved Candidate Response

When it comes to calling up candidates (let’s be real – even your family and friends), the odds of getting them on the first, second, or even third try is SLIM at best.  And why wouldn’t it be?  In this day and age, we have so many different avenues of communication that picking up an ‘out of the blue’ call just seems exhausting.

That’s why we changed EVERYTHING about how we approach connecting to our candidates in three steps.

  1. Email is great – texting is better

This was an easy suggestion to make, but came with a lot of “what if” statements.

“What if this is too much?”

 “What if response is negative?”

“What if we are over stepping our bounds?”

These are all valid questions, and it’s natural to be nervous about implementing something that we have never tried.  However, we were letting perceived fears get in the way of pushing forward with something new and ultimately successful.  Overall, we saw that we received over 80% of our responses from text message, while email trailed behind.

  1. Follow up, Follow up, Follow up

Texting was a little scary – this downright terrified some people.

The thought of sending multiple messages to individuals in a short period of time brought to mind that episode of The Office – with Ryan trying to convince his co-workers to invest in a new social media platform (WUPHF.com) that would send (at once) a Facebook message, a tweet, a text, an email, and a fax.  Hilarious as the episode was, Ryan’s service seemed a little like overkill.


However there is a big difference between gentle follow up, and aggressive outreach.

We found that by sending non-responsive candidates a quick “Did you see this?” text after the initial message moved our response rate from 48% at the end of quarter 1 to 63% at the end of quarter 2, and rather than receiving the much feared “stop it!” text, we saw much more “thank you for the reminder” responses.

  1. Diligence in responding back

This one seems like a no brainer, but often times we are so wrapped up in getting the message out that we neglect to put the same care and attention into what we do when we DO get a response.  The speed in which you respond to an engage candidate matters more than any of the above which is why we adhere to a 5 minute response rule – and staff for it.

Anyone that responds to any kind of alert from PSG receives a response in less than 5 minutes to schedule next steps.  In doing this, we ensure that when we have someone’s attention – we keep it – providing a positive experience on both sides.

Massachusetts’ Unemployment Rate is Lowest in 15 Years

News that Massachusetts’ unemployment rate is at the lowest point since 2001  follows a trend that we’ve been experiencing for several years now. The unemployment rate has been decreasing, especially among workers with college degrees in professional roles, as the economy has continued to get healthier.


While this news excludes other trends, such as the number of workers who are in jobs that they actually like or those who are working part-time when they’d prefer to be in a full-time position, it is trend in the right direction. Another positive trend includes the recent news that wage growth hit 2.6 percent for the past year, the highest level since the Great Recession. Job and wage growth are signs that employers are feeling confident and investing in the economy.


What does this mean for employers? As many Boston firms know, hiring talent when unemployment rates are low means being flexible, acting quickly, and staying focused. It’s also important to focus on retaining existing staff and to make sure you are on top of staff development and promotions to reduce the risk of losing people. PSG is proud to help clients meet their recruiting and hiring goals in this challenging market.


4 Tips for a Successful Relationship with your Recruiting Firm

Even if you’ve worked with a recruiting firm before, there are several considerations for getting the most out of your relationship. PSG President Aaron Green shares his tips for choosing and managing a recruiting firm:


Tip #1: Consider the Fit – It’s important to find a partner that can accommodate your needs and has the right industry experience and a successful track record with other firms of your size and organization type. A recruiting firm that sells a broad range of services will be able to offer a broad range of solutions for your needs.


Tip #2: Look for accessibility to their recruiting base – We all have become accustomed to on-demand services and the recruiting industry is adapting to this same trend.  Successful recruiting firms make themselves accessible to their candidates. For example, PSG responds to new candidate inquiries within five minutes of receiving a qualified resume on weekdays between 8am-9pm.


Tip #3: Ask how the firm adapts to the needs of the market – Not only do recruiters need to understand when to engage candidates, they must understand how to engage them. Many candidates expect instant access and answers. Recruiters that leverage technology, including online chat and mobile apps, for communicating will have an edge. Interview your potential recruiting partner to explain how they use technology to engage with candidates.


Tip #4: Remember that a relationship is a two-way street — Consider how you can make yourself attractive to a recruiter — many of whom are turning away business in this tight employment market. This may mean partnering with your recruiter to provide quicker, detailed feedback or taking other actions that make you a more attractive client without spending a dime more.


Aaron Green 0904 22

Predictions for Boston Hiring Trends in 2016


PSG President Aaron Green sees some interesting trends emerging around hiring job candidates in the Boston area this year.


“Hiring has become a painful experience,” Green says. “It’s painful for employers because there’s a shortage of qualified candidates for most open positions and because HR departments are stretched pretty thin.”


Green is referring to the low average unemployment rate in Massachusetts that has been below 5 percent since last April. As hiring picks up in certain sectors – such as technology and healthcare – organizations like hospitals and universities are looking for candidates with specific talents and skill sets, like workers who can support new initiatives in online courses.


At the same time, organizations are more mindful of having their HR department be the “right” size. That means ensuring there are enough resources to handle all the functions expected of HR, while staying flexible to adapt to changes in the economy – a lesson many learned the hard way during the last recession.


For many mid- and large-size companies this means considering outsourcing some parts of the recruiting process. PSG is seeing an uptick in clients using its Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) services. In some cases, clients outsource some aspects of the recruiting process, such as sourcing and screening candidates, so their internal HR team can focus on more strategic functions, like interviewing and onboarding new hires.


Green says the hiring process is also painful for job seekers. “It’s almost like hazing,” he says. He believes this will change, starting in 2016.


“Economics, combined with the availability of information online, is forcing businesses to look at the candidate experience in new ways,” says Green.


Ratings systems that leverage digital data – such as the star system on Glassdoor and use of the short survey that quantifies a Net Promoter Score (NPS) – are driving change and helping the recruiting process evolve.


“PSG will be rolling out a new NPS for candidates applying for internal staff positions,” explains Green. “For many years we’ve conducted NPS surveys with candidates we meet and consider for placement with clients; and the data from those surveys has informed our recruiting and interviewing processes. Now we’re applying that experience, along with research we’re currently conducting – including feedback from candidates we hired as well as those we didn’t – to help us build a stronger candidate experience all-around.”


Retailers have long lived under the adage that “the customer is always right,” which comes from a desire to make sure customers have a positive experience with their brand. Now many employers are applying that methodology to the hiring experience. They’re treating candidates like customers and using new tactics to ensure that even candidates who don’t get hired come away with a positive experience of the process and, subsequently, the brand.


Another local hiring trend is how quickly compensation is changing. Green says that aggressive recruiting by private equity and venture funded companies is partly to blame. Unlike traditional businesses that are run for long-term profitability, PE and VC funded firms can offer outrageous compensation packages for short-term employment periods. This practice forces wages across the local economy to rise and compensation plans that were created even one year ago are now out of date. On the other end of the spectrum, increases in Massachusetts’ minimum wage  are also helping to accelerate the changes in compensation.


Another big trend in recruiting and hiring is matching candidates with an organization’s culture to increase the odds of making a successful hire. When it comes to culture fit, Google is championing the idea. In his book Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, Google’s Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock explains that “culture underpins everything we do at Google.” Bock offers several tips for interviewing for culture fit, including knowing where to find the type of workers you’re looking for, using “work tests” in which candidates are gauged for their reactions in typical work situations, and testing candidates against the traits that are most highly valued at your organization.


In the future, Green foresees a hiring process that’s built around a candidate’s needs, rather than a company’s. While this likely won’t come to fruition in 2016, our use of digital data and the examples of hiring practices at companies like Google are showing that it’s possible.


In 2016, companies are better than ever at hiring, but it’s still a painful experience. Fortunately, a focus on improving the candidate experience and hiring for culture fit can help Boston organizations improve the process.Aaron Green 0904 22


Boston is Popular with Recent College Grads

A recent report from the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) ranked Boston as the third most popular major American city among young college graduates.


This trend appears to be a reversal of a study two years ago that found a “brain drain” occurring as recent college graduates were leaving New England at a faster rate than any region in the country.


Among the eight economic and quality-of-life factors in AIER’s Employment Destinations Index that influenced migration patterns of college grads ages 22-35, the most important were:

  1. A high density of people with a college degree
  2. A low unemployment rate
  3. The ability to get around without a car


Other factors in the Employment Destinations Index included bars and restaurants per 1,000 residents, as well as earning power, rents, competition for jobs, and ethnic and racial diversity.


Massachusetts’ unemployment rate recently fell to its lowest rate since 2008 and the unemployment rate for workers with college degrees is about half the national average.


Despite the MBTA’s recent troubles, Boston takes public transportation seriously. Several PSG clients have chosen to relocate to more accessible, urban locations when upgrading their office space. This is an important consideration for attracting Millennial workers who may be eschewing car ownership.


PSG clients, and other Boston-area employers, are also attracting younger workers with state-of-the-art office design that promotes collaboration. Benefits such as providing free and healthy meals are also popular recruiting and retention tools.


What is your organization doing to attract younger workers? If you’d like help recruiting and hiring talent from this demographic, give PSG a call today.







Adapting to a Candidate-Driven Job Market

This post was originally published in NEHRA’s April e-newsletter. 


New England-area employers and hiring managers are experiencing first-hand a shift to a candidate-driven job market. They’re finding that it’s become more difficult to land top talent and that candidates are increasingly in the driver’s seat.


This shift is a result of several market conditions that drive demand for skilled workers, including:

  • 4.8 percent – Massachusetts’ unemployment rate in March 2015
  • 10,500 jobs were added to the Massachusetts economy in March, about double the monthly average job growth over the past year
  • 2 percent of the U.S.’ eligible workforce is participating in the labor market; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor participation rate in March was the highest it’s been since June 2010
  • There are now 5.1 million job openings in the U.S., an increase from 4.2 million in 2014 and a rise of more than 21 percent


This demand for highly skilled workers – across all industries – continues to rise and has become a central challenge for recruiters and hiring managers. Recruiters and hiring managers are becoming well aware that this candidate-driven market exists and they are responding.


Highly skilled workers have many job openings to choose from, and are ultimately receiving multiple job offers during a typical job search. Skills and experience in IT, professional services and healthcare continue to be among the highest sought after. For example, temporary contractors with IT skills and experience are seeing multiple offers for future projects or permanent positions before wrapping up projects they’re currently on.


Not only are skilled candidates seeing multiple opportunities and then fielding several offers, but compensation and benefits are also affected. Salaries across the U.S. have remained mostly stagnant, but for highly skilled IT, Project Management, and niche financial and healthcare professionals, it’s a completely different story. One banking client of ours in Boston hires several experienced consultants to facilitate cyclical financial reporting projects. According to him, “Recently, there are just fewer immediately available candidates with the specific skills [he] needs to hammer through these reports, and they are able to demand higher hourly rates simply because of supply and demand.”


Our clients are faced with a critical decision over how much budget to allocate for each new hire. If they allocate too little, they will lose candidates to other offers. Large tech companies like Google and Facebook are setting new standards for both compensation and benefits, forcing other companies to follow suit. A large social media and tech company just outside Boston recently offered select highly skilled software engineers salaries at three to five times the market average, and is increasing company-provided lunch from three days per week to five days per week starting in July this year. Employers are trying to be flexible and think creatively about how they attract talent.


Companies in the Boston and New England area have been forced to rethink how they go about getting work done, the type of candidates they end up hiring, and the process through which they hire. It seems obvious, but I’ll elaborate a bit. In today’s economic climate, where demand for skilled workers has steadily increased, companies going through organizational change, merger or acquisition, implementations, upgrades, growth or decline will face difficulty finding available talent that meets their exact need. The more prerequisites or more specific the skill-set is, the harder it is to find the perfect match.


Hiring managers feel the pressure of time to meet deadlines and manage through change, and more frequently than ever before, they are utilizing temporary or contingent workers to fulfill those needs. According to the BLS and Staffing Industry Analysts, temporary workers as a percentage of total employment is at an all-time high and trending upward. Some firms find that it is faster and more affordable to utilize a staffing firm to hire a temporary consultant than to post a job and find the perfect full-time employee.


Hiring managers who hire quickly win. With a talent pool on the decline and demand on the rise, those who shorten the time it takes to find and onboard candidates are winning the best available talent when they need it most. Many of our clients have elected to trust our screening and interviewing process, asking us to send our best available candidates, rather than requesting to see and screen resumes and then interview themselves. This can mean the difference between getting the best available candidate or the second or third round, and it saves our clients money and time toward deadlines and goals.


On another note, clients who are generally more flexible with required skills and experience are finding access to alternative talent pools more efficient and successful than waiting for the perfect candidate to turn up. Intertwined in our screening and interview process is a detailed and rigorous extraction of skills and experience not appearing on resumes. Another way to speed the vetting and hiring process up a bit is simply by using technology – like Skype or other video conferencing tools – to ease requirements for meeting in-person.


At PSG, we rely heavily on our ability to build strong relationships with clients where this process is a true collaboration, and we commonly coach and advise clients on effective search techniques. In today’s tight market, shortening identification and onboarding time, being more flexible with prerequisites and offering competitive wages and benefits are keeping our clients at a competitive advantage in this new candidate-driven market.


If you or your company would like to discuss hiring in a candidate-driven market, please feel free to reach me at nbrown@psgstaffing.com or 617-250-1000.


Nicholas Brown is  Director – IT, Finance & Accounting, Creative and HR Staffing Solutions at Professional Staffing Group





2014 Forecast for Boston Jobs

By Frank Gentile

2014 looks to be a good year for job growth; it might even be the best that Boston has seen since before the recession.  All of the surveys – including those of employers, hiring managers and job seekers – are pointing up, and most companies will tell you they have plans to hire in the New Year.

This means we’ll likely see a shift toward an employee-driven job market (away from an employer-driven market) in which candidates may receive multiple job offers and employers have a more difficult time with retention and with finding candidates who qualified for their open positions.

Beginning in 2014, here are some trends I forecast we’ll start seeing:

Companies will get creative in their efforts to attract employees – With a tighter labor pool to select from, we’ll start to see companies get more aggressive in attracting candidates. The last time this happened, with the tech sector in the late 90’s, we saw employers highlight workplace perks like foosball tables and bring-your-pet-to-work policies. Similarly, I believe we’ll see an increase in sign-on bonuses and perhaps stock plan offers to attract highly-skilled workers.

Health insurance benefits will feature more prominently in job offers – The Affordable Care Act has changed the healthcare options for numerous workers and helped emphasize healthcare plans overall. For employers with premium benefits, expect to start seeing job offers that specifically highlight healthcare benefits.

Baby Boomers will finally retire – The first Baby Boomers turned 62 in 2008, making them eligible to claim retirement benefits. However, the U.S. economy took a nosedive that same year and prompted many Boomers to stay in the workplace. Now that they’re eligible for full retirement benefits and the economy has stabilized and is starting to improve, we’ll see a lot more workers from this generation begin to retire. This will open up jobs at the managerial level and, as companies train younger workers for these roles, it will create opportunities at lower levels too. Employers will need to add employees to fill the subsequent gaps in the workplace.

Employers will enhance workforce diversity plans – There are many reasons to hire diverse workers, and now one of the most pressing is the need to find and retain quality employees. Faced with a shortage of qualified job applicants, employers will need to tap into new pools of skilled candidates. Organizations that have effective plans for attracting a diverse workforce will be at a competitive advantage. Recruiters will target passive candidates –In 2014 recruiters will have no choice but to look for passive candidates, i.e. candidates who aren’t actively seeking a new job. This means using social networks like LinkedIn and industry associations and organizations to search for and communicate with prospects.

Informational interviews will increase – Companies are starting to spend more time with informational interview candidates and on exploratory meetings, in order to develop a network and candidate pool. Some firms will hire top workers even if they don’t have a specific position available for that worker.

frank-gentile-2Frank Gentile is a 20+ year veteran of the staffing industry and an experienced recruiter. As a Director at Professional Staffing Group (PSG) Frank oversees the permanent placement division.