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Be Ready for the Healthcare Behavioral Interview

Be Ready for the Healthcare Behavioral Interview

Many healthcare organizations use behavioral interviews to hire and promote employees. This form of interviewing is based on the premise that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior. Therefore, behavioral interviewers ask candidates to describe specific instances when they demonstrated particular behaviors or skills that are key to performing the desired job. Interviewers want candidates to cite a behavior, tell when and how they demonstrated it and explain the outcome.

Seems simple enough. But many candidates for healthcare jobs make some basic mistakes that torpedo their chances of being hired. Here are three of the most common, with tips from the experts on avoiding them.

Not Giving Enough Detail

Replying in generalities instead of responding with a specific situation is the most typical mistake. When interviewers ask, "Tell me about a time when…" they are looking for a short but complete story describing a quality, how you used it and the outcome, explains Terry Bishop, PhD, SPHR, associate professor of human resources management at Northern Illinois University.

Give the interviewer a concrete example, and don't make him work to get details, says Matthew Pattelli, a nurse recruiter for Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, part of Advocate Health Care, which has been using behavioral interviewing for more than a decade. Many nurses offer a one-word or one-sentence response, failing to elaborate, he says.

It's fine to use examples from your personal life, especially when you're just starting your career, says Julia Sutch, MT (ASCP), program director for The Cleveland Clinic School of Medical Technology. As administrator of the clinical pathology department, Sutch has interviewed dozens of candidates to keep 150 entry-level positions filled.

For example, do you need an example of a time you led a project? It's fine to explain how you managed your kitchen remodeling. Overall, make sure you choose your examples wisely to show the interviewer good judgment.

Being Unprepared

Knowing they're in demand has prompted some nurses to approach job hunting in a less-than-professional manner. Even though behavioral interviewing isn't new, many candidates for nurse jobs are unprepared to field behavior-based questions. "There's so much competition for nurses that some employers may have let their hiring practices down," Pattelli says.

Advocate's hiring managers and recruiters receive formal training on "hiring the best" and rely on a 24-page document that details key behaviors Advocate looks for in candidates. Interviewers choose from provided questions and use a scoring mechanism that rates and ranks candidates in a structured, consistent manner. The organization seeks candidates who can meet all their requirements: striving for excellence, acting flexibly, meeting customer needs, working as a team and fostering workforce diversity.

Because interviewers are well-trained in the questions they'll ask candidates need to be equally equipped with well-thought-out answers. "Think of all the qualities an employer would look for in the position you're applying for," suggests Sutch, noting she looks for dependability, initiative, creativity and conflict-resolution skills, among other characteristics. And feel free to take a few seconds to think about your answer. This demonstrates thoughtfulness, while blurting out the first thing that comes to mind can make you look rash.

If you list the key points you want to make as well as questions to ask the interviewer beforehand, don't hesitate to bring your list to refer to during the interview, Sutch says. In behavioral interviews, your actions demonstrate two traits highly valued in a clinical laboratory: organization and preparation.

Being Too Polished

At the other extreme, some candidates are so well-rehearsed that they come off as scripted, Bishop says. While it's wise to be prepared, avoid the appearance of being mechanized or sterile. If your examples are too glib or polished, an interviewer may sense your story is too good to be true, that you're a know-it-all lacking humility or that you're putting up a facade. Interviewers can sense -- and are put off by -- the classic right answer. Sincerity helps the interviewer get to know the real you. "Be human, and be warm," Bishop advises. "Smile and respond to the interviewer's question."

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