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PBM 101: A guide to behavior-based interviewing for nonprofits

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PBM 101: A guide to behavior-based interviewing for nonprofits

In this Principle Based Management 101 series, we’re unpacking mental models, ideas, and tools you can use to level up your work.

This article was previously published by Stand Together Foundation.


Principle Based Management™ provides a holistic approach to making decisions, solving problems, and creating value for individuals in your community, team members in your organization, and society at large. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​It is rooted in proven principles that have fueled the ongoing success of Stand Together and our partners. In this Principle Based Management 101 series, we’re unpacking mental models, ideas, and tools that you can use to reach the next level in your work.

Behavior-based interviewing is the best way to find values-aligned employees.

To make effective hiring decisions, Stand Together Foundation uses what we call the Virtue and Talents Matrix. This mental model aids our thinking by helping use consider prospective talent through the lens of both the knowledge and skills and the values and beliefs needed to make a successful hire.

Principle Based Management™ (formerly MBM®) is designed to create a culture in which the natural entrepreneurial impulses of every employee can be unleashed, and where they can focus on advancing the organizational mission in a principled, ethical way. This is why we recommend hiring based on values first, while also ensuring employees have (or can develop) the necessary knowledge and skills to meaningfully contribute. To achieve this, we encourage nonprofit leaders to practice “behavior-based interviewing.” Behavior-based interviewing is a great way to understand a candidate’s past behavior, which is a good predictor of future behavior.

The behavior-based interview process starts with identifying key behaviors.

Behavior-based interviewing is only possible if you understand your shared values—what we call Guiding Principles. Use your values to create focus areas that define the behaviors you expect to observe in potential team members. For example, if one of your focus areas is about integrity, you might expect to observe people keeping commitments or doing the right thing even when it is difficult. Using focus areas in the interviewing process can help you avoid individual bias and evaluate every candidate consistently.

But once you know the behaviors you’re looking for, how should you actually prepare for and conduct the interview?

There are three steps to behavior-based interviewing: Situation, Behavior, and Outcome.

If you’re serious about behavior-based interviewing, we recommend applying a technique called “SBO,” which stands for Situation, Behavior, and Outcome.

  • A Situation is the context in which the behavior or action took place. Who was involved? Where and when did it take place? You might say: “Tell me about a time you faced conflict with a coworker.” Or, “Share a recent example of a successful partnership.”
  • A Behavior is the specific decision or action the candidate made in the situation being discussed. What did the person do or say? How did he/she handle the situation? You might ask: “What did you do next?” Or, “What was your approach?”
  • An Outcome is the result of the person’s actions. What happened because of their behavior? What were the results (both good and bad)? To explore an outcome, you might ask: “How did that turn out?” Or, “What feedback did you get?”

The goal of the interview process is to get a read on all your focus areas—ensuring that you surface specific examples to help you decide if the candidate has the necessary values, beliefs, knowledge, and skills to successfully contribute to your organization.

Ultimately, using a behavior-based interview strategy—and using the SBO model—can lead to a more productive hiring process with tangible long-term benefits for the culture you are trying to build. It can provide more reliable insights and examples when making the choice to hire someone, rather than falling back on your “gut instinct” or personal preferences.

Learn more about Principle Based Management and how it can help you transform your results.

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