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Insight Into Behavioral Interviews – Leonard Hamilton presents the 2nd Alert & Oriented Lunch Series

April 16, 2018


Insight Into Behavioral Interviews – Leonard Hamilton presents the 2nd Alert & Oriented Lunch Series

Whitman Partners was treated to an insightful look into the mechanics of interviewing in February when Leonard Hamilton, MSN, RN, visited as our second Alert & Oriented lunch series presenter. Leonard, Director of Imaging and Perioperative Services at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, Washington, has extensive experience in interviewing, both as a candidate and as an interviewer. During his lunchtime presentation at Whitman Partners he examined the strategies for interview success, focusing mainly on behavioral interviews, an increasingly common strategy.

Leonard said that interviews are certainly the way to find the best candidate—but the critical underlying issue is how an employer conducts these interviews to bring out the best qualities of a candidate and provide a structure to compare alternative candidates. He noted that there are six basic types of interviews and he discussed the pros and cons of each:

  • Unstructured: Lacks consistency, betrays biases, relies on gut feelings. “Not much better success than flipping a coin,” notes Leonard.
  • Structured: More consistent and less prone to bias, but can be awkward, and is time-consuming
  • Behavioral: Asks the candidate about specific experiences or issues and how they were solved. Structured, with specific scoring criteria
  • Stress: Not usually applicable in nursing positions
  • Problem-Solving or Case: Presents a “how would you” case; used when improvement is needed in areas such as performance or patient scores
  • Panel: Success depends on who is asking the question and why, and the makeup of the panel

The underlying goal of behavioral interviewing is to identify past behaviors and performance in an effort to predict future performance and decision-making style and capability,” Leonard said.

This makes this type of interview the most productive for identifying best candidates for Directors of Surgical Services and affiliated positions. A behavioral interview, with its unambiguous scoring system, asks for specific instances from a candidate’s career when a difficult or essential problem was solved. The interviewers ask for the situation (what happened, or what did you need to solve), the task or background (what was your position relative to the situation), the action (what did you decide to do, how did you do it), and the result (did that work? did it turn out the way you had expected?).

As a candidate himself during behavioral interviews, Leonard refers to a case when his hospital’s boilers failed at 2 a.m. He had to mobilize staff members to keep patients warm and essential systems working, and to discover the cause of the problem (a faulty safety switch). He had to get the word out to staffers in areas such as food service and sterile processing to come in early, and get the boilers going again—and make sure that the situation never happened again. The concrete result was a change in the way safety inspections were done to avoid these mishaps. This is a prime example of the type of situation that reveals the preparation of the candidates, their ability to think clearly in stressful situations, and their focus on changing what needs to be changed to produce results.

In every type of interview, the perspective of the interviewers colors the conversation, the questions asked, and the opinions they form, each needing or wanting slightly different qualities. For instance, while CEOs are looking for driven, energetic, can-do candidates with business acumen, CNOs may be looking for someone who can build a strong team and is adept with best practices and unions. Peer groups—directors and managers—want to know if the candidates will carry their weight, and staff members need a leader and want to know how the candidate will support them.

Interviewing is a learned skill, Leonard says. He encourages all candidates to become familiar with their own resumés, and be able to talk about how they achieved all of the listed accomplishments. He believes that Skype interviews may create bias, and thinks telephone interviews are the best for remote interviewing.  And always, he says it’s perfectly fine for candidates to take a moment to answer questions deliberately and thoughtfully.

Leonard’s presentation provoked a spirited discussion at Whitman Partners, and we thank him for his time and for his generosity in sharing his expertise about interviews. If any of our readers plan to be in Portland, Oregon, and would like to present an Awake and Oriented lunch series topic of interest to recruiters or to Directors of Surgical Services and their affiliated positions, please let us know! We’d love to share lunch with you, have you meet our staff and their amazing dogs, and share what we know with one another. Email Michael Heavener at, and we would be happy to set up a time!