Behavioral Interviewing Questions Part One: Why RT Managers Like Them

Behavioral Interviewing Questions

You went to RT school to learn how to do the clinical skills necessary to treat patients with respiratory conditions. So you’d think when you go to interview for a job in respiratory care, the hiring manager would ask you clinically-related questions.

These days that’s not always the case. In fact, more and more managers are ditching the typical clinical questions in interviews in favor of behavioral interviewing questions aimed not at finding out what you learned in school, but finding out what you have learned in life and how you will apply that knowledge to your new job.

Behaviorally fit

“When I interview prospective candidates I pretty much base my decisions 100 percent on behavioral responses,” said Paul Nuccio, MS, RRT, FAARC, director of pulmonary services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA. “I have found over the years that teaching clinical skills to new employees, particularly those new to our profession, is something that is very doable and is usually quite successful.”

Teaching new hires how to fit in with his department and his hospital hasn’t been so easy.

“I have tried for many years to teach employees to modify their behavior and I have to say that I have not been as successful with this as I have been with the clinical teaching,” Nuccio said.

Kim Bennion, MHS, BSRT, RRT, CHC, corporate respiratory care QA manager at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, UT, agrees.

“While we do place some emphasis on clinical questions, the majority of our system’s questions are behavioral based,” she said. ”I have always felt the effort, time, and resources to orient and retain a new employee can be streamlined if the individual is ‘behaviorally fit.’”

Behavioral interviewing questions allow Bennion and her team to assess job candidates based on their professional maturity, flexibility, life experiences, communication style, and conflict resolution skills.

“With a good foundation of clinical skills, an RT with behavioral maturity is easily trained for the critical thinking skills now required to accurately apply complex protocols and to function as physician extenders,” Bennion said.

They show how the RT will react

James Cleaves, RRT, CPFT, associate director of respiratory care at University Hospital in Newark, NJ, says he still uses clinical questions in interviews for staff therapist positions, but as RTs move up the ladder, the behavioral questions begin to take precedence.

“Generally speaking, folks who apply to supervisory level positions have already proven themselves clinically. Our concern for internal candidates is ‘can this individual make the change from staff to leadership?’” he said.

For external candidates, behavioral questions provide some insight into their leadership abilities.

“Clinical questions should be easy by now for most of us, so again, the behavioral become quite important,” Cleaves said.

“Behavioral interview questions are very important,” said Jeffrey Davis, BS, RRT, director of respiratory care services and pulmonary function at UCLA Health, Ronald Reagan Medical Center, in Los Angeles, CA. “A good half of our panel interview of prospective new employees centers on situational and behavioral questions.”

For Davis, these types of questions foster a better understanding of how a candidate will react to a crisis situation or deal with a conflict with another staff member or even a challenging patient.

Poor behaviors kill teamwork

Karen Goodison, MS, RRT-NPS, RPFT, director of respiratory, clinical transport and lung/kidney transplant services and administrative director of biomedical engineering at UCMC in Bel Air, MD, says 70 percent of her interviewing process is based on behavioral questions and she believes those questions help her weed out prospective employees who may end up making problems for her department.

“An employee with poor behaviors can kill teamwork and department morale so it is extremely important to select the right candidates with appropriate behaviors,” Goodison said. “In addition, it is more challenging, time-consuming and emotionally draining — on everyone — to correct behavior concerns as opposed to performance concerns, so I weigh my interview heavily on identifying candidates with appropriate behaviors.”

By the time prospective employees reach his desk, John Campbell, MA, MBA, RRT-NPS, RPFT, FACHE, pulmonary services director at St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital in Jackson, MS, says they’ve already been screened by HR for education and credentials, so he focuses almost solely on behavioral questions in the face-to-face interview.

“I want to hear about their work and life experiences along with getting a feel for organizational and departmental fit,” Campbell said. “With so much emphasis on customer relations, they must prove that they understand and can demonstrate good customer stewardship.”

Ryan Bellomy, MBA, RRT, director of respiratory care at Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu, HI, only asks behavioral questions.

“I let the candidate know I hire based on my team’s fit, not clinical skill,” Bellomy said. “My mantra has always been that I can train you to be an outstanding RT but I am not able to change who you are as a person.”

Team fit always tops his list because he feels that’s how he can realize the vision he has for his department.

Now it’s your turn

So, this is why RT managers are devoted to the concept of behavioral interviewing questions. How can prospective employees prepare to do their best when asked these types of questions?

These managers and others have some great advice in Part Two of our series on behavioral interviewing questions. (And one of them also shares a comprehensive list of actual behavioral interviewing questions that no therapist in the job market today can afford to miss!)