The mantra of human resources departments, says Mary Anne Kennedy, a human resources director at Bristol-Myers Squibb, is “past behavior, future predictor.” Whether or not this rule of thumb entertains the potential for human change — and the millions spent on corporate training suggest change is possible — the best data for a hiring decision comprises the past actions of the job candidate in a variety of job-relevant situations.

Right out of high school Kennedy started work at Purolator, where her father was the credit manager. In 1982, when she was temping as a secretary and administrative assistant at J. M. Huber, the human resource director witnessed her skills and hired her to replace his assistant while she was out on maternity leave. The lesson of this tale is that the behaviors the director observed, her organization, and attentiveness to task are what got her the job.

And the effectiveness with which today’s job candidates communicate examples of their own on-the-job behaviors can determine whether the door to a new position stays open or is shut in their faces.

The way human resource professionals elicit these behaviors is through a technique called behavior-based interviewing, which is based on facts and not gut feelings. Interviewers are looking for specific examples of how a job candidate has responded to different work challenges. Kennedy will teach a free class on “Behavior-Based Interviewing,” on Saturday, May 3, at 8:30 a.m. at St. Paul’s Church on Nassau Street. Call 609-921-7587.

Be aware of the distinction between a judgment and a behavior. “There are three components to behavior: it is observable, specific, and fact-based,” says Kennedy, “and it is not a judgment.” Kennedy offers an example of each: If a job candidate says, “I completed the budget ahead of schedule,” that is an observable behavior. The statement “I am a team player,” however, is a judgment, something you can’t see.

“When you go with the facts, you make better decisions,” says Kennedy, who advises looking to the quantifiable rather than the intangible.

Frame questions around a specific type of situation and ask for examples. Kennedy suggests a few potential questions: “Tell me about a time when you were in a situation and people didn’t get along. Give me the situation, what actions you took, and what was the result.” Or, “tell me about a problem you have solved in a unique manner and what the outcome was.” Or, “what has been your experience in technology? What kind of software do you use? Can you give me examples of how you did an implementation of specific software?”

Probe deeply in response to a candidate’s answer. Take the question “Describe a recent creative idea that you brought to your work team.” Kennedy suggests a series of follow-up questions: “How did you do that? Who was involved? What did they think about your idea? What was the result?”

Keep questions work-related. In the United States it is against the law to ask personal questions during a job interview, and of course these are not behaviors. Kennedy advises staying entirely away from areas like marital status, children, interest in golf, religion — not only are they illegal but they shouldn’t have any relevance to the job.

Within the framework of behavior-based interviewing, Kennedy also has some advice for job candidates:

Look for a position and a company that match your values. Make sure you are not one of those of people who are just looking for a job. The human resource person will immediately spot you as a drone if you ask questions like, “When does my vacation start?” or, “What will my benefits package look like?” This sends a message, says Kennedy, that you’re only looking for a job that continues your current lifestyle. “Nobody wants someone who is just looking for job.”

Build a resume based on your values, skill sets, and experience. When you’re developing a resume consciously include keywords that will identify your skills. “You have to really understand what you’re good at and really want to do,” says Kennedy. “A resume should be bulleted with quantifiable information and good key words.” In large organizations a resume is dumped into a tracking system before humans even see it; and resumes are handled similarly on websites like If a department is looking for an expert on the SAP software package and your resume does not include/say it, however expert you may be, you will not get an interview.

Do your research. Research the company and come to the interview with questions that prove you have done some legwork. If Kennedy asks a potential candidate, “What do you know about Bristol-Myers Squibb?” and the answer is “Not much,” that’s a tip off that the candidate has been throwing resumes everywhere. “I am only interested in people who have done their homework,” says Kennedy. “If you know our products, our leadership, our financials, and have talked to people who work here, you have energy for us and passion for our company,” says Kennedy. “You need to prove to the company that you are a valuable resource.”

Learn to schmooze. “Go to every networking event possible,” advises Kennedy, “and when you get someone’s business card, ask for 15 minutes with them.” Then when you talk to them, don’t ask for a job but rather for two more people you should talk to. “We believe your next opportunity is two degrees of separation away not six,” she says.

Prepare work-related examples relevant to the job you are applying for. You will need these both with a behavior-based interviewer as well as with a poor interviewer. “You may end up finding a person interviewing you who has no idea how to interview,” says Kennedy. “If you come prepared, you can provide the interviewer with specific examples that they don’t even have to ask of you.” You might say, for example, “Let me give examples of my leadership capabilities, or of the last team or project I led.”

Just answer the question. “Don’t go on and on,” advises Kennedy. “Answer as succinctly and clearly as possible, then stop.” What happens instead is that people get nervous and start thinking they haven’t provided enough information. It’s important to know when to stop talking.

Include examples from community activities if you have a gap in your employment. Kennedy urges people who are not currently working to get involved in associations and organizations that give them a chance to build leadership and competencies. Saying “I have five children who I get to daycare on time every day” won’t get you too far, says Kennedy, because it’s not relevant to most jobs.

At the recent Middlesex Chamber leadership summit, Kennedy gave this advice to women at a breakout session: “If you are out of work and going in for interviews, they want to know what you have been doing for the last six months or a year. It’s okay that you have been out of work, but don’t tell them you have been traveling around the world and now you’re focusing on getting a job. They want to hear you have volunteered, taken a class, and given back to society in some form even though you haven’t been able to secure pay.”

Kennedy’s parents, Ray and Regina Caffrey, were very faith-based and so is she. Her family would do the rosary on Sunday nights, go to mass every Sunday and confession every Saturday, and her father volunteered as a lector at St. Cecelia’s in Iselin. Kennedy remembers a lot of time spent volunteering as a family.

In terms of volunteering, Kennedy is her father’s daughter. She is active at St. Paul’s and founded its networking group in November, 2001. She is also a Eucharistic minister, who gives communion on Sunday mornings; does hospital visitation; has taught Catechitical Christian doctrine; and helps people with their job searches for free.

Having fallen into human resources without a degree, Kennedy knew that ultimately she had to get one. So she put herself through college, starting when her third daughter was five years old and finishing a decade later. She did her first two years at Mercer County Community College and then continued at night at Thomas Edison State College, graduating in 1997 with a bachelor’s in social science.

Kennedy left J. M. Huber in 1988, moving to Herman Miller Office Furniture as human resources manager; she stayed for nine years, until the company closed its New Jersey site. Then for five years she did consulting, finally landing a consulting job at Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2001. In 2002 she was offered a fulltime position as director of strategic staffing on the pharmaceutical side; in 2003 she became director of staffing on the manufacturing side; and she is now director of human resources for global supply chain — that is, she is a human resources generalist for a client group of 300 employees who “make sure the product is sold and manufactured and gotten to the patient with quality and timeliness all over the world.”

Once a candidate lands a job, Kennedy thinks it’s important to thank anyone who has helped out, including people who were part of your networking process. And then after you get a job, you need to give back, and give another person a leg up in the job search process. “You know what it has been like,” says Kennedy, “so when someone asks to be put on your calendar, don’t forget where you’ve been. Pay it forward.”

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