Behavioral interviewing

What is it not?

Behavioral interviewing is not a biographical approach that focuses on a resume of accomplishments. A resume is biographical, but it does not consistently reflect competencies of the individual. In the biographical approach I only need to know if a candidate comprehends the technical processes, requirements and functional skills of a job. But what I have done is not a good measure of what I have become. Technical abilities and successes are only a small part of success in a particular role. The biographical information can tend to bias my measure of future success to inaccurate conclusions. The benefits of this style include comfort of the candidate by familiarity, and ability to ask many questions quickly. Simple questions about the desired career path, ideal boss or ideal job can reveal some basic compatibility between the candidate and the available position.

Behavioral interviewing is not situational interviewing where asking "what-if" questions are the theme. This is ineffective at predicting behavior on the job as it plays on the imagination of the candidate more than the reality.

What is it?

Future success usually has much more to do with competence for the role. A competency is a behavior describing the expected performance. An understanding of behaviors in similar situations is key to finding the right person for the job.

All processors do math, but only some do graphics competently and efficiently. I am often impressed by the specs of a processor. However, I am better informed by reviewing actual performance of its skills when tasked to specific workloads. Likewise, the practical history of the individual's behavior in specific situations can be more revealing of competencies.

It is better to base hiring decisions on facts rather than opinions. Asking a candidate's specific history in certain situations will provoke more relevant information from the candidate. How did you deal with your daily responsibilities while focused on the last project you worked on? Can you tell me about a time when you disagreed with something a manager asked of you?


Consider the following aspects of the position to be filled and identify specific competencies.

  • Technical skills
  • Knowledge
  • Behaviors
  • Interpersonal skills

Once the specific competencies are listed in each category, I may develop questions to explore those competencies. Specific past experiences of the candidate are especially useful in identifying the requisite behaviors and interpersonal skills.

Effective interviews

It helps if I explain the interview process beforehand so I can rely on a mutual expectation of flow rather than empathy or habitual social interactions for maintaining the personable nature of the interview.

I avoid biases based upon a candidate who has singular proficiencies and nonrelevant personal similarities. I also avoid personal bias of first impression, stereotyping and contrasting with other candidates. I avoid judgment, affirmation or leading questions that tell them specifically what I'd want to hear in my response.

I do not focus on yes/no questions nor hypothetical questions as these do not illicit actual experience-based answers from the candidate. Tell me about a time when you... I use superlative adjectives to help the candidate focus on specific experiences rather than answering hypothetically. What was the most challenging ... Candidates may be reluctant or delay to describe a situation more specifically, so I allow time to think or I pose a completely different question that may quantify the same competency. I seek for a more specific and relevant situation with them as needed. Sometimes follow up questions can identify competencies other than the target competency which may be important or unimportant to the job role.

Once a candidate offers up a specific situation I want them to describes their responsibilities. Often people answer in the plural form so it's important to clarify their individual contribution. What was your role in this situation?

After I understand their role, I ask a specific question to help me understand how their experience relates to the competency. I need the candidate to tell me more specifically about their individual actions. What steps did you take? I reflect their comments in my own words or say I understand. I probe by asking them why they made certain choices to clarify whether the decisions were made for the right reasons. Tell me more about...

I ask them about what happened as a result of their actions. Vague quantifiers "few", "many", etc. can be helped by asking quantitatively about their results. Exactly how many...

The answer to a broad behavioral question must include a specific situation, their role, actions taken, and the results.