Behavioral Interviewing

When interviewing for a new hire we might typically break down our interview questions across the following broad categories:

  • technical skills
  • cultural fit
  • behavioural traits

Technical skills focus on whether the candidate has the knowledge, whilst the cultural fit category assess the amount of congruence between the individual’s and the organization’s values and mode of operation. Both technical skills and cultural fit are relatively easy to assess.

Assuming you assessed that the candidate has the prerequisite skills, and that they would fit within the organization, then their behavioural traits will inform you how well they would likely perform at the job.

Behavioural interviewing as a style of interviewing was developed in the 1970’s. It is based on the assumption that the most accurate way to quickly assess future performance is to understand past performance in a similar situation.

As an interviewer you’re looking to understand how the candidate has behaved recently in situations similar to the ones likely to be encountered in your organization. It’s important that you define what performance skills you’d like to test for in advance, based on the role you’re recruiting for. For example, a program manager may need great communication skills, influencing skills, and relationship management skills. A product manager will require different skills such as attention to detail and prioritization skills. You need to invest time up-front thinking about this to ensure you ask the right questions to ultimately hire the right candidate.

Examples of behavioural interview questions include:

  • Tell me about a time when you rescued a failing project?
  • Describe a time when you took a project risk and turned it into an opportunity?
  • It is easy to have a good idea, but few people follow their idea up with action. Describe a time when you had an idea and took it to successful outcome?
  • Describe a time when you were overloaded with different priorities? How did you prioritize?
  • Describe how you implemented a decision that was unpopular with your team?
  • Tell me about a time when you persuaded your management team to take a course of action?

If you decide to ask these questions, or any other behavioral interview questions, you need to keep the candidate focused on one single specific event from their past. Do not allow the candidate to drift and speak in generalities such as “if I had encountered this situation then the steps I would have taken would have been…”. From the candidate you should be looking for a simple answering structure, including: what situation they found themselves in, what their target was, what action they took, and what the outcome was.

This four step method of answering behavioral questions is known as the STAR technique, and I would expect candidates to be familiar with it. To my mind, by not doing their research and not knowing the STAR technique they have exhibited very undesirable behaviour.

As a candidate, behavioral interviewing gives you the opportunity to demonstrate that you’re very suitable for the role. Rather than simply explaining what you would do in a given situation, behavioral interviewing allows you to explain in detail how you handled previous similar situations.

Because the questions are related to experience, candidates may answer by drawing on past behaviours from a range of experiences to best demonstrate their capabilities, including, past work experience, family life, hobbies and interests, sporting experiences, etc. Essentially they can use any experience to show they can handle the situation provided effectively.

To prepare for behavioral interview questions, in addition to remembering to answer questions using the STAR Technique, it can be a good idea to think about 5-10 problems previously encountered and overcome in your career to date. If you can find a broad enough range of mini achievements, you will probably find these will cover the majority of behavioural interview questions you will be asked.

2 comments
Jeff says 7 years ago

Thank you very much for providing this information in an easy to follow and use format. I have not been doing well during interviews – mainly because I have always been hired directly until recently. Consequently, I have troubles during interviews. I have bookmarked your site and will do my best to steer others to it as it is a valuable source of information.

Proof reading is one of my prior jobs/experiences and I noticed what I believe is a typo in the paragraph that begins “This four step method of answering behavioral questions…” Later in the sentence is “expect candidates to by familiar” – did you mean to say “expect candidates to be familiar”? No worries and one of my core personality traits is to be helpful to others which is what I am doing here.

Once again, many thanks for providing this information and it has been helpful as I prepare for the interview I have later today. I spent 20 years as a program manager and recently obtained my project management degree (bachelors). The interview I have today is for a program management position. Thanks again!

Denis says 7 years ago

Thanks for the kind words Jeff and for pointing out the typo.

I hope the interview went well for you!

Denis

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