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A Beginner’s Guide to Behavioral Interviewing

Human capital, as an investment in the people who drive the operation and performance of every business, is a critical asset. Identifying the right person and putting them in the right job on the right team is therefore among the most critical business processes. When selection and hiring are done successfully, the result is employees who are more engaged and who deliver return on investment—in much the same way as capital investment in property or equipment.

When you interview a candidate, you are evaluating whether or not it would be wise to make an investment in that person, and evaluating if that person can give you a strong return on investment for your business. Therefore, it is extremely important that you know how to conduct a thorough and effective interview. That is where behavioral interviewing comes in.

What is Behavioral Interviewing?

Behavioral interviewing is several things:

  • A process to identify a candidate's behaviors and choices

  • A strategy to uncover behavioral indicators in important situations

  • A means to assess a candidate's competencies and skills against job-related qualifications

Behavioral interviewing is based on a proven theory, which holds that “a person’s past behavior is the best predictor of his or her future performance in similar circumstances.” In other words, a candidate’s actual behavior and choices in situations they’ve faced in the past will give a good indication of their future behavior and choices.

Principles of Behavioral Interviewing

It's important to remember that there are two sides to the job-matching process: employers seeking qualified applicants, and applicants seeking attractive jobs. The goal is to find the best match between applicant and job. Behavioral interviewing is based on two principles that help you do this.

Principle 1: If you don’t know what you’re looking for, who knows what you’re likely to find?

One of the key challenges in hiring is that all interviewers have a vote. If each person is looking for something different, then it’s very difficult to reach a consensus. Well-defined, success-based job performance descriptions provide a means to get members of the interviewing team to agree to the hiring criteria.

Principle 2: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior in similar circumstances.

The best way to understand if a candidate will be successful is to gather data about their past behavior in a similar context. To do this, you can conduct a behavioral interview using the “S.T.A.R.” approach. This approach provides insight into a candidate’s thinking process and ability to achieve goals. When using the S.T.A.R. approach, each person involved in the interview process should gain a detailed understanding of the situation, the task, the actions, and the results of a candidate’s experience and how each interrelates to the other.

How are Behavioral Interviews Different than Traditional Interviews?

Since the goal of any candidate interview is to evaluate if they are a good fit for the role and your company, the more information you can uncover in the interview, the better.

A behavioral interview differs from a traditional interview because it is competency-based and relies on past behavior in a similar context as a predictor of future behavior. The interview questions target the competencies needed to be successful in the role.

For example, when hiring for a role that requires strong communication skills, a traditional interview might ask:

  • “Tell me how your coworkers would describe your communication skills.”

In contrast, a behavioral interview would ask a question based on the competency, namely effective communication, and use the S.T.A.R. method. An example of this might be:

  • “Tell me about a recent presentation you made. What was the goal of the presentation, who was the audience, and what was the outcome?”

In both examples, the interviewer is trying to learn about the candidate’s ability to communicate, but the first example is vague and based on the candidate’s opinion. The second example is based on outcomes and allows the interviewer to learn more about the candidate’s communication skills and thinking processes.

How Do I Conduct a Behavioral Interview?

Conducting a behavioral interview does not take any additional effort or time than a traditional interview, but it does require specific preparation. The most effective interview begins well before the candidate arrives.

When conducting a behavioral interview, there are a few key things to keep in mind.

Preparation: It’s important to understand which competencies you want to interview for, so that you can prepare questions ahead of time. Typically these should align with the competencies that correlate to success in the role and the competencies that correlate to success in your company culture. For example, here is a list of interview questions to assess a candidate’s work ethic.

Interview structure: The quality of the interview experience is also an important factor, and will make an important impression on the candidate. Whether you hire them or not, you want to leave a good impression that will positively affect their perception of your company’s brand. Planning an organized, structured interview will help you achieve a favorable impression. And, as a bonus, it will also ensure each candidate receives the same positive experience.

Follow this structure when conducting a behavioral interview:

Behavioral Interview Section Recommended

Time in Minutes

Greeting 1

Rapport Building 3

Transition and Stage Setting 1

Skills Question #1 5

Skills Question #2 5

Skills Question #3 5

Skills Question #4 5

Competency Question #1 5

Competency Question #2 5

Competency Question #3 5

Information Giving 10-15

Closing/Wrap Up 3

S.T.A.R. Method: By implementing the S.T.A.R. behavioral interview method, you find out much more than what is on a person’s resume, such as how they performed and made decisions in a specific situation. The S.T.A.R. method yields good indications of a candidate’s likely performance in your organization.

To use the S.T.A.R. method, ask the following questions about the candidate’s experience:

  • Situation: What was the goal?

Ask the candidate to describe a situation, with appropriate context, in

which they were assigned a project or asked to achieve a goal. (Ideally you

are asking them about a situation that is likely to occur in the role they are

interviewing for.)

  • Task: What tasks were they asked to complete?

Ask the candidate to provide examples of the tasks they were responsible

for in completing the project or goal.

  • Action: What actions did they complete?

Ask the candidate to explain how the tasks were completed, including the

process, timeline, their thought process, and if others were involved.

  • Results: What were the outcomes?

Ask the candidate to summarize the results of the actions and whether or

not the goal was achieved.

Use primary and secondary probing questions: Probing questions are follow-up questions designed to give more detail or insight. A good interviewer knows when to use this technique to guide the interview. Probing questions are used to uncover more details in the candidate’s response, giving you a better understanding of how well the candidate’s experience matches the role.

Some examples of probing questions are:

Primary Probing Questions:

  1. Please give me an example.

  2. What did you do?

  3. What did you say?

Secondary Probing Questions:

  1. Who was involved?

  2. Walk me through sequentially.

  3. What was the outcome?

Let Us Help You

At ZERORISK HR we help companies hire, develop, and retain their best employees. We have several training options available to help you train your hiring managers on behavioral interviewing, in addition to a library full of behavioral interview questions based on competencies. We are also the exclusive provider of the ZERORISK Hiring System. This advanced hiring technology assesses your candidates in a matter of minutes and produces a fully customized behavioral interview guide specific to the competencies for the role. Contact us today to request a demo of the ZERORISK Hiring System and we will show you how it works and let you take a free assessment so you can see for yourself!


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