How Using Behavioral Interview Questions Can Help Find Your Next Hire

Want to take the guesswork out of hiring? Asking behavioral interview questions may help you find the right people for your company.
May 25, 2017

Hiring the right people for your company may be among the most important decisions you can make. But how can you find those coveted hires? It may help to create a structured job interview process that uses behavioral interview questions. 

What Is a Behavioral Interview?

A behavioral interview is a technique some employers use to help them evaluate a candidate's future performance. This involves asking behavioral interview questions about the candidate's behavior in past situations that are similar to the ones of the position you're trying to fill. These questions may be used to assess the applicant in relation to the knowledge, ability, skill and other important competencies relevant to the job.

There may be several benefits to using a behavioral interview approach.

A 2015 study by Glassdoor Economic Research discovered that difficult job interviews are linked to higher employee satisfaction later on. The study involved 3,000 employers from the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and France. It included more than 154,000 pairs of job interview and company reviews.

In all six countries, there was a clear positive relationship between an interview that's difficult (but not overwhelming), and employee satisfaction. Difficult interviews included elements such as behavioral questions, business problems or coding tests.

A behavioral interview may leave candidates with a positive impression of your company. They may perceive that you've put the time and effort into the interview rather than conducting a hasty or perfunctory job interview. It may shine a light on the professionalism of your company and the care you put into selecting the right person for the job. This type of job interview might attract the best candidates who are looking for a quality company to join.

Additionally, conducting a behavioral job interview may allow you to gain more detailed information about a candidate. This may help improve your hiring process and help you make better hiring decisions.

What to Avoid in Behavioral Interviews

Consider avoiding leading questions. These are questions that unwittingly telegraph the answer you want to hear. (For example, "You have no problem presenting to senior executives, right?")

On that note, it may help to restrain yourself from giving too much information upfront about the company and the job—you might be cluing the candidate on what type of responses would impress you. It may be best to leave the detailed discussion about the company and the job for the latter part of the interview.

A well-planned behavioral interview may help you ensure that the best candidate doesn't fall through the cracks.

Try to also avoid asking questions only about negative events in the candidate's past. For example, candidates may expect questions such as how they handled an irate customer or how they reacted to making a mistake. You can balance your questions by asking about positive aspects, such as an important achievement that they're proud of, and what they think helped them achieve it. Such questions might allow you to get an impassioned, candid response. It can also help you to indirectly assess the person's degree of humility, generosity or approach to teamwork.

How to Prepare for a Behavioral Job Interview

In our fast-paced, busy workday, there may be little patience or time for crafting behavioral interview questions and blocking out big chunks of your day for conducting thorough interviews. But a well-planned behavioral interview may help you ensure that the best candidate doesn't fall through the cracks.

So how does one conduct a behavioral interview? ​

  • Analyze the job description or job specification. This can help you make sure that all questions asked relate to the requirements of the job, whether it's hard skills or soft skills. Once you're clear on the behavioral criteria for the position, you can craft the applicable behavioral questions.
  • Carefully check the candidate's resume. Combing their CV can help you come up with behavioral interview questions related to any relevant accomplishments.
  • Make sure the questions you ask won't get you in trouble. As with any interview process, it's advisable to check with your legal department to ensure that you and everyone else on the interviewing team abide by any legal restrictions (for example, knowing what are permissible questions and what are not).
  • Practice good listening behaviors. Behavioral interviews are generally longer and may demand more of your time and concentration. It can be easy to let your mind wander and miss important details of the applicant's responses. For that reason, you might want to schedule a job interview for the morning rather than after lunch or in the late afternoon.
  • Talk less. A useful tip when conducting a behavioral interview might be to follow the 80/20 rule, that is, letting the employee speak for 80 percent of the time.

Try to add variety to the way you structure your behavioral interview questions, so that they don't come across as stilted. You might find this list useful:

  • Walk me through...
  • What was going on in your mind when...?
  • What sorts of concrete things have you done to...?
  • How did you handle...? What were the results?
  • Have you ever had to...?
  • Tell me about a specific time when... How did you react? 
  • Describe a situation where you... What specifically did you do?
  • Can you give me a specific example of how you...?
  • How did you go about...?
  • How do you prepare for...?

Getting Helpful Answers From Behavioral Interview Questions 

Now that you know how to craft and ask behavioral interview questions, the next step is making sure you're able to get the most from the person sitting across from you. Many applicants today may be savvy in preparing for a job interview. There's a wealth of information available on the most frequently asked behavioral interview questions and sample answers. 

To get around rehearsed and canned answers, consider a few principles when you're interviewing.

  • Ask for details. Candidates who've been coached may have practiced their story very well, perhaps even exaggerating some of their contributions in solving a problem, for example. But, it may be harder for an applicant to make up details of the story in the moment. Digging deeper for details may yield important information that may help you assess their answers more accurately. Follow-up questions such as "tell me more," "can you elaborate?" or "can you explain?" may help you get a clearer view of the candidate.
  • Keep the popular C.A.R. acronym in mind. Guide candidates to give you the context (what was the context or the situation they're talking about), the action (what did they specifically do) and the results (what are the concrete results of their actions). This may help you weed out pat answers.
  • Hold them accountable. You may not want to move to the next question when you get an answer that refers to a hypothetical situation rather than an actual one. For example, "If I had to deal with an angry customer, I would generally..." If you get this kind of answer, consider probing further: "Can you give me an example of a specific situation with an angry customer?"
  • Ask them for questions. Consider ending the interview by asking an open question that the applicant may have not likely prepared for: "Is there anything else we haven't covered that you would like to address to help us know you better?"
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