Behavioral Interviewing

By Chris Gilliam & Ted Daywalt   

An interviewing technique that is currently utilized by many organizations
is called Behavioral Interviewing, or BI. This specific questioning approach
has gained wide acceptance because of well-documented proof that past
performance is the best predictor of future performance. BI was developed as
an effective alternative to traditional interviewing methods.

Historically, interviewers generally favored candidates whose background,
personality and style matched their own, and hiring decisions were based on
subjective “gut feelings.” This created a workforce that lacked both
diversity and critical skills necessary to meet job performance
expectations. Thus, traditional interviewing has been costly to employers
because of limited new hire productivity and retention.

BI is preferred because of the following reasons:
* BI offers a systematic and fair selection process
* BI ensures job-related questions are asked
* BI prepares the interviewer to listen for appropriate responses
* BI generates more objective data about specific candidates
* BI identifies better matches between the candidate and position
* BI provides legal documentation and follows diversity guidelines.

What Is the Behavioral Interview Process?

The BI process first identifies essential skills for the position, and then
questions are developed so that the interviewer can assess and compare a
candidate’s responses to the position requirements. Many employers now use
BI during preliminary phone screening. During an on-site interview, a
candidate may meet with more than one interviewer at a time, and that at
least one person will take notes. A true BI can take two to four hours.

Since BI is based on the concept that a candidate’s past behavior is the
best predictor of future behavior, the interviewer will be listening for
positive examples of past experiences, or success factors. These factors may
include technical or job specific skills, abilities related to the position
(for example, communication, customer focus, planning, leadership, teamwork)
and more specific competencies (such as initiative, accountability for
results, strategic thinking, risk taking, managing conflicts or ambiguity,
etc.). The interviewer will expect the candidate to answer behavioral
questions by providing descriptions of a specific situation, the actions
taken, and the outcome. A well-prepared candidate has a great opportunity to
describe how their actions achieved results.

Examples of Behavioral Interview Questions

An example of a BI question to assess “organizing” would be: “Tell me about
a time when you had to manage multiple tasks or priorities. How did you
allocate your time? What was the result?”

An example of a BI question to assess “problem-solving” would be: “Give me
an example when you caught a developing problem at an early stage, and what
actions you took.”

An example of a BI question to assess “negotiating” would be: “Describe a
situation in which you had to arrive at a compromise or guide others to a

The interviewer might use probing questions to encourage additional
information. Examples of probing questions include:

* “What did you actually do?”
* “What did you actually say?”
* “How did the other people respond?”
* “How did it finally turn out?”
* “What was the end result?”

Here are some additional typical BI questions:
* Describe a time when you improved a work process. What was it, how
did you go about it, and what was the result?
* Tell me about a time when you displayed excellent customer service.
What were your actions and the outcome?
* Tell me about a time when you had to step beyond company procedures
to accommodate a client.
* Describe an innovative idea that you introduced which led to a
significant project success.
* Describe your most challenging, demanding goal that you stuck
through to completion, despite obstacles.
* Tell me about a time when a member of your work team wasn’t carrying
his/her weight, and what you did about it.
* Describe a project that did not turn out the way you had expected.
What did you do?
* Describe a situation where you were responsible for influencing a
major decision. What was your approach, and what was the result?

How To Prepare For A Behavioral Interview

Even though preparing for a BI requires time and focus, the results can be
energizing! There are certain steps you can take to be ready.

First, identify as best you can, the specific skills or success factors of
the position for which you are interviewing. Look for clues in the job
posting description, conversations with internal or external recruiters,
your knowledge of the company, etc.

Next, identify specific instances in your previous work that demonstrated
those skills. Practice by describing the situation, your actions and the
results in your past positions. Do not be concerned if you had a position
where you may not have done well. What will be important in the BI is if you
learned from your performance.

What is the most common mistake made during a behavioral interview?
A candidate will spend too much time describing the situation background,
and not enough time detailing the specific actions and outcomes.

With practice and a little study, you can do well in a behavioral interview!

References On Behavioral Interviewing

Here are some books that might be of assistance:
Behavioral Interview – A Candidate’s Toughest Obstacle, by D. Joseph Stimac
Knock ‘Em Dead with Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions, by Martin
Hiring – More than a Gut Feeling, by Richard S. Deems (this is a very good
primer for BI)

Chris Gilliam is the President of The Gilliam Group, an HR consultancy.
Chris is certified in Behavioral Interviewing and has an extensive
background in corporate Human Resources with major corporations, including
Coca Cola.

Ted Daywalt is CEO & President of VetJobs.