What Exactly Are Behavioral Interview Questions and How Do I Use Them?
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[fa icon="calendar"] May 17, 2017 7:13:26 AM / by Michelle Nystrom

Michelle Nystrom

What Exactly Are Behavioral Interview Questions and How Do I Use Them?.jpgYou are about to interview some new candidates, and you have heard of behavioral interviewing. Is this a psych test? Or something else? Come find out.

Getting Familiar with Behavioral Interview Questions

The hiring process is fundamental to the sustainability of an organization. Therefore, you need to master the art of conducting interviews to ensure that you hire the right people. To conduct interviews effectively, you need to formulate questions that will bring out a clear picture of the candidates you are hiring. You should know the type of questions you will ask and the best way to ask them. The type of responses will determine the type of questions you will formulate.

The Idea that Past Behavior is the Best Indicator of Future Behavior

Behavior-based interviewing (BBI) revolves around the idea that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. You could use this interviewing style to gain objective evidence about an interviewee’s abilities. You need to evaluate candidates’ answers based on their experience, skill, and knowledge of the issue. For example, if you are interviewing for a school principal’s position, you may ask questions regarding student behavior knowledge, assessment, classroom management, public relations, facilities management, and communications. The ideal candidates should have gained experiences and leadership insights that they can share. You could ask, for instance, about how the interviewee organized curriculum to make it meet state mandates. The ideal answer could include involvement in developing curriculum maps, or an assignment in an educational leadership program, which needed giving instruction on curriculum mapping during a staff development workshop. Since school principals are typically instructional leaders, the experience of training other teachers coul appropriately indicate that a candidate would successfully lead teachers in instruction and curriculum. As you interview candidates, you should be trying to determine whether they would be good performers moving forward.

Narrative Based Open Ended Questions

Most of your interview questions will be more effective if they are open-ended. They should elicit narrative responses in contrast with survey questions, which typically elicit short responses. Narrative based open-ended questions also allow you to probe for more information by asking follow-up questions. Good, open-ended questions encourage conversation instead of interrogation. Therefore, you should avoid the standard what/who/when/how/where questions, which do not invite fuller answers. You can use "tellabouts," which are questions that begin as statements. They invite the interviewees to elaborate their answer. Example of tellabout prompts include:

"Tell me about … "

"How does … "

"Can you explain … "

"Why did … "

"Tell me about a time when … "

"Please describe … "

You could also ask about feelings to pursue more of answers you get from tellabouts. Questions about feelings or emotions are often effective in spurring further conversation. They push interviewees to transcend simply factual answers and respond with answers that have a more personal touch. Conversations revolving personal feelings enable you to shift to a position where there is no right or wrong. You get to learn uniquely personal experiences of the candidates.

Their Story Shows How Well They Can Reflect

When you conduct an interview, you can learn how well candidates can reflect by listening to their story. One way of encouraging them to tell their story is by telling your own story. It could be real or fictional as long as it steers conversation toward a specific direction. A story can help you learn a person’s emotional intelligence, which involves social skills, motivation, self-regulation, empathy and self-awareness. A candidate who possesses these qualities is a potential team player and leader. Instead of asking direct questions, such as “what concerns you most about your coworkers,” you could tell an anecdote about a colleague who angers you. Then, you could ask the candidates whether any colleague bothered them at their previous job and how they coped with it. A smart candidate would focus on solutions such as preventing escalation of the situation. Their story can give you invaluable insight into their perception of people. When you begin by telling your story, you are able to feed the candidates a scenario for them to reflect upon. The part where they deal with a negative situation is often important for an interviewer.

The Way They Tell Their Story Shows Their Communication Prowess

Many jobs require good communication skills, which can be crucial when dealing with clients. You could see whether a candidate can explain an idea simply. You could also test their ability to rework their clarification approach when you indicate that their story is confusing. The candidate should demonstrate responsibility for expressing their ideas effectively. It is an opportunity to share their knowledge and show the superior communication skills that they love to hone. Listen to the way they describe incidences, their voice intonation and concentration. If a candidate tends to veer off topic too often, then you will learn about their focusing challenges. You will be able to learn candidates’ language proficiency when you ask them to describe their experiences. Being articulate also depends on a person’s ability to express complex issues in an easy to understand manner.

You Can Have Them Go Into Greater or Smaller Detail as Needed

When you conduct an interview, ensure that you are in complete control. You should be able to determine whether a question will require greater or smaller detail. This requires planning of questions and anticipating the duration the candidates should take to respond. Some responses will need clarification while others will need you to make inferences. You could get more details by probing  with a thread of questions. Open-ended questions are useful if you need responses that have detail. You should combine them with closed ones to get a variety of responses that will serve different purposes. If a candidate is too talkative, they could take too much time on certain topics and deny you the chance to ask other questions. You need to moderate such interviewees and stick to your plan.

Questions asked during an interview should shift from the traditional model that relied heavily upon nonspecific questions. Interviewers, today, should employ a more pragmatic approach by asking a wide range of structured questions. These questions need to bring out the best in a candidate while showing aspects of their character that they would normally try to conceal in an interview. Open-ended question are effective in eliciting narrative response. The freedom that you accord to the interviewees will disarm their natural defenses and  enable you to see through any veneer of deceit. You will get a more genuine representation of a candidate if you also allow the candidates to recount past experiences freely. Combine these techniques with close-ended questions and you will know who is most suitable for the position for which you are interviewing.


This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice.  Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.


Checklist For Hiring The Best Employees

Topics: Interviewing