Behavioral Interviewing Questions and Training
Behavioral Interviewing, also referred to as Structured Behavioral
Interviewing, is by design a more systematic and standardized process of
evaluating job candidates than is typical of the “traditional” interview
process. Its primary intent is to increase the success rate of an
organization’s “good” hires and is, therefore, the form of interview
being used more often by a wide variety of recruiting organizations.
Behavioral interviewing is based on the “Behavioral Consistency
Principle” which essentially states that the best predictor of future
performance is past performance in a similar circumstance. Therefore,
the questions that are asked of you will tend to focus on behavior, and
attempt to evoke how you responded to a variety of specific personal and
interpersonal situations and what results occurred from your actions.
“How do I Know When I'm Being Given a Behavioral Interview?”
It is quite possible that the interviewer may make you aware prior to
the interview that you should expect a structured or competency-based
interview. However, you shouldn’t have much trouble identifying whether
or not you’re being given a behavioral interview even without prior
information. If you hear questions that are asking you to describe or
recount specific situations in which you carried out a job-relevant
action, and are then asked to describe the consequence or result of your
action, you know you’re being behaviorally interviewed.
“So What Kinds of Questions Should I Expect?”
Behavioral interviews are designed to assess your “real” ability or
skill level in functioning in any number of work related activities by
delving into how you functioned in your past jobs or extracurricular
activities. As with any sort of interview, there are a number of common
behavioral “themes” or “performance dimensions” that most recruiters are
likely to be interested in. These include (but are not limited to)
leadership, interpersonal, communication, multi-tasking, management and
cognitive skills, transition ability (e.g., personal flexibility,
tolerance for ambiguity), motivation, decisiveness and commitment. The
kinds of inquiries you’d hear from a recruiter might resemble the
- What do you estimate to be your biggest academic achievement at
- What did you do to contribute to that achievement?
- Cite an example of when you were faced with an unpleasant task.
How did you go about facing it?
- Give me the most recent example of a conflict you had with a
coworker or a supervisor. How did you handle it?
- Describe a situation in which you had to use your communication
skills in order to make an important point.
- Tell me about a time when you had to use a persuasive argument
to help someone see things your way. How did you do it?
- Share with me an example of an important personal goal which you
set, and tell me about how you accomplished it.
- Have you ever had too many different tasks given to you to
complete at the same time? What was your style in managing these?
- We’ve all had times when we felt overwhelmed by a project. Give
me an example of when this happened to you. How did you react to the
- Describe a situation in which you showed determination. How did
you go about it?
Note that each of the above examples integrates three universal
components of a good behavioral inquiry: a particular performance
situation or task, an action on your part, and the consequences of your
“What's the Best Way to Answer Those Questions?”
Obviously, you’ll have to be able to reflect on specific situations
that you encountered while working (including volunteering and
studying), then describe how you handled them and what positive results
became of your efforts. With that said, it is highly critical that you
first do some preparation. For any given job interview, this should
begin with an analysis on your part of what you believe to be the most
important skills, abilities, and personal qualities needed to
successfully fulfill the various responsibilities of the job. Once
identified, think carefully about any kind of “working” experience that
you’ve ever had that required you to use these skills, what courses of
action or strategies you used to accomplish the tasks, and what positive
results came about from your diligence. It is often the case that an
interviewer will seek a relatively high level of detail in your
responses (e.g., the conversation you had, the mood of the person you
were talking to, your specific thought processes at the time of action,
etc.). Some behavioral questions are complex and require a multifaceted
response, so take your time in constructing your answers. Don’t worry
about pausing during the interview to do so, as recruiters will expect
you to give adequate thought to your responses. And don’t be put off by
the fact that the interviewer may be taking voluminous notes as you
talk. It is common for recruiters to have to objectively rate you based
on exacting measures of your specific responses.
“What Else Should I Keep in Mind?”
Although some recent research has demonstrated that structured,
behaviorally based interviewing can improve the likelihood of an
appropriate hire by more than three times the success rate of a
traditional, less structured interview, this does not mean that all
organizations are using or plan to use this method in making hiring
decisions. Assessing a job candidate’s capability for any given position
is a complex task, with a great many intangible factors involved in the
process. A company’s decision to use one kind of interviewing format
over another is due to a variety of factors which include how successful
its recruiting efforts have been in the past, what kinds of recruiting
strategies recruiters feel most comfortable with, organizational
tradition, etc. There seems to be, however, little equivocation that
when administered properly structured behavioral interviews work
effectively for the companies and organizations using them. Keep in mind
as well that preparing for one kind of interviewing strategy should not
supplant your preparation for another kind. Traditional interviewing and
behavioral interviewing do share common goals and processes (see our
handout titled Traditional Interviews), so knowing how to perform in an
unstructured interview is important in its own right, but is also of
assistance in preparing you for a more structured behavioral interview,
and vice versa.
It may also be the case that an organization will give you a “hybrid”
interview of sorts, with a mixture of structured and unstructured
questions. Others may do a preliminary unstructured screening interview,
and follow this up with a behavioral interview if you advance past the
initial interview. In any case, given the current milieu in recruiting,
it is wise that you become fully literate in the language and substance
of both the behavioral and traditional interview formats.
As with any interview performance, the likelihood is great that your
first formal job interview will not go as well or as smoothly as your
second, the second not as well or as polished as the third, etc. Play it
safe and smart by practicing your interviewing skills and technique well
before your first real interview. The Career Planning Center can assist
you in doing this through a mock interview. This an opportunity for you
to be formally interviewed by a career planning professional who will
ask you a series of interview questions as they relate to the job you’re
applying for, and then assist you in both critiquing and enhancing your