Behavioral interviewing

Asking the right questions is an art and a science

According to, more than 80 percent of job failures are due to attitudes and inappropriate behaviors. Why? Because we often fail to deal with them in the hiring process.

When interviewing prospective new employees, the right questions can help select the most appropriate person for the job. Once screening interviews are completed to narrow down the number of applicants, in-depth interviews are necessary to determine how well the candidates meet the needs of your organization. Behavioral questions focus on how the applicant previously handled real work situations.

three people at table shaking hands with standing person“Behavioral interviewing can be effective for any business that needs to find the top candidate for the position,” says Joan Smith, career counselor for the Missouri Career Options Project. “This interviewing tactic helps uncover a candidate’s true abilities by asking for real situations of how their skills, strengths or weaknesses were demonstrated on the job.”

The candidate is asked to give examples that illustrate past performance. The interviewer looks for three things: a description of the situation or task, the action taken, and the result.

Smith notes, “Businesses should compile a list of core competencies for the position and ask questions about previous work situations in order to see if the potential employees have these competencies.”

Behavioral questions, by their very nature, are more probing than traditional questions. Some examples include:

  • Describe a situation in which you have coached a difficult employee. What was the result?
  • Describe the last time you assumed responsibility for a task that was clearly outside of your job description. How did this work out?
  • Can you give me an example of a high stress work situation that you experienced? How did you handle the situation?
  • Can you give me an example of a time when you had to make a critical decision when your boss was not available? Were there some risks involved in this? What was the end result?

Note the specific linkage to concrete past experiences and situations. Behavioral questions tie responses to previous experiences and minimize the candidate’s inclination to exaggerate. Therefore, you’re increasing the potential to receive accurate and truthful answers to your questions.

More human resource assistance for the small business owner is available in the HR section of our resource library.

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