A behavioral interview is a style of interviewing where the interviewer(s) ask questions about how a candidate would act or has acted in a specific situation. This technique ideally results in better hires who act in alignment with your and your business’s expectations and company culture.
If you’re hiring, we strongly recommend posting on Indeed, which has the biggest audience of job seekers online. Click here for a free $50 credit to boost your job notice and get in front of more qualified professionals.
Free Behavioral Interview Template
Below is a behavioral interview template of 10 questions that touch on basic competencies (listed after each question) that you can ask any candidate for any role. You could modify them a bit to meet your business needs or for a management candidate. Click here to download the template as a PDF.
Question 1: Describe a time when you had to motivate yourself? Why was that necessary?
Question 2: Tell me about a time when you were faced with a customer, client, or other type of service problem. How did you resolve that problem?
Competency: Service Orientation
Question 3: Describe a time when you had to work hard to gain and develop trust among colleagues, staff or a team. How did you go about doing that?
Question 4: Do you consider yourself a proactive or a reactive communicator? Please explain.
Competency: Communication Skills
Question 5: We have a collaborative team environment. Give me an example of a successful team experience from a previous job where you worked collaboratively.
Question 6: Think of a time when you had to organize one of your busiest workdays. How did you prioritize?
Question 7: What was your most challenging decision you made relatively recently? What made it challenging?
Competency: Decision Making
Question 8: Please describe in detail a project for which you were the leader or key contact. How did you carry out the project?
Competency: Leadership Skills
Question 9: Explain the role technology has played in your career. What other technology would have been helpful in your next role?
Competency: Technical Savvy
Question 10: Tell me about a time you made a mistake at work. What happened and what did you learn from it? How would you re-do it now if given a chance?
Competency: Emotional Intelligence
Behavioral Interviewing Basics & Its Benefits
SHRM (Society of Human Resource Managers, which is the respected authority in HR) defines behavioral interviewing as “an interview technique that focuses on a candidate’s past experiences, behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities by asking the candidate to provide specific examples of when he or she has demonstrated certain behaviors or skills as a means of predicting future behavior and performance.”
Closely related to behavioral interviewing is situational interviewing. Situational interviewing is a technique that focuses on what a candidate would do in a hypothetical situation. The main difference is how you start the question and whether you are assessing a hypothetical scenario or the candidate’s actual experience. “Tell me how you would handle XX” is a situational interview question, and “Tell me about a time when did XX” is a behavioral interview question.
3 Benefits of Behavioral Interviewing
Benefit 1: You get a lot of information from one question.
If a candidate is well-versed in behavioral interviews, ideally, they touch on STAR during their answer: Situation, Task, Action, Result. This will give you a lot of insight into them and their skills and competencies. More importantly, it also predicts how someone would act or perform on the job if you gave them the role at your company- this is crucial for your ability to hire the right people!
Benefit 2: The information you get should reflect how a candidate reacts in actual situations.
A good answer to a behavioral question should have insight in how a candidate reacts when their manager criticizes them, they lose a client, or a project tanks… all of things which will happen in the workplace. You will want to evaluate their actions in the situation— what they learned from the experience and/or what they would change. Candidates who can have that kind of introspection and can grow and learn from their mistakes will be hand over fist better hires.
Benefit 3: The answers should give you excellent insight into a person’s personality and potential for cultural fit.
Aside from the actions, the candidate’s tone of voice and their perspective on situations will give you insight into how the candidate will work with their manager (especially if it’s not you), other team members, and your clients.
For example, behavioral interview questions might reveal that someone is super excitable, loud, and a dominant leader type. If you have a quiet, thoughtful, collaborative team, you might think twice if the candidate will truly be a good fit for the team in the long haul.
3 Tips for Making the Most of a Behavioral Interview
You probably now understand why a behavioral interview makes sense, but we want to make sure you make the most of actually having one with a candidate. We also have some resources on how to conduct an interview in general, as well as more interview questions if you need them.
Tip 1: Prepare the questions in advance.
Look at your job description and think about what you really want to know from someone–not just job skills, but the ideal fit from a personality and cultural standpoint. Do you want someone patient and thoughtful? Extroverted with the ability to think fast? A whiz at problem solving? Those are the competencies you are looking for, and your behavioral interview questions should draw on these competencies.
Tip 2: Take notes on the candidate’s answers.
There is NO way you will be able to tell Suzie from Johnny’s answers after a few hours of interviewing each of them and maybe a few days before you make your decision. Take notes on the questions you have prepared in order to compare candidates in an apples-to-apples way. Depending on the type of role you are interviewing for, you should consider asking all candidates the same set of questions to increase the fairness of the interviewing process and reduce bias. This is called a structured interview–learn more here.
Tip 3: It’s ok to coach a candidate a bit.
Behavioral interview questions are harder than the normal “tell me about why you should work here” questions. You could tell the candidate what you are doing, and describe how an ideal answer will include a Situation, Task, Action, and Result (STAR method). You could also use prompts or follow up questions after the initial question to draw out what you want from a candidate without telling them. Especially if you are interviewing new graduates, they might struggle with how to answer these questions due to their lack of experience and a little coaching to get an answer out is ok.
Behavioral Interviewing vs Situational Interviewing
The difference between behavioral interview questions and situational interview questions is very subtle, and they tend to overlap by accident.
- Behavioral interview questions ask a candidate about how they behaved in a situation in their past experience.
- Situational interview questions ask a candidate about how they would hypothetically behave if presented with a situation.
There is some grey area for these definitions. Sometimes, a candidate may not have experience in a particular area, so they might answer with a hypothetical response. Then, sometimes with a situational interview question, the candidate actually has experienced the hypothetical, and they answer with a real experience response. This “flips” the definitions of behavioral and situational interviewing.
The end all be all is that both types of question are useful for hiring better candidates and tell you more about a candidate’s problem solving skills, thought processes, and how they would act in your workplace if given a role.
The Bottom Line
Behavioral interviews are incredibly useful for a small business owner to see how a candidate has reacted in past experiences and should reflect on how they might react when working for you. They also give excellent insight into a candidate’s personality and cultural fit for your team.