Behavioral Interviewing for Employers: 5 Tips

A hiring manager interviews a manager.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of candidates to those who seem like a good fit, at least on paper, you’ll move on to the interview stage in order to dig a little deeper. If you’re just asking them to rehash or elaborate what’s already on paper, then you’re probably not getting the whole picture. Behavioral interviewing, if used effectively, can give you an honest glimpse behind the resume and help you make the right decision.

The following tips will help you effectively evaluate your top candidates during the interview phase and make more confident decisions about who to hire:

  1. Use follow-up questions as a process of discovery
  2. Ask questions that go beyond prepared answers
  3. Seek repeated evidence that shows a pattern of behavior
  4. Press for specific details with every story you hear
  5. Ask what the candidate learned from past experiences

But first, let’s discuss the rationale for behavioral based interviewing and why it’s such an important part of the candidate screening process.

What is Behavioral Interviewing and Why is it Important?

Structuring your interview to determine a candidate’s behavior is based on the premise that how an individual has behaved in the past is the best predictor of how they will behave in the future. To elicit such information, an interviewer first identifies the competencies necessary for the position (decision making, for example) and then uses a series of probing questions to reveal whether candidates actually possess those qualities.

Rather than simply asking transparent questions about what candidates did in their jobs, behavioral interviewers ask candidates how and why they did it. This approach is extremely effective at identifying unqualified applicants or those who tend to exaggerate in interviews or on their resumes. The goal is to hire the most competent and best-qualified candidates.

Unfortunately, many candidates routinely invent examples of behavior before their interviews or spin out prepared examples in real time in response to predictable questions. That means that interview questions that gauge a candidate’s behavior aren’t always as effective or useful as they once were.

Still, behavioral interviewing can be quite effective if approached carefully. Here are five tips to help you devise the right interview strategy for your hiring needs.

1. Use Follow-Up Questions as a Process of Discovery

Rather than resorting to predictable, structured questions, use interview questions that are especially geared to each candidate when you hear answers that need a follow-up. Clarify what you hear until you feel satisfied that you’re seeing the real person, making it a genuinely interactive conversation rather than a simple question and answer session.

For example, if the candidate gives you an example of the most difficult challenge they’ve faced at work, in response to your question, you might follow up with:

  • Looking back, are there things you wish you’d done differently?
  • Do you believe you did your best, considering the circumstances?
  • How would you handle a similar situation today?

2. Ask Questions That Go Beyond Prepared Answers

Avoid asking questions that inadvertently telegraph or reveal the response you’re looking for, as these types of questions make it easier for candidates to respond with prepared answers. For example, if you ask a candidate to describe a time when their company was undergoing change, and how it impacted their work, avoid asking “how did you adapt?” Maybe they didn’t adapt in the moment, but still learned something valuable from the experience.

Competencies that emerge naturally from the interview are more believable than requested or prompted examples of competencies. If they said the company changes were humbling but were also able to articulate the impact it had on their approach to similar situations going forward, then you’ve uncovered their honesty and growth mindset. Prompting them to tell you how they succeeded in that moment may elicit a prepackaged response.

3. Seek Repeated Evidence That Shows a Pattern of Behavior

One of the biggest advantages of behavioral interviewing is the ability to reveal patterns of behavior, which can help you visualize how they may (or may not) fit within your organization. If you hear about how they rose to the occasion and overcame a particular challenge just once, is that really a complete picture of how they typically behave? Maybe, but it also could be a prepared answer that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Instead of asking a candidate to tell you about a time they helped their team succeed, you could ask this question multiple times but in different contexts. For example:

  • Tell me a time you spoke up when you believed a project needed a different approach, and it ultimately succeeded.
  • Share with me an instance where you shouldered most of the burden of a team project but still credited the team with its success.
  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to work with someone with an opposing perspective but were still able to achieve the desired outcome?

The answers to these questions should give you a pretty good picture of how the candidate works as a team member and the aptitude of their soft skills in general.

4. Press for Specific Details With Every Story You Hear

Don’t focus the interview process on just the candidate’s version of events; also ask how knowledgeable coworkers would describe the same event. When candidates claim results from what they did, ask for specific metrics and probe for further details. Again, this will help you expose candidates who simply memorized a particular story for the interview, while revealing more insights from those who have a genuinely compelling story to tell.

Again, approach behavioral interviewing as a dynamic conversation and you will learn so much more than you can from a simple question-and-answer format.

5. Ask What the Candidate Learned From Past Experiences

Everyone is new to a job or industry at various points in their career, which means they will make mistakes, realize better ways of doing things, and hopefully learn lessons from their experiences. Answers to questions about what a candidate learned from past experiences reveals the capacity to grow in a job and helps confirm the authenticity of their claimed accomplishments.

Candidates may be nervous or hesitant to be vulnerable in a job interview setting, so do your best to make them feel comfortable about opening up and explaining how they’ve grown through experience. For instance, questions about past mistakes, difficulties, or challenges should always focus on how they adapted and learned from it all.

Learn More About Behavioral Interviewing and Other Recruiting Tips

The resume and cover letter is just the tip of the iceberg, which is why it’s so important to incorporate behavioral based interviewing into your screening process. Could you use more recruiting and HR tips? Sign up today and receive expert hiring and HR advice.