Why you should be using behavioural interview questions in your next interview

Why you should be using behavioural interview questions in your next interview

Colleen Condon, Founder of Facilitated Training has created this article as part of our Locimo Experts series.

Behavioural interviewing is a technique used by employers to learn about your past behaviour in particular workplace situations. Let’s start by defining what a behavioural interview is.

Behavioural interviewing is interviewing based on discovering how the interviewee acted in specific employment-related situations. The logic is that how you behaved in the past will predict how you will behave in the future, i.e., past performance indicates future performance.

Why are behavioural interviews effective?

Behavioural interviewing is not only beneficial for the company recruiting, but also for the candidate, it reveals personal strengths and weaknesses so that both parties can be confident that the candidate is the best fit for the role and organisation. Behavioural interviews also reduce a ‘canned response or a theoretical response’ that the candidate shares based on what the interviewer or company theoretically wants to hear. 

Behavioural interview questions are open questions, eliciting a deeper answer than a closed question, such as “are you a good leader?” which will result in a short, yes or no answer. 

Providing Real Life Examples

Organisations want to ensure that they are hiring someone who not only has the technical skills to complete a job, but also has demonstrated experience in doing so. This is about being able to “walk the talk”. Anybody can say on their resume that they have superior leadership skills or that they are seasoned problem solvers. 

In fact, according to a 2017 employment screening benchmark report, 85 percent of employers caught applicants falsely altering their resumes or applications. Behavioural questions help to partly circumvent this issue by pushing job candidates to go beyond their resume. A behavioural interview requires the candidate to provide solid, concrete examples of past experiences. More than a bullet point on their resume. For example, when interviewing candidates for a receptionist role, asking a situational question about their experience with simultaneously juggling multiple tasks allows the interviewer to see exactly what that candidate has accomplished in his or her previous roles.

When using the behavioral questions within this bank it is recommended that you take the Situation / Action / Outcome approach. That is, ask the candidate to call on their past experience to:

  1. Recount a specific event, activity, or “Situation” and then to 

  2. Discuss their own “Action” or reaction to the event or situation; and then to 

  3. Outline the “Outcome” or final result.

Ask the candidate to describe the situation first before probing with follow-up questions. For example, a question targeting customer service competency may be:

“Describe a situation where a customer has tested your patience?” A literal response will provide you with insight to the situation only. You will need to ask follow up questions to ensure that the candidate discusses part 2, the action, and part 3, the outcome

Questions such as: “So exactly what happened?”, “What did you say?”, “What did you do?” or, “What were the results?” will encourage the candidate to discuss these elements. 

Assessing Technical or Commercial Competencies 

To conduct an effective interview you will need to construct questions which assess the candidates’ technical skills and knowledge.

An easy approach to developing behavioral questions that assesses technical competency is to first think of the skill that you wish to assess, and then frame the question so that it elicits an example of (relevant) past behaviors.

For example: You may wish to know more about the candidate’s presentation skills. You could ask a traditional question such as: 

  • ”This role requires you to present a lot of information sessions. What are your skills in this area?”

A behavioural equivalent would be:

  • “Tell me about the last presentation you gave.” 

Your follow up question may include things such as; 

  • "Who was your audience?"
  • "Who else was involved?"
  • "How did you prepare?"
  • "How did you measure the success of the presentation?"

Open and closed questions 

Be sparing of your use of ‘closed’ questions. These are questions that offer a finite number of responses. 

Instead, choose ‘open’ questions so candidates can provide unrestrained or free responses. Open questions will encourage a freer flowing conversation and importantly, will help to reduce bias caused by presuming, or leading on behalf of the interviewer. 

It is important to utilise the same set of interview questions for each person interviewed for the vacant role.  This ensures that you can benchmark candidates, (compare apples to apples), and reduce the likelihood of bias occurring during the interview process.

Time invested in preparing for a behavioural interview is time well spent. Sure, it takes longer than asking questions like ‘what sports team to you barrack for?’ or “what makes a good receptionist, supervisor, chef” and going on your ‘gut feel’ but it will also reduce the likelihood of high turner, poor engagement and hiring those who can talk the talk, but don’t have the skills and attributes that you need for your organisation. 

To get you started, utilise our 10 quick tips below.

10 Quick Tips on Behavioural Interviewing

1. Ideally there are two people conducting the interview. This enables discussing and benchmarking of candidates.

2. Ultilize the candidate's CV/resume to drill for further specific information about the candidate's past experience.

3. Structure your interview and decide on the questions you will ask beforehand.

4. Tailor your questions to the role that you are recruiting for.

5. Encourage the candidate to choose situations that are relevant and recent.

6. Remember that many skills are transferable; if a candidate can’t recall a work-related situation, or perhaps they are entering the workforce for the first time or after a prolonged break, encourage them to consider if a sporting /hobby/volunteering situation could be relevant.

7. Ask for examples of success and failure to get a balanced view of the candidate’s behavior at work.

8. Be attentive to candidates that reply in the second person (‘We did...” Or answering theoretically. Ensure that you clarify the candidate’s action/involvement by asking questions such as “What was your role in this?”

9. Remember that you ideally need 3 to 4 examples of behavior to make a truly objective decision.

10. Be sure to write detailed notes to refer back to, and utilise during referencing checking of your preferred candidate.

Author bio: 

Colleen Condon is one of Asia Pac’s most well-rounded HR & Organisational Development professionals. With her finger in every piece of the Human Resources pie, Colleen has trained 1000s of people across multiple industries and countries. She has conducted training department reviews in Soul, facilitated regional planning programs in Mumbai, deployed leadership programs across Australia, Singapore and New Zealand, to name a few.

Colleen has coached professionals to enhance the soft skills geared to increasing their employability, reviewed resumes and rewritten, created behavioural based interview training materials for workplaces, taught managers to conduct ethical behavioural interviews and has recruited employees at all levels of business, across multiple industries.

Most recently, Colleen was a Director of Learning Development, Asia Pacific, overseeing the development of 64,000 employees. Her global and regional responsibilities honed her ability to work and create training materials that are adaptable across industry and culture.