Definition of Behavioral-Based Interviews

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A behavioral-based interview is a technique for assessing candidates’ ability to perform the requirements of a job based on their past experiences. The idea behind the method is that previous performance is a good indicator of candidates’ future behavior on the job.

What is a behavioral-based interview?

In behavioral-based interviews, HR professionals, recruiters, and hiring managers want candidates to recount experiences to show they can successfully perform the essential job functions if hired.

Interviewers try to learn about candidates’ experiences involving:

  • Adaptability
  • Communication
  • Conflicts
  • Customer service
  • Deadlines
  • Leadership
  • Motivation
  • Problem-solving
  • Taking initiative
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Values

Questions based on these categories and any others related to the job opening can provide more information on the likelihood of a candidate’s success in the role.

Why is behavioral-based interviewing important to your business?

HR professionals, recruiters, and hiring managers want to know whether a candidate can do the job as required. However, the difference between behavioral-based and traditional interviews lies in how the questions are framed and the responses provided.

Traditional interviews

For example, traditional interviews often include open-ended questions like:

  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “Why should we hire you?”
  • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Interviewers use these questions to learn general information about the candidates’ backgrounds. However, open-ended questions can sometimes provoke less-than-truthful responses from candidates, according to HR platform

Behavioral-based interviewing

By contrast, behavioral-based questions take a more directed approach, such as:

  • “How would you handle a conflict between team members over resolving a production problem?”
  • “Why did you decide to ask for an extension to a deadline?”

Questions of this type require candidates to reflect on a specific situation and explain their actions in detail.

The history of behavioral-based interviews

According to the Journal of Education in Perioperative Medicine (JEPM), Dr. Tom Janz, an industrial psychologist, introduced behavioral interviews in the 1980s. The technique is based on the theory that “past behavior is predictive of future behavior.”

Studies and assessments on behavioral-based interviews show that hires who underwent the technique had better future job performance than those hired due to the traditional interview format. The traditional interviews were less likely to predict future job success.

Businesses and recruiting companies use behavioral-based interviews in hiring their hiring processes. Colleges and universities also use them to prepare candidates for positions. However, JEPM reports the medical community hasn’t adopted the technique.

How focusing on experience boosts hiring

Based on studies, behavioral-based interviews have proven to be a good predictor of candidates’ future job performance. Employers who adopt the technique can expect to have the benefit of:

  • Hearing examples of actual on-the-job experiences. General or vague responses to hypothetical questions don’t indicate whether a candidate can meet the job’s demands.
  • Gathering information beyond candidates’ prepared statements. Experience-based questions allow honest assessments of candidates’ qualifications and eliminate canned or disingenuous interview responses.
  • Deciding whether a candidate should move forward in the hiring process. Behavioral-based interviews should provide enough information to determine whether a candidate is qualified for the job and should remain in the running.

The next step for employers is knowing how to conduct behavioral-based interviews to maximize the benefits.

Preparing a behavioral-based interview

Behavioral-based interviews require employers to avoid asking predictable questions that candidates can answer with rehearsed — sometimes even far-fetched — responses. But by asking pointed, in-depth questions, HR and hiring managers can determine if a candidate has the skills and experience needed for the job.

A three-step format — Here are three steps for conducting behavioral-based interviews:

  1. First, identify what experience and skills the job requires. Go beyond the job description by asking people who have been successful in the role how they succeeded and what traits, skills, and experience they needed.
  2. Compile a list of candidates’ questions (see the common questions below). Ask them to demonstrate how they used their knowledge and/or skills in a previous job. For example, if documenting safety procedures is a current job requirement, ask them what method they used previously to carry out the responsibility. Follow up on vague or unclear responses with more in-depth questions until the candidate provides a satisfactory answer.
  3. Carefully assess the candidates’ responses. For instance, when candidates talk about problem-solving, did they provide solid details about their experience, and were they disciplined and professional in their approach?

The National Center for the Middle Market, a collaboration between The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business and Chubb Insurance that researches the U.S. middle market, has a formula for assessing candidates’ responses. They call their approach Situation, Actions, and Result, or SAR. This acronym stands for:

  1. Situation (S) – What was the problem (situation) the candidate faced?
  2. Actions (A) – What steps (action) did the candidate take?
  3. Result (R) – What was the result of the candidate’s actions?

As an acronym, SAR may be easier for employers to remember during the assessment stage of behavioral-based interviews.

Sample behavioral-based questions and terms that can assist you

LinkedIn Talent Solutions offers behavioral interview questions in five performance areas. Here are top sample questions employers can ask when trying to screen candidates for jobs that require experience and skills in these areas:


  • Tell me about a situation where someone asked you to do something you’ve never done before. What was your reaction, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Describe a time when you adopted a new process, system, idea, or technology that significantly departed from how things were done?


  • Describe a time in the past week when you felt productive, energized, and satisfied at work. What were you doing at the time?
  • What’s your most interesting characteristic that’s not referenced on your resumé?


  • Describe a time when you had to work with a colleague who was hard to get along with. How did you interact with that person?
  • Talk about how you handled someone you were communicating with who didn’t understand you?


  • Describe the last time something significant at work didn’t go as planned. What was your responsibility, and how did the situation end?
  • Talk about a time you needed to convince someone to view things your way. How did you try to make this happen, and how did things turn out?

Growth potential

  • Describe a time when your boss wasn’t available when a problem arose. How did you manage the situation? And whom did you consult for help with a resolution?
  • Talk about a time when you decided to expand your knowledge voluntarily instead of being instructed to do so.


  • Describe a time when you had to work on multiple projects simultaneously. What time management techniques did you use? How did you manage your time, and what were the results?
  • Talk about a project you planned. How did you organize the project and schedule the tasks?

Career platforms like Indeed and Hired offer jobseekers sample questions from behavioral-based interviews, along with possible responses. Therefore, employers may want to customize or retool their questions to make it harder for candidates to give rehearsed answers during interviews.

The summary

Behavioral-based interviews dive more deeply into candidates’ qualifications than traditional interviews. The purpose is to uncover potential hires’ suitability for the job and future success.

Employers don’t have to give up traditional interviews since open-ended questions can be icebreakers for both candidates and recruiters.

Finally, the information that behavioral-based interviews provide employers can make selecting the right candidate for the job easier and more effective.

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