The Behavioural Interview – What You Need to Know

The Behavioural Interview is increasingly used by companies for employment selection. Although it is a more demanding type of interview from the candidate’s point of view, it should be welcomed by candidates as an opportunity to effectively demonstrate why they are suitable job candidates.

Why the Behavioural Interview Works

Have you ever heard an interviewer saying that they know straight away on meeting a candidate if they are suitable or not, that they go on “gut feel” when deciding on the right job applicant? Fortunately this sort of haphazard approach to job interviews is seen less and less as companies take a much more structured and systematic approach to selecting employees.

Organisations are under increasing pressure to achieve accuracy in predicting an applicant’s job performance. The escalating costs of a hiring mistake (generally calculated at being about 50 percent of the position’s annual remuneration) and the negative impact of the wrong person in the job on both existing employees and customers mean that employers need an effective selection process that accurately identifies the right person for the job. The system used for selection also needs to be consistent to give every candidate a fair and equal opportunity of being selected for it to be considered legally defensible.

Behavioural (sometimes referred to as Competency-Based) Interviews offer a solution to the problem of an accurate and equitable selection system. The fairness and accuracy of the Behavioural Interview is based on the fact that the candidate is providing real, factual information about their past behavior and how it relates to the present required job competencies. The questions asked are designed to gain information on the candidate’s ability in the competencies that have been identified as necessary for successful job performance. All information gathered during the Behavioural Interview is relevant to the position and company being interviewed for. All candidates are asked the same type of questions, the interview is standardised which makes it a fair selection process.

The Behavioral Interview Process

The job is profiled and competencies required for job performance identified. Examples of job competencies include attention to detail, leadership, teamwork, initiative and adaptability among many others.

Questions are prepared to elicit information on the candidate’s previous experience as it relates to these competencies. The Behavioural Interview is based on the premise that past behaviour predicts future behavior.

The candidate is asked to provide a specific example of when they previously displayed the desired competency.

The candidate then describes a previous situation or instance when they were required to demonstrate the competency, the actions they took and the outcome.

The Behavioral Interview Question

“Adaptability” is an identified competency for the vacancy. The interviewer prepares the following question to ask all candidates : “Tell me about a time you had to change your approach when dealing with a customer”

The candidate then provides a specific example of how he or she adapted their approach to effectively manage the customer. The interviewer may need to ask a number of probing questions such as “Tell me more about that” in order to get enough detail from the candidate.

The question should result in a clear example of the candidate’s competence in adapting to the situation or individual. The interviewer can then rate the candidate on this particular competency.

The factual evidence generated by the behavioral questions provides a solid basis for evaluating the candidate’s suitability for the position. Too often an interviewer uses the following type of question in the job interview “Tell me how you would handle a difficult customer.” This requires a hypothetical-type response that only gives information on how the candidate thinks they would deal with a difficult customer rather than hard factual evidence of how they actually have done so in the past. You can see the value in asking behavioral interview questions to determine the real suitability of a candidate.

The Behavioral Interview can be intimidating for the candidate as often it is difficult to think of specific examples in the limited time constraints of the interview. Preparing properly for the Behavioral Interview beforehand by thinking about examples of competencies that your position may require helps set you up for success. A behavioral interview guide including sample behavioral questions and answers.

Julia Penny is an organisational psychologist with many years experience recruiting, interviewing and hiring candidates across a wide spectrum of jobs. She offers her expertise to help candidates prepare and excel in job interviews at