Behavioral Interviewing: Uncovering the Hidden Potential in Candidates

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Sep 11, 2023
5 min read 2 Comments

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Let me paint a picture of a common hiring scenario and how behavioral interviewing can help: You have an open position you're excited to fill and have posted the job. Luckily, you've received terrific applications and you may have several very strong candidates.

But before you interview them, all you really have are pieces of paper -- resumes, cover letters and perhaps letters of reference. What you're lacking is a chance to discover who these candidates really are. 

The purpose of interviewing is to discover who a candidate is, holistically, and nothing accomplishes that goal better than behavioral interviewing.

Behavioral interview questions help you get to the core of the candidate sitting in front of you and parse out if they have the soft skills necessary to do the job, if they'll thrive in your company's environment and whether or not they are a cultural fit.

In this post, I'll cover the behavioral interviewing process, how to analyze candidate responses and tips for identifying key behavioral indicators. In the end, you'll be able to see beyond the paper and discover the hidden potential of your applicants, helping to ensure success in your hiring process.

What Is a Behavioral Interview?

Behavioral interviewing is a structured interview technique that emphasizes past performance as an indicator of future success. Instead of asking hypothetical questions like “How would you handle a conflict at work?”, interviewers ask candidates about specific instances from their past, such as, “Tell me about a time when you resolved a conflict at work.”

While past behavior can't always be used as a predictor of future performance, it can definitely give us clues as to how an applicant thinks and reacts in common workplace scenarios. 

Why Use Behavioral Interview Questions?

Behavioral interviewing, rooted in the principle that past actions are the most reliable predictors of future performance, offers a more insightful and objective approach to candidate assessment than traditional interviewing techniques. When it comes to candidate selection, behavioral interviews offer:

  • Predictive power

Traditional interviews are fraught with biases and often veer off into irrelevant topics. In contrast, behavioral interviews center on real-life experiences, providing a more reliable prediction of future performance.

  • Consistency

The structured format ensures that all candidates are assessed using the same criteria, leading to fairer evaluations.

  • Deep insight

They provide a profound understanding of a candidate's skills, decision-making process, adaptability and cultural fit.

Beyond Illegal Interview Questions the need to know of unconscious bias

How to Conduct an Effective Behavioral Interview

If you've never conducted a behavioral interview before as part of your candidate selection process, you might not be familiar with all of the tips and best practices. It’s a bit different from a standard interview, so, you’ll want to keep the following in mind:

  • Practice active listening

Show interest by maintaining eye contact, using non-verbal cues such as nodding, and above all resisting the urge to issue judgment and/or advice as candidates provide their answers. Judgment may come across verbally or non-verbally, so interviewers should try to be aware of their body language. 

RELATED: 7 Active Listening Techniques & 5 Ways It Benefits Your Workplace >>

  • Use probing techniques

A probing technique is an interview (or conversation) trick to coax more information out of the other party. There are several ways to provoke a longer response, including through intermediate verbal responses like "Tell me more," "Uh-huh," or repeating the candidate's final word or phrase.

Additionally, non-verbal cues, such as the "go on" hand motion, nodding, smiling, or perhaps even more powerful, silence.

Silence has a way of encouraging the other party to break it, leading to more information when you want it most. 

RELATED:Don't Hire Another Employee Without Asking These Questions >> 

How to Structure Behavioral Interviewing Questions

  • Identify the competencies you need to verify

Are you hiring for a management position? You need someone who is a leader, and probably someone with the people skills to influence others and make clients feel comfortable.

Are you looking for someone who will be where and when they say they will, and who always follows through on tasks? Your job description should Identify the traits you need in the right candidate: Punctuality, integrity, initiative, curiosity, etc.

Next, as part of your candidate selection process, you'll need to ask questions designed to allow candidates to showcase these characteristics. 

  • Make sure at least some of your questions have a verifiable answer

Not all behavioral interview questions can be verified, but you still may have a very valid reason for asking them during the hiring process. For example, "Tell me how you would handle a situation where you can't get a response from a team member during a time crunch," isn't one that can be verified, but it is one you may still need to know due to the time-intensive nature of the role.

Balance these out with questions that allow verifiable follow-up information, such as "Tell me about a time your great idea came to fruition during a previous role," or "Tell me about a time you used creativity to solve a persistent issue."

It's harder to stumble through a false story for answers to questions like these, as you can ask follow-up questions about the idea's end product or the issue. 

Common Interview Questions That Are Actually Illegal

Analyzing Responses as Part of Your Candidate Selection Process

The difference between a standard and behavioral interview question can come down to just a few words. Say you need to determine if a candidate would be comfortable with and successful in delivering presentations to important clients.

A standard interviewer may ask about the interviewee's experience in the area, but a behavioral interviewer would pose a question like: "Describe a time when you had to give a presentation in a group setting. How did you prepare and what was the result?" 

The latter allows the interviewer to pick up on several items within the candidate's response: The positivity or negativity in their tone gives clues as to whether they'll enjoy their work; information about how they prepared will tune you into their diligence and drive; their excitement about the end result will clue you into their ambition and the passion they have for their job. 

Considering using behavioral interviewing in your hiring process and looking for more examples? Be sure to save our free, downloadable asset, "8 Sample Behavioral Interview Questions" to take the guesswork out of getting started on designing your interview questions!

RELATED: To Really Drill Down & Get to Know a Candidate, Ask These Questions >> 

Axcet HR: Your Partner for All Things HR 

As your certified professional employer organization, Axcet HR Solutions is here to help your small business thrive. We specialize in helping small businesses and start-ups increase operational efficiency and employee productivity from end to end, helping you get the most out of your employees from the hiring interview to the exit interview. 

Recruitment and candidate selection are just the beginning of what we can help you with at Axcet. Wondering if outsourcing human resources is right for you? Reach out to our consultants today to learn more.

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