What is a Behavioral Interview?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A behavioral interview is an approach to a job interview where information about the applicant's past behaviors is collected to see if the person has experiences and skills relevant to a new position. Rather than being asked a series of questions designed to collect general information about the person, the interviewee is asked about specific actions and behaviors. Some job interviews include a mixture of questions, with a behavioral portion blended with more general questions.

A person in a behavioral interview.
A person in a behavioral interview.

An example of a more conventional job interview question might be “Have you worked with friends in the past?” In a behavioral interview, the interviewer might say, “Tell me about a time when you had to discipline a friend” or “Tell me about conflicts that have arisen as a result of working with friends.” Behavioral interview questions can include theoretical questions where people are presented with a challenge and asked about how they will solve it, along with leading questions where the framing of the question also contains embedded information about how the person wants it answered.

Many of the questions are designed to elicit information about specific incidents to see how a person performed in the past in a variety of situations. While a traditional interviewer might ask, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”, a behavioral interview will include questions like “Tell me about a time when you failed to provide good customer service” or “Tell me about a successful resolution to an office problem.” These questions are used to get information that will help the interviewer predict how the applicant will perform in the future.

People preparing for job interviews should expect to be asked at least some behavioral questions. It's a good idea to think ahead about major incidents, good and bad, from various jobs, as these can be used to furnish responses to behavioral interview questions. If people haven't experienced a situation that comes up in a behavioral interview, they should be honest about this. Generally, each answer should outline the situation, show how the person responded, and make note of positive and negative elements of the response.

One thing to be aware of in a behavioral interview is that the interviewer will be watching body language, as well as listening to the answer of the question. If signs of discomfort or unease are expressed, they will be noted, and the interviewer may probe to find out why. It can help to practice projecting a relaxed, calm, confident image with friends before going into an interview; while interviewers expect people to be nervous, an interviewee who appears on edge will be a cause for concern.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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