Behavioral Interview

Key Parts of a Behavioral Interview

A behavioral interview identifies a candidate's traits and characteristics necessary for success. It also compels candidates to pinpoint specific instances that exhibited a particular behavior in the past. In the best behavioral interviews, the candidate is not aware of the behavior(s) that interest the interviewer.

In a traditional interview, a candidate is asked straightforward questions like, 'What are your strengths and weaknesses?' or 'What major challenges did you face in positions you have previously held?' or 'Describe a typical work week with your last employer.'

In a behavioral interview, the interviewer identifies and asks about the skills needed for a position. Instead of asking how someone would behave in a future situation, they ask how someone behaved in the past. The interviewer wants to know how the interviewee handled a situation, and not what they might do in the future.

The following four points must be included in the answers provided by the interviewee:

  1. A specific situation
  2. The tasks that needed to be done
  3. The action(s) the individual took
  4. The results or what happened

How to Conduct a Successful Behavioral Interview

  • Identify what you want the candidate to do in the position.
  • Determine the required outputs and performance success factors.
  • Determine the characteristics and traits of the individual you believe will succeed.
  • Narrow your list to the top 3 - 5 traits, including attitudes.
  • Make a list of questions to ask during the behavioral interview. Be sure to ask all candidates for a given position the same questions so you have consistent information for comparison.
  • Choose the candidates with the characteristics and traits that best match the position needs.
  • Narrow your final candidates to those who appear to have the characteristics, attitude, skills, knowledge, experiences and education you desire.

Writing Behavioral Interview Questions
Behavioral interview questions enable the interviewer to rate the candidate's skills based on past action, not "gut feelings" or "intuitions." Here are some examples of ways to transform common interview questions into behavioral interview questions:

Instead of: Do you like hard work?

Ask: Tell me about a time in which you were persistent in order to reach your goals. What was the outcome?

Instead of: Do you consider yourself a leader?

Ask: Describe a situation in which you demonstrated leadership.

Instead of: Do you work well with others?

Ask: Describe a time when you got co-workers or classmates who dislike each other to work together.

The following resources can help you include behavioral interview questions in your interview:
Interview Questions are a collection of tried-and-true interview questions organized by topic and purpose.

Click to listen to this Sample Behavioral Interview: a recording of an actual interview that can give you a great sense of how behavioral interview questions actually work! The candidate is a national VISTA recruit, based in New York, who is willing to relocate to Chicago for her service year. Before the interview, the candidate was given some questions to think about, was told the interview would take about 40 minutes, and was informed that she would be interviewed by only one person. She was also advised that she would be expected to ask questions at the end. As you listen to this file think about:

Right click and Save to download. (Audio Transcript - PDF)

  • What in the interview worked?
  • What were the challenges?
  • What strategies did the interviewer use?
  • What strategies could you incorporate into your own interviews?

This resource was created by the Education Northwest and Bank Street College (BSC) training team. Eduction Northwest/BSC has been a Training and Technical Assistance provider for AmeriCorps VISTA since 1998. They design and deliver the Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) and the Supervisor Orientation (SO), as well as other events. Education Northwest/BSC uses this recording in the Supervisor Orientation to help new VISTA supervisors prepare to interview VISTA candidates. Use this resource to:

  • See a behavioral interview in action
  • Identify the types of questions asked in an behavioral interview
  • Plan your interview
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