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Behavioral Interview Questions

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A behavioral interview question is one in which the job candidate is asked to give an example of, or describe, a previous experience or action. The purpose is to learn about a candidate's demonstrated abilities, understanding of a particular topic and consistency in performance. Employers also use behavioral questions to gauge how a candidate might react in certain situations.

Prove Understanding

Behavioral interview questions are designed to make job candidates provide specific examples of how they have acted in the past. For example, when a hiring manager asks an interviewee, "Why is great service important?" the candidate can answer without having to offer any proof of how he has delivered great service in previous jobs. But when you phrase the question as, "Share two examples of times you have delivered outstanding service," the interviewee is forced to provide a specific answer. As the hiring manager listens to the responses, he can compare the candidate's examples of "great service" to his company's standards. If the candidate shares instances that meet or exceed expectations, she likely recognizes the importance of service.

Get Off Script

While employers want candidates to research, prepare and practice for the interview, they also want to assess the interviewer genuinely. Behavioral questions force a candidate to get off-script more than traditional questions. Good job prospects prepare for the standard "What are your strengths?" and "What are your weaknesses?" They have time to formulate specific, often mapped out responses. Instead, a hiring manager can require the candidate to think in the moment with a question like "Describe a situation in which you had to deal with a difficult customer, and how did you handle it?"

Demonstrate Consistency

Applicants train to give the "right" answers" to interview questions. This approach minimizes the risks of sending off red flags, but it also may impede a hiring manager's ability to see consistency in qualities and abilities. With a series of behavioral questions on a similar theme, a manager can pay attention to the level of consistency demonstrated in the candidate's answers. For example, if a hiring manager wants to learn more about a job candidate's integrity, he might ask the candidate to describe a time when she demonstrated strong integrity. At a different point, he might ask her to describe a time when she did something that was right, even when it was not personally beneficial. Ideal responses show a candidate's consistent emphasis on aligning what she knows, what she says and what she does.

Develop Behavioral Questions

To develop behavioral questions, begin with a list of core topics. Look over the job descriptions and identify the most important attributes and skills needed from a candidate. Develop two or three behavioral questions for each one, depending on the number of topics. For a topic like "handling adversity," you might say, "Describe a time when things did not go as you planned. How did you react and what was the end result?"


Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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