Behavioral interviewing, in simple terms

December 3, 2010

If you’ve ever been in an interview and heard a question that started with, “Tell me about a time...,” then you’ve experienced a behavioral interview question. Behavioral interviewing is said to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is only 10 percent predictive. As a result, more companies are adopting behavioral interviewing methods. Don’t let the name intimidate you. The process is quite simple. All you need to remember is STAR:

  • Situation/Task
  • Action
  • Result

In a behavioral interview, the objective is to learn about a candidate through a series of questions that draw on his or her past experiences: situations faced, actions taken, and results delivered. If an interviewer wants to learn about a candidate’s managerial experience, he or she might ask, “What was one of the more difficult employee situations you’ve dealt with in recent years?” From this starting point, a skilled interviewer can delve into a variety of questions: What were the circumstances surrounding it? What actions did you take? What other actions did you consider? What led you to follow the path you took? What was the outcome? Given the opportunity, would you have done anything differently?

As you can see, this one question can lead to a long list of other questions. It’s possible to spend five to 10 minutes on one question with the STAR outline. This is when an interviewer begins to truly understand a candidate — how they identified the problem, assessed the situation, determined a course of action, experienced the results, and what they learned in the process. Best of all, everything is based on a candidate’s first-hand experiences, not speculation or educated guesses on how they would handle something. As one of our partners is prone to say: “One is fiction until proven to be fact. The other is just plain fact.”

One final thought: Candidates should not feel obligated to come up with a stellar result for each question. A candidate’s most valuable experience might have had a less-than-favorable outcome. However, this usually requires encouraging a candidate to speak openly and assuring them that a negative result does not necessarily demean their candidacy.