A Guideline to Behavioral Interviewing

It’s always important to get the basics from a candidate when interviewing or recruiting them for a job. Day-to-day activities, reasons for wanting to change jobs, and current compensation are almost always discussed in an introductory call. This is really the skeleton of interviewing. The purpose of these simple questions is to determine if it makes sense to move forward and have the candidate interview with the hiring manager.

As a candidate moves further along in the process, interview questions should become more in-depth. Surface questions that are easily answered should not be the only questions asked in order to gauge quality. It is important to really dig in to someone’s thought processes. It can be too easy to memorize your “biggest weakness” or “five year plan.” The best behavioral interview questions take your candidate a bit off guard — in a good sense — enabling you to see their thoughts in action.

Behavioral interview questions focus on past experiences, behaviors, critical thinking skills, and abilities in order to assess how a candidate reacts in certain situations. I personally like these types of questions because not only are you getting past examples of candidate behavior, you’re putting them on the spot as well. It’s an excellent tool to determine a candidate’s capacity, especially in roles such as sales, where quick thinking and wit are crucial.

The ideal questions can really range, but are always open-ended. You can usually begin with “Tell me about a time when…” and insert what you feel is relevant. Some examples are:

  • Tell me about a time when you worked together with members of a team and the result was more productive than working alone.
  • Describe an instance when you were unable to make a deadline. What would you do differently in the future? (Everyone has missed a deadline at some point! If a candidate claims they have never missed a deadline, you might want to remove them from consideration. The ideal candidate would admit their mistake and explain how they learned from it.)

You can also assess ethics:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to make an ethical decision at work. What happened, and what was the result?

In these examples, you should be assessing the candidate’s response. Ideally, it will be concise without too much rambling, yet also not too short of an answer. The best responses will incorporate the three aspects of PAR:

  • P: Problem – How the issue originated. How did they assess that it was a problem?
  • A: Action – What steps did they take in order to address said problem. How did they contribute to the solution?
  • R: Result – What impact did they make? What was the end result of their actions?

If they don’t immediately hit on these, however, don’t be afraid to push them along a bit in their answer taking care not to sound too invasive. Try phrases like:

  • “That’s interesting tell me more…”
  • “That sounds tough, how did you manage to solve that?”
  • “What was the final result from your hard work?”

Use these additional questions in order to retain a well-rounded response from a candidate. However, if they are still unable to really grasp what you’re asking, it might make sense to not move forward with the candidate.

Using these guidelines on behavioral interviewing will bring you closer to finding that ideal candidate! What are your suggestions for important behavioral questions to ask in an interview?

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Katy Smigowski
Katy Smigowski
Recruiting Lead - Software

Katy Smigowski is the Recruiting Lead-Software at Fitbit, where she is directly managing sourcing team, recruiting process and recruiting strategy dedicated to driving software hiring in our Boston office. Prior to Fitbit, she was a Talent Specialist at OpenView responsible for recruiting initiatives for both the firm and its portfolio companies.
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