Knowledge Centre for recruitment

Interviewing using Behavioural Questioning Techniques

The rationale that underpins behavioural interviewing is that past behaviour is the best, if not the only, predictor of future behaviour. This style of questioning gathers data on what the interviewee actually does in a situation rather than what the interviewee thinks he/she might do in the future or what the interviewee thinks he/she did. It uncovers interpersonal as well as technical skills and provides specific data to allow good quality decisions to be made.

Standard probing questions to use in this technique:
· What did you do?
· What did you say?
· What were you thinking?
· What did you do next?
· How did you feel?

You are looking to capture, and write down for later analysis specific statements describing what the candidate personally
· Said
· Thought
· Did
· Felt
in past situations.

You need to keep the job candidate away from current reflections on past performance or current opinions and attitudes.

The types of question to use are open [tell me about…], probe [so what were you thinking …], summary [having done xyz what happened next …], closed when appropriate [did it work?]

You should avoid questions that are leading [would it be fair to say that …], hypothetical [imagine you are leading a project which …], multiple [did you manage to … or was it all …]

When using a behavioural technique always interview in pairs and agree how the pair of interviewers will work together:
· Who will ask questions/take notes [you can swap it around if you like]
· Use of signals
· Agree who will do the introduction and close the interview

In order to decide on your behavioural questions use the job accountabilities or competencies to prioritise the behavioural qualities that will lead to superior performance in the role. Limit yourself to 6 (8 at the most) key areas. Ensure that you have two questions identified for each area. You may not need to use both but it is essential to have a back up in case the first one does not give you much data. Your job is to get the information out of the candidate. Failure to get data is not a ‘poor performance’ it is a ‘neutral performance’, that is, you cannot judge.

Some personal reflections: I find myself sometimes having to take a ‘time out’ when doing behavioural interviewing. It is a technique which sometimes takes people by surprise. Job candidates are trained to use the word ‘we’ to appear team oriented and not arrogant. 'We' does not work in a behavioural interview since the behaviour cannot be credited to the candidate. Sometimes it can be useful to interject something along the lines of ‘you are using we, which normally would be acceptable, but in this interview I really need to distinguish your individual acts, decisions, thoughts so would ask that you use I when it is you and he/she or their name when it is someone else’. Or if you are just getting generalities ‘I would do, I tend to say, I like to’ an intervention along the lines of ‘it is very important that we cover a specific situation. Take a minute to think of one and then tell me what it is and then we can explore it in detail’.

To end I have given you a couple of examples to illustrate the technique.

AreaTraditional InterviewBehavioural Interview
Planning and OrganisationWould you describe yourself as an organised person? How do you plan your work?Tell me about a significant task that you had to complete by a specific and fixed deadline. (What was the task and how did you go about it?)
Results orientation
How do you ensure the success of a project that you are working on?
How do you go about solving problems at work?
Projects rarely proceed without obstacles. Tell me about a recent project you worked on when you encountered a major obstacle. (What did you do to get around that obstacle?)

We all face problems at work that are difficult to solve. Tell me about a problem that you were unable to solve on the first try. (What did you do?) [Listen for how they varied the approach]

Lisette Howlett
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