Behavioural Interviewing: Hiring Effectively for the Future

Taking Notes on Behavioural Interviewing
Human Resources

With 18 years of experience as an HR professional, I have observed that most organizations realize that a strong recruitment plan is crucial for the success of any business. Efficiently recruiting and hiring the right candidate is critical in today’s competitive market. One technique that has become widely used in the recruiting process is the art of behavioural interviewing. Based on the concept that future performance can be predicted by previous experience, behavioural interviewing, if structured properly, can be one of the most effective recruiting tools available. In this article, I will draw on my experiences with designing and conducting behavioural interviews to provide some recommendations for practitioners considering this form of interview in their own workplace.

Gaining popularity in the mid-to-late seventies, behavioural interviewing is designed to reveal the extent to which a potential candidate possesses the core characteristics suitable for success within the organization and the position for which he/she has applied. In contrast to traditional interviews, where the applicant is asked how he or she would respond to hypothetical situations, the behavioural interview requires the candidate to provide detailed descriptions of past experiences. The amount of detail provided allows the interviewer to gather a more accurate evaluation of the candidate’s behaviours related to the desired behaviours for the available position.


To conduct an effective behavioural interview, I suggest that the recruiter:

  • Identify competencies required for the position
  • Develop questions that sufficiently assess a candidate’s qualifications for the role
  • Ask clarifying questions to ensure that you’ve correctly understood the responses
  • Refrain from asking leading questions during the interview; practice active listening
  • Document responses during the interview, noting key words
  • Create a summary of the session following the interview

I elaborate on each of these recommendations below.

Identify Competencies

The key to the success of the behavioural interview is in the preparation. Prior to conducting the interview, the recruiter will need to do some homework. Having a thorough understanding of the company culture and the organizational environment is of great importance when designing this style of interview.

Reviewing and analyzing the job description to determine the characteristics and competencies that correlate to successful job performance is the initial step. Reviewing the positive behaviours of previous incumbents in the position and speaking with other staff and management who are knowledgeable about the position can also provide important insight on the attributes needed for top performance in the future.

Develop Relevant Questions

Once the desired behaviours/competencies have been identified, the next step is to develop the interview questions. I suggest focusing on the top four to eight desired behaviours/competencies and preparing at least three to five questions per competency. This will likely ensure that the candidate will always have an experience to describe.

Maintaining control of the interview is also critical. While recounting a story about their past, the candidate may be nervous and may stray from the information that is important. Keeping the candidate on track is essential for capturing the necessary details for future assessment. The following questions are some examples of competency-based, situational questions that I have used in past interviews.

Client Service

  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer. What exactly did you do to manage the situation?
  • Have you ever completed a task or assignment that your manager was not satisfied with? How did you handle the situation?
  • Tell me about a time when you feel you provided service for a customer over and above your required duties.

Interpersonal Skills

  • Describe a situation in which you were involved in a conflict. What did you do to resolve the situation?
  • Have you ever had an opportunity to work on a project where you were a team lead? Provide me with the details of the project that you were involved with and how you set up and motivated your team.
  • Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a co-worker. How did you deal with it?


  • Have you ever pursued a learning opportunity on your own time to increase your professional knowledge?
  • Describe a situation in which you were presented with multiple tasks to complete in a short period of time. How did you prioritize your workload to meet all of the demands?

Change Management

  • Have you ever experienced a major change in your organization? Describe in detail how it affected your role and how did you deal with it?
  • Describe a time when you assisted co-workers through a difficult work-related change. What were the steps you took to ensure that the change was successful?


  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a very difficult decision.
  • Give me an example of when you took time to make a decision and it paid off.

Communication Skills

  • Tell me about a time where you had to present your ideas in written form.
  • Have you ever had to deliver difficult feedback to another individual in the workplace? What did you do to prepare for the conversation?
  • Provide an example of a time that you had to present very complex information. What was the response from your audience?

These questions are structured in a manner that encourages a candidate to explain and elaborate on his or her previous experiences more in-depth. The list is by no means definitive. It provides a sampling of behavioural interview questions that, of course, can and should be massaged, rephrased, and tailored to each position. Further examples of behavioural interview questions are available on Queen’s University’s human resources website (

As a reminder, once the questions have been developed and refined, the same series of questions should be utilized throughout the recruiting process to maintain fairness and consistency.

Ask Probing Questions

The candidate’s response to each question should include a detailed description about the situation requested, the action they took in the situation, and the results achieved. If the candidate does not provide sufficient detail, then you can probe deeper by asking some of these questions:

  • What exactly did you say?
  • And then what happened?
  • Who else was involved?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • How did this situation affect your next project?
  • Why did you choose to respond in that manner?

These types of probing questions will assist the candidate in providing clear and concise descriptions about their experiences.

Refrain from Leading Questions

During the interview, refrain from asking leading questions, so that you do not influence the candidate’s responses. As a result, the candidate will provide you with actual experiences, as opposed to providing you with responses that they think you want to hear.

Document Key Words and Compile a Summary

During the interview, the focus should be on the candidate and his or her responses. Brief key words and phrases can be documented; however, a complete summary of the responses should be compiled immediately after the interview to ensure that all relevant information is captured.

Benefits of Behavioural Interviewing

Perfecting the technique of behavioural interviewing allows the employer to gain a more holistic understanding of the candidate, based on the experiences shared. When a candidate details how they have behaved in the past, the interviewer can more accurately assess if those behaviours will meet the needs of the organization and the requirements of the position. Behavioural interviewing also encourages candidates to provide honest answers, as the questions require factual responses, not hypothetical assumptions. From an equity perspective, behavioural interviewing questions do not differentiate candidates based on sex, race, religion, nationality, age, gender, or marital status.

Predicting future performance is obviously a very difficult task; however, when successful, this interviewing process can promote a harmonious working environment and prevent future personality differences in the workplace. Whether your organization is utilizing this technique currently or it is in the developing stages, it is my view that perfecting this technique will assist HR professionals in minimizing hiring mistakes and allow us to hire effectively for the future.



Queen’s University Human Resources, “Sample Interview Questions,”


About the Author

Brenda Grape is an HR practitioner with 18 years of experience. Her first career role was as a recruiting supervisor for a firm in Toronto. This position provided extensive exposure to the interviewing process and the variety of techniques available. After six years, Brenda moved to an HR generalist role, where she expanded her human resources skill set. As her career developed, she then joined a leading-edge global organization as an HR advisor. In addition to providing support to all aspects of HR management, she continued to be involved in recruitment. It is here that Brenda had the opportunity to utilize and perfect the behavioural interviewing technique. Brenda is currently working for the IRC as a research assistant.

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