Behavioural Interviewing: Hiring Effectively for the Future

Taking Notes on Behavioural InterviewingWith 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.

Career Assessments: An Overview

 An OverviewIs there an organization today that isn’t thinking about how to become more effective, efficient, economical, and equitable? Whether large or small, private, public, or not-for-profit, unionized or not, employers’ goals in this competitive global marketplace are all similar: to engage individual employees, to inspire teams to attract and retain satisfied clients, and to be profitable and sustainable.

Employers may be challenged by business needs changing faster than employees’ skills, clients looking for more innovation, managers who aren’t engaging their teams, or employees who are denying or resisting change. While many employers showcase employees, their human capital, as the competitive advantage in strategic plans and annual reports, not all offer the comprehensive training and development or succession planning programs needed to support such claims.

Employees may be challenged by evaluating the pros and cons of a job versus a career, failing to recognize what they’d be interested in doing let alone good at, wanting more purpose in the work they do, or lacking any kind of formal career plan.

I contend that career assessments are viable tools that can help to match employee goals with organizational goals and add measurable value to both employers and employees throughout their relationship. Effective recruitment needs process; unfortunately, career assessments and background checks are the two elements given short shrift in the recruitment process. I think assessments are an upfront investment that ensures the best candidate is hired, placed in the right role, and supported to do the right things well. If recruitment isn’t done well, the impact of every subsequent HR dollar (i.e., on-boarding, training and development, succession planning, and retention) is reduced. In this article, I outline some of the types of career assessment tools that exist, their criteria, who benefits from them, and why, when, where, and how they should be conducted.

Types of Career Assessments

Regardless if you’re an employer or an employee, it is important to know what you need or want the assessment or test to provide as an outcome before you invest in and commit to it. A plethora of assessment tools exist. Below are a few examples.


  • Observes and measures a person’s actual behaviour.

Cognitive Ability

  • Assesses a person’s aptitude or potential to learn quickly, think logically, solve problems, use verbal or mathematical reasoning, and perceptual abilities, such as speed in recognizing patterns.


  • Assesses attitudes and experiences related a person’s honesty, dependability, trustworthiness, reliability, and pro-social behaviour.


  • Measures general intelligence.

Job Knowledge

  • Uses multiple choice and/or essay questions to evaluate technical or professional expertise and knowledge required for specific professions. When one qualifies for a professional designation (e.g., Accounting, Engineering, Human Resources, etc.) this is generally the approach that is used.


  • Measures personality traits like extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to new experiences, optimism, service orientation, stress tolerance, emotional stability, and initiative. These traits are particularly important in team-based workplaces. Personality tends to be a complex combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors.

Physical Ability

  • Requires candidates to actually demonstrate strength, balance, speed, etc. Emergency Medical Services, Fire Fighters, and Police employ such tools.

Work Samples and Simulations

  • Measures specific job knowledge and skills, as well as more general skills, such as analysis, interpersonal, and organization. The simulations involve performing an actual task like creating a document in Word.

Individual Psychological Assessment

  • Consists of professionally developed and validated measures of cognitive abilities, leadership style, and personality, among other things. Typically they have been validated for current positions in accordance with legal and professional guidelines.

Career Assessment Criteria

It is imperative to ensure that the career assessment tool is valid, reliable, bias free, administratively fair, and linked to a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR). These concepts are outlined below.


  • The assessment measures what it claims to; otherwise, it’s difficult to accurately interpret and apply the results.


  • The results are consistent when the person is retested over time (e.g., every three to five years).

Bias Free

  • The assessment does not adversely impact a certain demographic (i.e., age, gender, race, etc.) or present barriers or prejudices that restrict access to employment or subsequent movement within the organization once hired.

Administratively Fair

  • The assessment or test should be based on the principles of administrative fairness. For example, it needs to be:
    • Clearly defined as to scope, autonomy and accountability
    • Easily accessible and understood
    • Inclusive rather than exclusive
    • Non-discriminatory
    • Consistently interpreted and applied
    • Flexible enough to accommodate individual differences
    • Explained in context
    • Subject to appeal


According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (, a BFOR is “a standard or rule that is integral to carrying out the functions of a specific position. For a standard to be considered a BFOR, an employer has to establish that any accommodation or changes to the standard would create an undue hardship.”

Who Benefits From a Career Assessment?

There’s no question that both the employer and the employee benefit from a career assessment.


  • Streamline the recruitment, training and development, and/or succession planning processes.
  • Hone in on key abilities, behaviours, characteristics, skills and/or traits that are known to lead to success in the role (e.g., some assessments will benchmark individuals to average and high performers in a specific role).
  • Present information that may otherwise be hard to find.
  • Treat all candidates consistently in a fair, competitive-comparative model.
  • Minimize the actual and opportunity costs of on-boarding, training, development, succession planning, and retention initiatives by investing in the most qualified people.
  • Increase the likelihood of making the right hiring decision.
  • Increase employee engagement and productivity, which, in turn, leads to increased client satisfaction and loyalty as well as organizational sustainability or profitability.
  • Save money over the long term through higher productivity, focused training and development, lower absenteeism and turnover, fewer severance packages, and lower re-recruitment costs.


  • Become more confident of who they are, what they’re interested in, and where they’re most likely to be successful.
  • Take charge of their own careers, rather than depend on the employer’s career development program (if offered).
  • Make more informed decisions whether they pursue a job or a career.
  • Establish a strategic path with clear goals.
  • Clarify what work-life balance means to them.
  • Become more self-actualized.
  • Save money over the long term by pursuing the right certificate, diploma, or degree, and maximizing return on related costs (i.e., tuition, books, living expenses).

The two prime reasons for employers and employees not opting for a career assessment are the actual expenses and opportunity (i.e., time) costs. When you consider the benefits outlined above, the return on investment of choosing an assessment far outweighs any initial objections. Assessments really can and do often lead to win-win solutions.

Why Conduct a Career Assessment?

Assessments provide an objective approach to supplementing information from other sources to help the employers make the best hiring decision and the employee make the best career decision. The better the decision, the more likely the employee is to be positioned for success both in the shorter and longer terms and the greater an employer’s return on investment.

When Should a Career Assessment be used?

Assessments can be introduced at a number of milestones in the employment process, including initial recruitment, training and development, or succession planning. During the recruitment process, assessments are recommended following the identification of the top two candidates. If #1 declines the job offer, then the #2 candidate is at the ready. For training, development, and succession planning, assessment results provide excellent background for coaching, mentoring, and personal growth.

Where Are Career Assessments Conducted?

Assessments can be conducted on-site (either at the employer’s or facilitator’s venue) or self-administered on-line. Interpretation of results is usually best when discussed face-to-face, but Skype, phone, and e-mail can also be considered, if more practical.

How Does One Choose the Most Appropriate Career Assessment?

Each person you consult is likely to champion a particular tool. Some assessments combine a number of the factors cited above. Over the past seven years, I’ve tracked the career assessments people have tried before they come to me. Currently my list is at 55 examples and growing. Reflect on the assessments you’ve offered or taken. You’ve likely tried at least one of Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, DISC, Kolbe Concept, Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Predictive Index, Strong Interest Inventory, or True Colours.

I’d recommend that you clarify what behaviours and traits have led to success in a particular role in the past and research possible assessments and tools that will help you confirm them in prospective candidates.

  • Do you need a cheap and cheerful model to filter out high numbers of candidates for more junior roles? Check out the free, on-line, and self-administered tools through government programs and independent suppliers.
  • Do you want a more comprehensive model for a lower number of candidates for more senior roles? An individual psychological assessment may be more appropriate. This typically involves a fee, is “live,” and is interpreted by a certified practitioner.

Fortunately, the days of “test batteries” that took days to administer and interpret are no longer necessary. New tools can be quite effective, efficient, and economical.


As discussed in this article, there are a number of career assessment types, criteria, and factors to consider when conducting a career assessment. Selecting the assessment that will best meet your needs is critical. While career assessments are an investment, I believe that they can be effective, efficient, and economical resources for both employers and employees.



Canadian Human Rights Commission, “Bona Fide Occupational Requirement,” last updated August 18, 2011,


About the Author

Lee AndersonLee Anderson has been the Principal of Lee Anderson & Associates since 2000. Her practice focuses on Career Assessment and Coaching, Organizational Effectiveness, and Strategic Human Resources Management. She cruised through her corporate career having taken a number of assessments but never quite got around to consolidating the data into a strategic career plan. She wishes she’d been more proactive sooner. She is a certified practitioner of the Pathfinder Career System to which she was introduced in 2005. It has had a profound effect on why she became certified, how she facilitates Pathfinder, and what impact Pathfinder has on clients.

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