Behavioral Interview Questions

Many candidates have the qualifications, skills, and experience an employer has advertised for in a job opening. But how do you go beyond the application materials to identify candidates who will have the qualities that will enable them to be productive, collegial, and contributing members of your unit?

One technique is to incorporate interview questions that focus strategically on the behaviors and competencies that you feel are imperative to that position. Behavioral-based interviewing is highly effective because it examines the past behavior of a candidate, which is the most accurate indicator of future behavior. 1 Behavioral interviews utilize questions that encourage more detailed responses from candidates than traditional interview questions, which focus more on skills and qualifications. Good behavioral interview questions describe a situation that is typical for a faculty member in your area. They are open-ended and invite candidates to describe how they would act in a situation, giving examples from past experiences.

Committees should meet in advance of the interview to identify their top 3-4 competencies and behaviors for the position. This allows for discussion and agreement as to what the entire team’s goals are in the candidate review and selection. Sample questions are available below to provide a starting point in identifying behavioral interview questions. There are no right and wrong answers to these questions; they simply provide context in seeking to understand how someone behaved in a past situation and if that behavior would be an attribute in the context of your organization.

Committees should keep in mind that many candidates are well versed in preparing for interviews. With that said, committees should not only take into account non-verbal communication but also listen to a candidate’s answers to see if they address the following areas when answering your questions.

  1. Situation - Make certain that the candidate includes specific information by addressing your question with an actual example. Listen for the Who, What, When, Where and How.
  2. Task - What exactly did they complete/accomplish and what challenges did they overcome doing so?
  3. Approach - What was their role in the activity? Did they use action verbs to describe it or were they not a key contributor?
  4. Results – What was the outcome of the individual’s activity/role? What consequences/gains/benefits did their behavior have on the outcome?

Remember to avoid the following interview blunders:

  1. Don’t lead your interviewees by prefacing a question with detailed information. This tips off your candidates as to how you want them to respond.
  2. Avoid interview questions that are generic. Probe deeper if the candidate doesn’t provide background context, the action taken and the results.
  3. Avoid hypothetical and/or theoretical questions. You want to know how that person has already handled that situation.
  4. Don’t accept answers that are not in the first person. Don’t let people take credit for the action of others.
  5. Avoid the temptation to fill the silence. Give the candidate time to recall the event. Refrain from filling the void for them by rephrasing the question or offering leading information.

Source Documents:

1Latham, Gary. (2009). Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager. Boston, MA: Davies-Black.
McClelland, D. C. (1998). Identifying competencies with behavioral-event interviews. Psychological science, 9(5), 331-339.
Oliphant, G. C., Hansen, K., & Oliphant, B. J. (2008). Predictive validity of a behavioral interview technique. The Marketing Management Journal, 18(2), 93-105.
Pulakos, E. D., & Schmitt, N. (1995). Experience-based and situational interview questions: Studies of validity.
Personnel Psychology, 48
University of California – Davis. (2), 289-308.