Behavioral interviewing is a style of interviewing developed in the 1970’s by industrial psychologists. The theory behind behavioral interviewing is that “the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation”. Behavioral interviewing emphasizes past performance and behaviors. The questions do more than simply determine what a candidate says they will do (i.e. job activities) but give the candidate an opportunity to give concrete examples of what they have done in their past work history that helped them to be successful in their job.
More traditional interview methods would include hypothetical, cognitive, and personality type questions such as:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Why are you interested in working for us?
- What would you do if you were having difficulties with another employee on your project?
- What would you do if someone asked you to overlook a problem with your project?
- Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
- How did you like your last job?
These more traditional interview methods have some shortfalls since they can be very closed-ended, limit further information without prodding further or elicit a hypothetical answer that may or may not reflect how they really behave. Answers are often evaluated based on the interviewer’s personal bias.
Hypothetical questions can be used effectively and may be valuable in evaluating how the candidate thinks on his/her feet with little notice to prepare, but should not be the only basis of evaluation.
- Cognitive questions are based on the theory that a candidate’s thinking, learning and memory functions are critical factors to success
- This line of questioning often involves a series of scenarios where practical problems are presented to the job candidate
- The candidate’s methods used to solve these problems are evaluated based on how effectively the candidate gathers and applies information, how they process data, and think through alternatives
- This type of interview question is best used for jobs with a high degree of intellectual content
- This type of question reveals more about who the person is rather than what they can deliver
- The answers are often characterized by trait words like reliable, hard working, quick learner, assertive, etc.
- These questions save time in an interview but are not effective as an interview technique unless you ask for a real example of when or how this trait was exhibited
In contrast, the sample behavioral questions below may result in more reliable answers on which to base an evaluation.
Sample Behavioral Interview Questions
- Give me an example of a time when you had to keep from speaking or making a decision because you did not have enough information.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to be quick in coming to a decision.
- What is the toughest group that you have had to get cooperation from? How did you win them over?
- Have you ever had difficulty getting others to accept your ideas? What was your approach? Did it work?
- Give me an example of a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty.
- Describe a situation when you were able to have a positive influence on the action of others.
- Tell me about a situation when you had to speak up (be assertive) in order to get a point across that was important to you.
- Have you ever had to “sell” an idea to your co-workers or group? How did you do it? Did they “buy” it?
- What have you done in the past to contribute toward a teamwork environment?
- How do you decide what gets top priority when scheduling your time?
- What do you do when your schedule is suddenly interrupted? Give an example.
- Give me an example of an important goal which you had set in the past and tell me about your success in reaching it.
How to prepare questions for a behavioral interview
Companies that employ behavioral interviewing techniques can use the same analysis they use to develop the job description. This analysis can help to determine the skill sets required to be successful in the job. The hiring manager should consider the following questions:
- What are the necessary skills to do this job?
- What makes a successful candidate?
- What deliverables are we expecting?
- What would make an unsuccessful candidate?
- Why have people left this position previously?
- What is the most difficult part of this job?
A sample list of skills resulting from the job analysis may include the following:
- decision making and problem solving
- leadership, motivation
- ability to work independently with little supervision
- communication, interpersonal skills
- planning and organization, critical thinking skills
- team building and the ability to influence others
When asking a behavioral question, try using the “STAR” approach. Be sure the candidate’s answer includes:
- Situation or Task
Using the “STAR” approach, the interviewer might expect the sample answer below to the question–What have you done in the past to contribute toward a teamwork environment?
The candidate might recount a time when communication within their work group had broken down (situation). To resolve the problem, the candidate organized informal lunch meetings for people to discuss relevant issues (action). Morale then improved, as did the lines of communication (result). Critical Success Factors clarify how we define success in this position
Benefits of Behavioral Questions
- Behavioral questions help determine if the candidate can prove that they’ve taken actions that have delivered results
- Behavioral questions make the candidate recall real actions and results they have experienced and describe them in detail
- Past behavior can predict future job performance
- Behavioral questions can establish a pattern of behavior
- Behavioral questions are the safest for inexperienced interviewers because they don’t require a psychological or organizational professional to evaluate
- Behavioral questions make It is very difficult for the candidate to make up stories that are not based on real situations.
- Companies that invest the time and energy in developing behavioral interviews often attract top candidates and top candidates make the company a more desirable place to work
Suggestions for Evaluating a Candidate
- Improve your ability to evaluate the candidate on his/her ability to deliver
- Base your evaluation more on specific facts and less on your gut feeling or general impressions
- Openly share your impressions and evaluations even if they are different than the rest of the team
- Feel comfortable with raising red flags
- Don’t rush to make a decision if you don’t have enough facts on which to base your decision
- Avoid allowing the impressions of others to pressure you to change your evaluation
Want to learn more? Subscribe to our newsletter:
Who is the OFCCP?
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is a Federal agency within the Department of Labor. The Agency ensures that employers with 50 or more employees with Federal contracts (including prime and subcontracts) exceeding $50,000 per year, comply with Equal Employment Opportunity laws and affirmative action.
What are the OFCCP requirements?
- The OFCCP requires employers to track and retain records and annual reporting requirements including EEO-1 and VETS-100 on applicants, hiring and employment practices. Compliance is required for all domestic and international recruiting activity for positions filled by US Nationals. Employers are required to obtain, when possible, gender, race and ethnicity (EEO) data on both applicants and hires.
- Applicant logs covering both job seekers and applicants should include, candidate name, date of application, job applied for, location applied for, race, sex and disposition
- Records must be kept for two years and need to include:
- Basic job descriptions and qualifications for all open positions
- All applicants that were “considered” including those found on internet searches
- Data Management techniques to reduce the # of applicants considered
- Candidates contacted about interest in a position-semi-passive and passive candidates, “cold calling”
- Applicant flow data
- Data for adverse impact analysis
Who does the OFCCP consider to be an “Applicant”?
“Applicants” are those individuals who meet the criteria below and are actually considered for a particular open position. An open position is officially posted or advertised. Being considered means that the employer reviewed and evaluated the individual’s qualifications—the individual does not have to be among the group of finalists considered for the job to be counted in this group.
- The applicant must express interest in an open position
- The applicant must complete your application process
- The applicant must meet your minimum qualifications
- The applicant does not withdraw from the process*
*If an applicant drops out at any point in the recruiting process, note the date, reason and how you learned they were no long interested.
What are acceptable reasons not to consider an individual for employment?
- Not minimally qualified: did not meet age, education, or experience requirements. Incomplete application, failed drug and/or background check.
- Candidate Withdrew: could not reach individual to follow up, candidate no longer interested, cannot work the required hours or didn’t like the work environment. Accepted another position during the recruiting process.
- Not the best qualified: met minimum requirements but had poor interview, other candidates had stronger work history, references were not favorable
Why should I be concerned?
The OFCCP conducts approximately 10,000 audits annually. The audit includes a comprehensive analysis and review of hiring practices and policies to determine if the employer maintains non-discriminatory hiring and employment practices. According to the International HR Conference last year, an OFCCP specialist noted that if your organization has not been audited, they might be in the near future. It was further noted that the OFCCP was using statistical analysis techniques to predict systematic discrimination in order to target compliance audits. The risks for non-compliance can be high. Fines and penalties in the tens of thousands of dollars can be imposed and the ultimate risk of debarment from working with the Federal Government.
What is the best way to ensure our organization is in compliance?
Implementing an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is the most efficient way to collect, track and maintain the OFCCP’s required information. Manual processes are inefficient, outdated, very time consuming, and often leave your organization vulnerable to a desk or on-site audit. The ability to supply the necessary information required for a desk or on-site audit, when tracked manually, can take an enormous amount of time and effort and can cripple your recruiting efforts. Applicant Tracking Systems should include the following:
- Maintenance of well written job descriptions
- Tracking where the open positions were posted
- Sufficient applicant data as previously mentioned above
- The number of applicants who applied and met the minimum qualifications
- Specific reason applicants were not considered (disposition)
- Customized reports on EEO data
Additional tips for surviving an OFCCP audit
- Develop an effective affirmative action plan and update annually
- List every job opening with the applicable state unemployment office
- Give the invitation to Self Identify from your Veterans/Disabled Plan to all individuals to whom an offer is made
- Keep detailed records of job postings, including an ID number, location and date posted
- Keep copies of all resumes and applications received, whether they met your minimum requirements or not
A job description is a communication tool that describes the duties and responsibilities of a job and the qualifications required to be successful in the job. It is the foundation on which candidates determine interest and decide to apply to your organization.
The benefits of writing an effective job description
A well written job description will:
- Help attract the right candidates
- Be a template for writing outside job postings and advertisements
- Serve as a guide for formulating your interview questions and candidate evaluation
- Set realistic expectations for the new hire*
- Assist managers/supervisors in conducting performance reviews and identifying areas for training or development
- Prevent future legal problems with federal agencies in the event of a discrimination allegation
*Jobs in a small to medium size company can shift depending on your growth and direction.
Jobs are subject to change due either to personal growth, organizational development, and/or the evolution of new technologies. Flexible job descriptions will encourage your employees to grow within their positions and learn how to make larger contributions to your company. Your organization’s job descriptions should be concise, clear, but also flexible. When writing a job description, keep in mind that the job description will serve as a major basis for outlining job training or conducting future job evaluations. It is good practice to review your job descriptions periodically to make sure they accurately reflects what the employee is doing and your expectations of results from the employee.
Steps to writing an effective job description—what to include
Gather the appropriate people for the task. The manager to whom the position will report might be the best person to take the lead in developing the job description. If there are other employees performing similar jobs, they can also contribute. Additionally, if the position is new and will relieve current employees of work load, they should be part of the discussion.
Perform a job analysis. You need as much data as possible to develop a job description. The job analysis may include the job responsibilities of current employees, Internet research and sample job descriptions online or offline highlighting similar jobs, an analysis of the work duties, tasks, and responsibilities that need to be accomplished by the employee filling the position, research and sharing with other companies that have similar jobs, and articulation of the most important outcomes or contributions needed from the position. The more information you can gather, the easier the actual task to develop the job description will be.
Write the job description. The format and style for writing job descriptions might be different from any other type of writing that you do in your job. Writing job descriptions is not a complex process, but it requires following a basic format including specific components. Your job descriptions should follow a consistent format when possible. The basic components should include:
- Job Title
- Title of the Individual the job reports to
- Job Summary
- Key Responsibilities
- Minimum Job Requirements
- Physical Requirements and Environment
The job title should accurately reflect the type of work performed. For example- “clerk,” “processor,” or “analyst”. It should also indicate the level of work being performed– “senior analyst”, or “lead accountant”.
The job summary describes the primary reason for and function of the job. It also provides an overview of the job and introduces the job responsibilities section. The job summary should describe the job without detailed task descriptions. Its length should range from one sentence to a paragraph, depending on the complexity of the job. It is sometimes easier to write the summary once you have completed the more detailed information.
Example: A job summary for a Human Resources Director
“Manages the human resources function and day-to-day human resources management activities throughout the organization, including employee recruiting, orientation, compensation, benefits, and related programs. Manages all HR functions, staff, and the HR department budget.”
Begin each job responsibility with a present tense action verb and describe the area of responsibility in action terms. Normally, there will be 7 to 10 responsibilities, depending on the job. Examples:
- Develops marketing programs directed at increasing product sales and awareness.
- Writes programming code to develop various features and functionality for commercial software products.
- Designs and develops user interfaces for commercial software products.
- Supervises technical support employees in providing technical support to organization clients.
- Manages development of advertising and various marketing collateral materials.
Minimum job requirements
This section describes the minimum knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required to perform the job. This information helps determine if the candidates are minimally qualified. Avoid arbitrary requirements that are difficult to validate.
Include only the minimally acceptable requirements. Do not inflate requirements.
Be specific and realistic about the necessary requirements.
Do not consider the particular education, experience, or skill level of current jobholders. Include only what the job actually requires.
Ensure the requirement relates to how and why the job is done
Requirements should include:
- Education —the type and minimum level, such as high school diploma and/or bachelor’s degree.
- Experience —the type and minimum level, such as three to five years of supervisory experience, five years of editing experience, and two years of experience with content management systems.
- Special skills — such as languages spoken and computer software proficiencies.
- Certifications and licenses — such as industry certifications and practitioners’ licenses.
This section describes the physical demands and environment of the job and lists the basic physical conditions needed to perform the job. This section should list specific physical requirements such as lifting heavy objects and standing for long periods of time. Examples include:
- Requires ability to lift large and heavy packages
- Must be physically capable of safely lifting a minimum of 50 lbs. without assistance
- Requires the ability to work flexible shifts
- Must be able to travel 50% to other job sites
- Able to meet tight deadlines in a fast-paced work environment
All job descriptions should include a disclaimer that clearly states that the description is only a summary of the typical functions of the job, not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of all possible job responsibilities, tasks, and duties. Disclaimers should also state that the responsibilities, tasks, and duties of the jobholder might differ from those outlined in the job description and that other duties, as assigned, might be part of the job. This disclaimer is most important in a labor union environment where the document can be literally interpreted.