Behavioral Interview Questions

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What is most commonly associated with the concept of an interview is questions-and lots of them. Less common is awareness of distinctions among kinds of questions, for example, on the basis of the kind of information questions that are asked are designed to elicit (or express) or in terms of their propriety in an interview. Behavioral interview questions, when utilized properly, are questions that focus on past job performance-related issues, such as how a project was approached and carried out, in order to extrapolate to future performance. This line of questioning is in contrast to commonly asked alternatives, such as "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

To ensure that the questions are appropriate, the interviewer should refrain from probing past behaviors that are not unambiguously job-related, e.g., "What was your first crisis after graduation?"-even if the intent of the question was to ask about employment crises.

A behavioral interview is intended to allow an employer to discover how a job applicant has responded to job-related situations in the past. The idea behind the approach is that past behavior sheds light on potential future actions. A behavioral interview differs from a traditional interview in that it seeks to test the skills of a potential employee as opposed to simply being told what an applicant can accomplish. In the case of a behavioral interview, the interview focuses on understanding how an applicant has acted in the past as opposed to how the applicant believes he or she will act in the future. Behavioral interview questions are more specific and penetrating than standard interview questions.

There are three general types of questions usually found in a behavioral interview: open-ended questions, close-ended questions, and "why" questions. Open-ended questions are those that ask for a description of a past event where a problem needed to be solved. The applicant is expected to discuss how he or she satisfactorily met the needs of the situation. Close-ended questions are those that required a "yes" or "no" response and are used to verify information. "Why" questions seek to understand the rationale behind past decisions or to determine an applicant's level of motivation.

Behavioral interview questions are best addressed by citing specific situations, identifying the tasks that needed to be accomplished, the way that those tasks were engaged, and the end results. A few example interview questions include: "What defines your concept of the perfect job?" "Describe a customer service issue where the customer demanded a refund. How did you respond and what was the result?" and, "Discuss an instance where you had to juggle multiple job priorities. How did you handle the situation?"

By eliciting information about the facts of a candidate's past performance, a behavioral interview can provide a basis from which to infer and gauge the candidate's job-related values, a good estimate of performance-values (mis)matches, degree of validity of candidate self-assessments and valuable indicators of probable future job performance.
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