A behavior based interview asks the candidate to think about experiences in their past and explain how they dealt with a difficult situation.

The questions are open-ended and are targeted to elicit responses from the candidate that allow them to demonstrate how they have risen up in the past to challenges that are similar to those that can arise in the position being offered. For example, “Tell me about a time in the past that you dealt with an angry customer. How did you handle the situation?”

S.T.A.R. refers to the type of response that the interviewer will steer the candidate to provide.

  • Situation – What was the context into which the scenario played out?
  • Task – What was the task that needed to be accomplished? Why was this particular situation more difficult than usual?
  • Action – What was the action taken by the candidate to address the problem or challenge?
  • Response – How was the problem resolved? In what way was the candidate instrumental in resolving the problem?

One very important point about the S.T.A.R. method of eliciting behavioral-based responses is that the candidate needs to be specific and refrain from speaking about how others dealt with the issue. Sometimes, candidates may place the blame for failing to respond to a challenging issue on others in their prior organization, but this type of response does not help interviewers understand the qualities the candidate possesses to help them rise to challenging situations.

What About Candidates With No Experience?

One other question that tends to arise about behavioral based interviewing is how to deal with young people who have either no prior job experience, or people who have never worked in your industry. The answer is that the interviewer can coach the candidate to choose experiences that can involve school, organized sports, or other prior jobs that had a similar problematic situation.

What are the benefites of behavioral-based interview?

Benefit #1 – Saves Money and Time

Most employers have questions and desired qualities that can be assessed in the application packet that address the issue of the technical competencies necessary to perform the job on the first day. Thus, more employees are fired or leave a job because they don’t have the requisite social skills in order to perform at an adequate level. Behavioral-based interviewing addresses the issue of the skills that are needed for an employee to rise to challenges in the workplace beyond the technical skills they have amassed.

Directly addressing soft skills results in a cost savings for employers because employees who do not work out represent lost outlay in terms of both time and money spent hiring and training new employees.

Benefit #2 – Eliminates the “Slick Willies” With Canned Responses

It is easy to be caught up in the looks of a candidate with an immaculate appearance or with one that can say all of the right things. Behavioral based interview questions force all candidates to come up with concrete experiences from the past and explain how they attacked the challenges they were experiencing. This provides considerable insight into how the candidate thinks, what experience they really have, and their character under pressure. There will be a clear difference in the responses of the candidates who have the skills to deal with the difficult situations and those who simply have practiced some canned answers.

Benefit #3 – Questions Target Specific Traits

Each job has a specific list of desirable qualities. These qualities can include the ability to make decisions, cooperativeness, desire, flexibility, and leadership. One may find a highly experienced and desirable candidate for a position; but, if one of the job requirements are for the candidate be a leader, yet the applicant prefers structure, this candidate will not be a good fit. An example would be a highly experienced teacher with a lot of training and skills in both teaching and training other teachers. If the position requires the teacher to make decisions on the fly, but she finds that role totally uncomfortable, then she will fail or move elsewhere before long.

It is for this reason that employers need to think carefully about each position and decide the necessary soft skills that are required for success. Even better if one decides upon a rank for each soft skill so that one can differentiate between Sally who rates highly for Soft Skill 2 and 3 but not so good on Soft Skill 4 and Sandy who rates highly on Soft Skills 2 and 4 and has a bit of Soft Skill 3. The best candidate will need to be determined by the ranking of each soft skill for that job.

Benefit #4 – Eliminates Those Not Coachable

Some candidates may come to the interview in a place in their lives where they are unable to rise to the challenges of temporary failure. Other candidates may not be disposed to performing the job in the best manner for your customers and your company. These candidates either do not have the skills to be coached or choose not to be amenable to coaching. Behavioral-based interviewing can eliminate such candidates.

A good interview question for this purpose is to ask the candidates to explain about a time in their lives when they began to doubt their ability to succeed. Candidates who resort to blaming others, when you have specifically asked for a time when their abilities fell short, are clearly not predisposed to rise and find (or ask for) the answers to their shortcomings. This allows candidates to demonstrate how they were able to overcome a situation in which they lacked the skills needed to succeed and allows the interviewer a window to see how the candidate found answers they needed.

Benefit #5 – Helps Shy Candidates

Sometimes, candidates just don’t interview well because they get nervous. This might eliminate a really good candidate. Behavior-based interview questions are easier for nervous but well-qualified candidates. A good candidate with the soft skills needed for the job will find it easier to lucidly explain about situations from the past in which they overcame the challenges the questions are addressing because it is just a matter of relating an incident from the past. These types of questions allow the good candidates to really shine.

Benefit #6 – Relevant, Factual, and Legal

Behavior-based interviewing is relevant because the questions deal with situations relevant to the job requirements. The answers are a factual representation by the candidate of how they rose to such challenges in the past that contain no fluff. Also, this type of interviewing keeps interviews legal, avoiding prejudices and predispositions. The candidate either has the experiential and personal skill set to meet the demands of your workplace, based upon their past experiences, or they do not. Thus, hiring process is fairer for the candidate and results in candidates that have the soft skills to succeed in your workplace.


Interviews containing behavior-based interview questions that pinpoint the needs of the position help companies choose workers who have the experiential base and disposition towards soft skill qualities demanded in their workplace. It saves money to choose the best candidate the first time around.