The Pros and Cons of Behavioral Interviewing

Matt Tarpey

Behavioral interviewing is a method of questioning that requires the respondent to answer with a story of how they handled a specific circumstance. It’s designed to get the candidate to reveal how they responded to a real-life work situation in order to understand how they might respond to a similar situation if they were hired.


Pros of This Interviewing Style

Behavioral interviewing – when executed correctly, can provide a unique perspective for the interviewer on how the candidate will perform on a day-to-day basis.


Here are some inherent pros of this style of interviewing:

  • Understanding how someone behaved in the past is an easy way to predict how they will perform in the future. There is always something to learn, not only from the story itself, but also from how a candidate tells it – things like their reasoning, motivations and perspective often come through and can tell you a lot about what kind of worker the candidate will be.
  • This interview style can get into deeper detail than other interview questions. With a couple of probing follow-up questions, you can reveal some important details about a candidate that may not come out in other interview formats. For example, you can get specifics about a candidate’s real contribution to a project, learn how they deal with unexpected complications, or find out how readily they adjust their habits or work style in response to their experiences.
  • The focus storytelling enables almost all candidates to interview more effectively. Some people will always be better storytellers than others, but even candidates who are naturally shy or introverted can come alive when you ask them behavioral interview-style questions. It is much more comfortable and easy for a candidate to tell you a story than respond to a firing squad of questions.

What to Keep in Mind
Behavioral interviewing isn’t a perfect method. It has weaknesses that often become apparent when the questions are being asked.

Consider the following to keep your behavioral interviews on track:

  • Questions must be designed with behavior in mind. When done right, behavioral interviewing can be a great predictor of future behavior, but if the questions are poorly designed, they may lead to information that isn’t really useful. While designing your questions, ask yourself what behavior you’re seeking to measure, and how effectively the question will elicit that behavior.
  • Don’t ask leading questions. This is the most common problem in designing behavioral interview questions. Telling the candidate what you’re trying to discern before you ask the actual question is like giving them the answer on a test. For example, saying something like, “Teamwork is very important here” before you ask a question about a candidate’s experience working on a group project is a bit leading. Stick to questions and avoid leading with qualifying statements.
  • The interviewer must still control the interview. Asking this level of open-ended questions allows the interviewee more freedom in how they answer, which can be useful to your assessment. However, it can also send you down a rabbit hole. Interviews are stressful situations, and many people tend to ramble or go off on unimportant tangents when they’re nervous. The interviewer must be prepared to re-focus the discussion and stay on track, while not leading the candidate too much.
  • Storytelling can help the interviewer make a point too. Candidates, like anyone else, have a tendency to hear what they want to hear as opposed to what you intend them to hear. If you want to make a point they will remember, consider telling anecdotal stories that will help a candidate understand what the position is about and the results you’re seeking. Their response can also serve as an indicator of their listening skills, and how compatible their communication style is with your own.

Behavioral interviews are among the greatest recruitment tools at our disposal. Still, like any tool, much of their usefulness relies on the skill of the user. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the behavioral interviewing technique, and keeping them in mind when preparing for and conducting your interviews, you can be confident that this technique will help you make the right hiring decisions.


An employee referral program can help you find candidates who are more likely to be a good fit for your team. Check out The Benefits of an Employee Referral Program for more.   

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