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Developing Your Interview Questions – The Behavioral Interview Style of Questioning

The interview is an integral aspect of employee hiring. As managers, we should be able to ask the proper questions in order to determine the applicant's overall skill set. Here are some interview tips to make sure that you are hiring the best.

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In the podcast “Tips on How to Write a Job Description in 3 Easy Steps”, I gave you tips on how to write a job description or job summary. You have developed a job description and now you are ready to interview. But before you get started, you will need to ask the right questions in order to ensure that you really understand your job applicant’s ability to perform the work needed in your job.

In this podcast, I will discuss how to develop those interview questions using the behavioral interview style of questioning job applicants.

What is behavioral interviewing exactly?

Well, behavioral interviewing is an interview technique that requires the person being interviewed to provide specific examples that support his or her answers which would then give you a stronger insight on their overall performance. I will talk more on this a little later.

Right now let us focus on how to think about developing your interview questions.

As I shared with you in an earlier article, the first step is to create a job description also known as a job summary. The description should include the core tasks that you will require your new employee to be able to perform for you.  You should use this job description as your starting point for developing your interview questions.

For the purposes of our discussion, I will use the fictional customer service representative job description which I used in an earlier article as a tool to help you highlight the process of developing your interview questions.

Now keep in mind that you can apply the question development concepts that I will be sharing with you today in any job that you are interviewing for.

If you listened to my podcast “How to Write a Job Description” you will recall that some of the following skills and experience were required for the customer service position:

1.      The person must be able to learn the details about the variety of products and services that we offer quickly and convey those details about the products to the customers.

2.      The candidate should have a pleasant demeanor even under pressure and be able to handle difficult customers with empathy and tact.

3.      The candidate needed to have previous experience with working in a call center or experience with working with multiple customers and responding to questions.

4.      The candidate is required to have experience with problem solving in a customer service setting.

5.      The candidate needed to have previous experience in entering and retrieving information to databases.

6.      The candidate also needed to have the ability to summarize information in written form in a clear and succinct way.

Now when thinking about developing your questions, focus on the actual experience and skills that you need and then develop behavioral interview questions that will require the person that you interview to provide specific examples that support their answers which will then give you a stronger insight on their overall experience.

When I think about the experience needed for the customer service representative job description, I know that one of the core skills or competencies needed is the ability to learn details about the variety of products and services that are offered quickly and then convey that information about the products directly to the customer.

Now that I clearly understand one of the core competencies that I need to make sure that my candidate has, the type of behavioral interview question I would ask if I were the interviewer in this case is the following question:

Based on your resume, it appears that you have worked in a customer service role at ABC Electronics. Let us assume that I am a customer who is calling you in order to obtain more information on the difference between two different types of microphones. I would like you to walk through this conversation, beginning with how you would greet me when I called you, and how you would close the conversation.

As you can see from the question, the applicant will need to be able to draw from their actual experience in order to answer my question.

My question, which was essentially a series of questions, also forces a detailed response instead of just a “Yes” or “No” response to a question.

What you always want to avoid doing when you are interviewing a candidate is asking a question which potentially could generate a “Yes” or a “No” response or a very limited response.

Asking the question “Do you have any experience speaking to customers in detail about different products or services?” will likely generate either a “Yes, I have experience.” Or “No, I don’t have experience.”

As you can see, that is a very limited answer that does not give you the insight that you need.

Some applicants may well go into more details but many applicants will not.

Let’s look at another example of a behavioral interview question using the same customer service representative job description. The description requires the ability to handle difficult customers with empathy and tact.

So, a good question that you could ask would be one that employs a behavioral interview form of questioning:

Tell me about a time when you were faced with a customer who was not happy with any of your efforts to assist him. Describe the situation, how you handled it and the outcome.

Now as you can imagine, you will be able to get a very clear sense of how an applicant will handle a situation for you if you hired that applicant based on his response to this question.

You will want to avoid asking questions like “Have you ever worked with difficult customers before?” This is likely to generate a very limited “Yes” or “No” response.

Now the next time that you are preparing for an interviewScience Articles, incorporate the behavioral interview style of questioning. I think you will find that you will be much more comfortable with your hiring decisions moving forward because you will have a better sense of how well your applicant understands your job and you will have a better sense of their overall skills and experience.

I wish you luck in your hiring efforts.

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Dianne Shaddock is the Founder of Easy Small Business, a website which provides “Quick and Simple Human Resources Strategies for Small Businesses, Non Profits, and Entrepreneurs”.  Go to for more tips on how to hire and manage your staff more effectively.

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