How to Write a Behavioral Question

Behavioral interview questions assess how a candidate acted in a specific situation. They ask candidates about past experiences and have them describe how they handled a particular situation. Read this post to learn how to write a situational interview question.

Why Do Behavioral Questions ‘Work’?

Behavioral interview questions help to evaluate how a candidate responded to a difficult situation in their past work experience. This can foreshadow how they may respond to a similar situation in a new role and demonstrate whether they have learned from past experiences. 

Behavioral interview questions are also a good way to allow a candidate to expand on parts of their resume. When reviewing a candidate’s resume, find particular points you’d like them to elaborate on and craft behavioral questions. It’s important to note that behavioural questions can and should be asked about both negative and positive past work experiences. 

How to Write an Effective Behavioral Question

Writing interview questions doesn’t have to be complicated. In every role, there will be situations in which a candidate can use experience in a former role as a reference for how they should react. When writing a strong behavioral question, think about the experiences and skills most important to the role. Then, you can ask how the candidate reacted to similar situations in the past.

The following steps will walk you through developing effective behavioral questions:

Step one: Think of an on-the-job problem, related to a skill you’d like to assess.

If you’ve already conducted a job analysis, you can create questions based on the skills the analysis found to be relevant to the role. Another option is to ask others in the role what their main responsibilities and challenges are. Then, you can turn those responses into questions by asking the candidate how they reacted to a similar situation in the past.

Example: If you’re hiring for a Content Writer position, you might want to consider which skills you’d like to evaluate. Important skills for this position include storytelling, SEO and copywriting. Perhaps you ask a co-worker and they inform you that creating marketing content with storytelling can be difficult but is integral to this role. Now you can ask about a particular situation in their work experience where they would have applied this skill, in this scenario.

Step two: Develop your question.

Now that you’ve collected information about the skill you want to assess and a challenge where your candidate can apply that skill, you can write your question. Often, behavioral questions are written in this format, “Tell me about a time when..” or “Give me an example of..”. The second part of the question should ask them what they did, how they did it and why it worked.

Example: Tell me about a time you created marketing content using storytelling. What was the content about, how did you create it and why was it effective or successful?

Step three: Develop an answer guide.

Next, it’s important to develop a guide that will help you assess a candidate’s answer to this question. To create an effective answer guide, think about your own experience or knowledge as it related to the position and the skill in question. What are you looking for in the answer that would demonstrate that the candidate is proficient in this skill?

Your answer guide should consist of two parts:
1) What does this question reveal? - Your answer to this question will help you identify exactly what you’re looking for in the candidate’s response.
2) Explore tips - These are other concepts or things you could look for in the candidate’s answer that would indicate that the candidate is proficient in the skill. Explore tips are also an opportunity where you could probe, and explore further if the candidate doesn’t mention them.

Example:
What does this question reveal?
Candidate has the ability to apply storytelling skills
Explore tips:

  • Describes the story and use evidence to justify why it was a marketing success
  • Discusses storytelling tactics (e.g. being relatable, hooks, grabbing attention)

Step four: General tips for success.

Once you have your skill, question, and answer guide, it’s time to test your question! It’s important to ask the same questions to all candidates, for all skills that you are assessing. This allows you to evaluate all responses fairly and makes it easier for you to compare responses after the interviews are complete. 

Not sure where to start? On Hireguide we have thousands of validated and effective Behavioral Questions ready for you to use. They’re also all customizable so if they’re not exactly what you want, you can edit them! If you’re ready to start asking the right interview questions, try Hireguide for free today!

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