A behavioral interview looks at things in your past as evidence of how you might handle situations in the future. Interviewers use these to try help paint a picture of what you might be like working for the company. And they are based on the belief that your past behaviors can predict what kind of employee you’d be.
Of course, in any good interview, you should be using strong examples anyway to create a bridge from the past to the future for your potential employer. This is where your stories come in — stories of problems you solved, projects you led to success, new ideas that saved time and money, etc. In effect … your behavioral history.
Why have they become more popular?
In recent years, employers started looking more and more for ways to increase their chances of hiring the “right” person. Too many have had the experience of lengthy interview processes resulting in months of things not working out. Where they wind up having to let the person go, despite so much time and money invested. Not to mention what the new hire has to go through.
So many employers now turn to behavioral interview techniques (as well as increased testing which I’ll talk about in a separate mini-post). Ideally, they hope this will help improve retention and success rates.
Behavioral interviews (and behavioral questions in general) do indeed offer a decent shot at predicting how an employee might fit in. The secret — often the fly in the ointment — is the interviewer still has to be able to put the pieces together. And, at times, read between the lines.
NOTE: If you want to suggest changes to this or any other definition in our career dictionary, feel free to add your suggestions in a comment.
[This article updated in 2020]