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Conducting Behavioral
Interviews

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Why Interviewing is Important

Interviewing is not only an important step in the employee selection process but is also very valuable in succession planning for many companies. 

Interviews offer several benefits, including:

  • Serving as the employer’s initial opportunity to meet with job candidates.
  • Providing time for hiring managers and others to interact with candidates to gain insights into their experience, skills, knowledge, behaviors beyond what can be found in a recommendation, resume, or application.
  • Enabling the employer to determine if a candidate’s skills, experience and personality meet the job’s requirements.
  • Helping the employer to assess whether an applicant would likely fit in with the hospital and/or team culture.

The goal of interviews is to identify and select a candidate whose skill set and behaviors match the needs of a particular role and whose personality, interests, and values match the culture and mission of the organization.

When interviewing candidates for an open position, you have a limited time to cover a significant amount of information. Interview techniques are useful strategies to help you effectively and efficiently evaluate candidates so you make the right hiring decision.

Here are seven interviewing techniques to integrate into your current interview process:

1. Choose where to hold the interview. Location plays a significant role in the efficacy of your interview. Veterinary hospitals are often noisy, busy, and prone to interruptions. Finding a quieter place will allow you to connect with a candidate without distractions.

Unless you’ve planned to include other hospital leaders in the interview, be sure to hold the interview in a place where you can maintain a private, one-on-one conversation. This way, the candidate won’t feel pressured by people nearby who may overhear them.

If you have an office or other private area for the interview, this would help minimize distractions. Avoid interviewing in an exam room where the noise level may be higher and the chances of overhearing chatter in the hospital are greater.

You may consider taking the interview off-site if it’s not possible to minimize hospital distractions.

Double-check that everything is in order before the interview takes place. This will ensure a smooth and effective interview experience and leave the candidate with a good impression of your company. If you are remaining in the hospital for the interview, inform your team that an interview is taking place and ask that they avoid disrupting you. 

2. Prepare a list of interview questions in advance. Plan out a list of interview questions to ask a candidate based on the job requirements.

The number of interview questions you should prepare depends on what stage your candidates are at in the interview process. Initial phone screens, for example, are often 20-30 minutes long, which means it’s a good idea to prepare 5-10 questions. For longer in-person or video interviews, come up with 10-15 open-ended interview questions and expect to ask six or seven within an hour.

Be sure to include open-ended behavioral interview questions so candidates can elaborate on their skills and experience and display their ability to tackle challenging topics. These types of questions will also help you assess a candidate’s critical thinking and communication skills.

Additionally, ensure that you ask all candidates the same interview questions, which can be crucial in defending against allegations of discrimination in hiring and selection. When it comes time to make a hiring decision, it’s critical you’re able to make a fair comparison and that will be much easier if you’re consistent in your questions.

3. Carefully review the candidate’s resume and cover letter. It’s important to make time for this before the interview so you can easily recall important information about the candidate. You can also use the information in these documents to encourage conversation beyond the specific interview questions. Ask that they clarify any employment gaps, job-hopping, or unusual job titles.

4. Interviews should be conversational, not confrontational. It’s important to remember that candidates are looking for the right company and job to fit their needs as much as you’re looking for the best candidate to hire.

Make a positive impression by welcoming the candidate and treating the interview like a casual conversation, taking the first 5-10 minutes at the start of the interview to build rapport, loosen any interview nerves, and make them feel more comfortable. Ask how their day is going, if they had any trouble finding the interview location, and if they’d like a glass of water before starting. You can also bring up anything you have in common with the candidate.

Interviews should be two-way streets, so make sure to leave enough time in the end for candidates to ask any questions they may have. This can also reveal how engaged and interested a candidate is in the role and company.

5. Explain the interview process and next steps. After the interview, be clear about what happens next in your company’s hiring process, especially if it’s complex and involves multiple rounds or conversations with other interviewers. Should they expect a phone call or email? How long will it take for you to make a decision? When are you hoping to fill the position?

6. Consider holding an observational interview with the rest of your team. Instead of just using the traditional interview process, you may want to consider this interviewing technique to further assess the candidate’s technical skills and to determine if they will be a good fit with your company culture. 

Provide structure to an observational interview by setting up a specific duration of time for the observation and setting up the candidate with specific team members to shadow or observe. You can read more about how to conduct an observational or working interview here. [link to Working & Observational Interview doc/page].

7. Follow up after the interview. Even if you decide not to move forward with a candidate, it’s important to let them know instead of leaving them hanging. Following up shows that you respect the candidate’s time and effort and can create a positive reputation and candidate experience. 

Once you’ve made your decision, call successful candidates to tell them the good news — whether it’s extending them an offer or scheduling the next round of interviews. Consider sending an email to unsuccessful candidates explaining what they did well and why you made your decision, making sure to thank them for their time.

An excellent way to encourage candidates to accept a job offer (should you decide to hire them after the interview process) is to mention aspects of the company and work-life that current employees find enjoyable.

Why Use Behavioral Interviewing?

Earlier, we recommended preparing your interview questions in advance and to incorporate behavioral interview questions. Why are behavioral interview questions important?

Behavioral interviewing focuses on a candidate’s past experiences by asking candidates to provide specific examples of how they have demonstrated certain behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities. Answers to behavioral interview questions should provide verifiable, concrete evidence as to how a candidate has dealt with issues in the past. This information often reveals a candidate’s actual level of experience and his or her potential to handle similar situations within your company. Behavioral interview questions tend to be pointed, probing, and specific.

Beyond their structured approach, using behavioral interviews has additional benefits. Because they’re based on an analysis of job duties and requirements of the job, bias and ambiguity are reduced, and candidates are evaluated on job-related questions. The job relevance and consistency in this kind of structured interview process may increase the perception of fairness and helps candidates obtain a realistic perspective of the job. This style of interviewing is not only effective for making a hiring decision, but it can also be crucial in defending against allegations of discrimination in hiring and selection.

The following is an example of a behavioral interview question:

“Describe a situation in which you used persuasion to convince someone to see things your way.”

The premise behind behavioral interviewing is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations. To evaluate this most effectively and fairly, the main interview questions are delivered to every job candidate with the same wording, in the same order, and using the same scoring system. Because of this, the behavioral interviewing technique can take a great deal of effort and planning before an interview can ever take place.

What to Look for in Candidates

Knowing what to seek out in a potential hire can sometimes be challenging; however, behavioral interviewing is specifically designed to make that decision more straightforward.

When we think about the behavioral interviewing process, we typically start by asking the question:

“What knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics are most critical for success in this position?”

You might also ask yourself:

“What behaviors are important or strategically critical to my organization?”

You can then decide:

“What competencies are most strategically important to my organization when evaluating candidates?”

Behavioral interviewing typically lends itself to a competency-based approach for identifying the requirements of a job. Competencies are specific employee behaviors that relate to a company’s strategic goals.  They are correlated with job performance and can be measured and strategically leveraged to improve overall performance. There are several benefits to using a competency-based approach to behavioral interviewing:

  • Competencies provide direction. Competencies provide organizations with a way to define—in behavioral terms—what it is that people need to do to produce the results the organization desires, in a way that is in keeping with its culture.
  • Competencies are measurable. Competencies enable organizations to evaluate the extent to which employees demonstrate the behaviors that are critical for success and are critical for strengthening an organization’s capacity to meet strategic objectives.
  • Competencies can be learned. Unlike personality traits, competencies are characteristics of individuals that can be developed and improved.
  • Competencies can distinguish and differentiate the organization. Competencies represent a behavioral dimension on which organizations can distinguish and differentiate themselves.
  • Competencies can integrate management practices. Competencies can provide a structured model that can be used to integrate and align management practices (e.g., recruiting, performance management, training and development, reward and recognition) throughout the organization.

How Do I Create Behavioral Interview Questions?

The questions for behavioral interviews should be written to elicit details about a candidate’s experience that would reflect the identified job-related competencies. These questions should be clear and concise and should encourage candidates to share openly about their typical behaviors that demonstrate the job-related competencies in question. You can check out our extensive list of sample questions here.

Using the STAR Model

One particularly useful and popular approach to developing behavioral interview questions is the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results) model. The STAR model helps candidates frame their responses to behavioral questions by encouraging them to respond with a story about past behavior.

An example framework for developing a structured, behavioral interview question using the STAR model is presented below.

  • Situation: What was the situation the candidate was in?
    • e.g., “Tell me about a time…”
  • Task: What was the task the candidate needed to accomplish?
    • e.g., “where you were faced with multiple competing deadlines.”
  • Action: What were the actions the candidate took to accomplish this task?
    • e.g., “What did you do and…”
  • Results: What were the results of these actions?
    • e.g., “how did it turn out?”

Thus, the complete behavioral interview question presented to the candidate would read, “Tell me about a time where you were faced with multiple competing deadlines. What did you do and how did it turn out?”

Once preliminary lead questions are developed in association with your competencies, it is recommended that you test their performance by interviewing those in your practice who apply similar competencies in their daily work. This will help to evaluate the appropriateness of questions and will also help to develop potential probing questions to gain more insight into the candidate’s behaviors.

How to Create Rating Scales

Once you have developed or identified your behavioral interview questions, you need to create an appropriate rating scale for your questions. A rating scale is a basis on which all candidates are evaluated. The rating scale should be well defined so that all interviewers can easily understand the scale being used and the meaning of each rating on the scale.

A rating scale could be relatively simple and only include anchors such as “satisfactory” or “unacceptable.” A rating scale of this kind can be useful in that it simplifies the rating process by making it a “yes or no” type of decision, reducing variance and the need for much more deliberation by interviewers. The disadvantage to these kinds of scales is that it reduces variance in the results, meaning that you may end up with all of your candidates either “satisfactory” or “unacceptable.”

Rating scales can also be more complex, for example with multi-point Likert-type scales (e.g., a scale of 1-5). The advantages of a more complex scale are that they allow for more variance in the results, providing more nuanced comparisons between candidates and the ability to use other factors other than just interview responses to drive decisions. The disadvantage to more complex scales is that it increases the need to look more closely at the differences between each candidate.

In general, it is better to go with more variance than less when conducting behavioral interviews. However, the number of ratings in the scale is not nearly as important as how those ratings are defined. A generic example of a rating scale might look like this:

  • Far Exceeds Requirements: Perfect answer. Demonstrates competency accurately, consistently, and independently. All points relevant. All good examples.
  • Exceeds Requirements: Demonstrates competency accurately and consistently in most situations with minimal guidance. Many good examples.
  • Meets Requirements: Demonstrates competency accurately and consistently on familiar procedures and needs supervisor guidance for new skills. Some good examples.
  • Below Requirements: Demonstrates competency inconsistently, even with repeated instruction or guidance. Few good examples.
  • Significant Gap: Fails to demonstrate competency regardless of guidance provided. No good examples.
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How Do I Conduct a Behavioral Interview?

Once you have created your behavioral interview questions and their associated rating scales, it is time to prepare for and conduct your interviews. In addition to having a detailed understanding of the position, behavioral competencies necessary for success, questions, and rating scale, it is critical that interviewers are clear on what is expected of them in the interviewer role. The first step, however, is determining who will conduct the behavioral interviews.

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Selecting Interviewers

Do not base your selection of interviewers solely on the convenient schedules of the potential interviewers. It is imperative that you think strategically about the responsibility of conducting fair and effective interviews to ensure that the interviewers you have selected are the right people for that role.

You will want to involve interviewers who:

  • Represent a strategic need in serving as an interviewer (e.g., hiring manager, key member of the team, informal supervisor, important organizational stakeholder).
  • Have a thorough knowledge of the job and can assess for the job’s critical behavioral and technical competencies.
  • Can hold a comfortable discussion with potential candidates, rather than an interrogation. Can assess for fit team and organizational culture fit.

If possible, always use the same stakeholders to conduct all the interviews for a single position to help ensure consistency in ratings.

Once you have selected your interviewer or interviewers be sure they receive behavioral interviewing training if they have not already. A good best practice when there is more than one interviewer is to have all interviewers review the behavioral interview questions and rating scale, then discuss the questions and scale as a group to ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of the overall approach to the interviews and ways to interpret answers. Either way, every interviewer must thoroughly review the interview questions and rating scale before the interview.

Opening the Interview

The manner in which hiring managers interview applicants can be pivotal in identifying and retaining the top candidates for a job. A successful and effective interview is one in which both the interviewer and the interviewee receive comprehensive and accurate information in order to make informed decisions about the applicant’s suitability for the job.

The interview process can be stressful for both the interviewer and the interviewee. It is normal for an applicant to be nervous, so interviewers should try to put the person at ease from the moment he or she enters the room. Displaying a calm, confident, and friendly demeanor through good body language is particularly important. It is important as well that the interview be conducted in a setting that is quiet and free of distractions so that both the interviewer and interviewee can stay relaxed and focused.

Before commencing with prepared questions, the interviewer should first introduce himself or herself and his or her role in the organization. He or she should then describe the interview process to the applicant and ask if he or she has any questions before the interview begins. (It may be helpful for the interviewer to also let the candidate know that during the interview he or she may pause while writing down their notes.) At this point, the interviewer will want to recap the position and what it entails. This helps the applicant to answer questions more knowledgeably and to consider again whether he or she is genuinely interested in the job.

The interviewer can ease tensions further by encouraging the applicant to talk about a particular interest—perhaps something on the person’s resume. To gain as much information as possible from an applicant, the interviewer should create an atmosphere that promotes communication.

Some examples of appropriate opening questions include:

  • Tell me a bit about your work background, and then give me a description of how you think it relates to our current opening.
  • Tell me about your present or last job. Why did you choose it? Why did you, or why do you, want to leave?
  • After learning about this opportunity, what made you take the next step and apply for the job?
  • What do you like most about the [name of profession]? What do you like least, and what do you find the most challenging?
  • What are your short- and long-term career goals? Tell me about two work accomplishments that were very successful, or you are the proudest of.
  • What three things are most important to you in a position?

Asking Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral interviews gain part of their strength from being standardized—the same group of lead questions is asked in the same order to each candidate. That’s why it’s important for interviewers to be consistent in the way that they ask questions across candidates. In addition, when asking behavioral interview questions, the interviewer must listen closely and take clear and accurate notes without making the interviewee uncomfortable.

When asked a behavioral question, candidates are expected to provide information, in the form of a short story, not just on what tasks and activities they have accomplished, but how they accomplished them.

Although structured, behavioral interviews can be a bit flexible as well. The individual conducting a behavioral interview should use probing questions to dig deeper into a candidate’s responses, based on verbal and non-verbal cues. If answers seem to be thin on detail, the interviewer can ask follow-up questions:

  • Can you tell me a little more about the situation?
  • What exactly did you do?
  • What was your specific role in this?
  • How did this turn out?
  • What other challenges did you come across? What did you do to address those?


Follow-up questions are not developed in advance of a behavioral interview; they are based on triggers that are prompted through the candidate’s responses to lead questions. These questions should be open-ended and should not direct a candidate towards the desired response.

Taking Notes

Note-taking is key to your ability to revisit and remember your candidates’ responses. However, too much note-taking may unnerve a candidate or could detract from one’s ability to connect with a candidate on a personal level. Solid note-taking, however, may be your legal defense against litigation, so taking notes is a critical part of your interview documentation.

Finding the right balance can often be challenging for interviewers, since candidates may speak at different paces, with different tones of voice, or even with different accents. It is critical, however, that the interviewer maintain focus and follow along as closely as possible to ensure minimal loss of information. As noted earlier, it is a good practice to let the candidate know at the beginning that you are taking notes and that there may be pauses, to minimize this as a disruption to the interview flow.

There is basic information that every interviewer should record on their interview form or at the beginning of their notes, such as the date, time, and length of the interview and the name and job title of the interviewer. In addition to that information, however, the interviewer should note the responses to each question, highlighting key pieces of information that will help in evaluating each candidate according to each competency. Because there is so much information to record during a behavioral interview, below are some key tips for taking effective notes:

  • Use short-hand or key phrases to summarize the content and delivery of responses.
  • Balance your note taking with maintaining eye contact and engaging in conversation (try taking notes without breaking eye contact with the candidate).
  • Avoid writing down judgments of your candidate in your notes.
  • Avoid rating a candidate’s response until they have left the interview (but rate the candidate responses for yourself as soon as possible after the interview).
  • Ensure that your notes support or justify your ratings (list actual answers along with how these answers apply to the competency being rated).

Closing the Interview

A popular method of closing the interview is to say the interview is ending and to offer the candidate the opportunity to ask questions. This will enable the candidate to gain clarification on aspects of the position and employment conditions such as hours, salary, and benefits. The interviewer should answer the candidate’s questions as frankly as possible. If it is not an appropriate time to discuss compensation—perhaps others are present—the interviewer can suggest a follow-up discussion, but interviewers should be prepared to provide documents describing the company and its benefits.

In closing an interview, the interviewer may want to:

  • Ask if the candidate is interested in the job based on the information provided during the interview.
  • Ask about availability.
  • Ask for a list of people who can be contacted for references.
  • Explain the time frame for the rest of the interviews, the subsequent steps in the process and when a decision is likely to be made.
  • Explain how to get in touch with the interviewer and when to expect to hear from him or her.
  • Walk the candidate to the door and thank the person for the interview.

Such steps can ensure the applicant is left with a positive impression of the interviewer and the organization.

What to Do After Conducting a Behavioral Interview

Because interviewers are all coming to the interview process with different perspectives, biases, and beliefs about the role and the job candidates, there is always a chance that this bias will show up in the candidate ratings for the open position. When there are multiple interviewers involved, to maintain fairness when evaluating a candidate, it is critical that all interviewers have the same candidate expectations, and that the interviewers all rate each candidate in a similar way. If the raters all have an agreement in their scoring, this can make discussions about job candidates more standardized. If not, the interviewers will need to work towards some consensus about rating.

To gain this agreement, the interviewers should conduct a debriefing to discuss their individual ratings for a candidate’s responses to each competency assessed. As these ratings should be based on the rating guide provided, the hope would be that all interviewers would reach a consensus about the score assigned.

If consensus is not reached by all interviewers, the rating selected for each competency should either represent the majority rating vote or the average of all rating votes. This activity should be repeated for every candidate to help the voting become more standardized across the candidates. The goal is to select the top candidate for employment, but in doing so ensuring that a fair selection process has been used.

The interview debrief should involve those who interviewed the candidate as well as the hiring manager for the position. A debriefing meeting can take place either immediately after each candidate interview or after all candidate interviews have been completed. The hiring manager can act as a facilitator to keep people on task and fact-based.

During the debriefing meeting, attendees should discuss the following:

  • First Impression: This is a tallying of the interviewers’ initial gut reactions to the candidate’s appropriateness to this role. It can be a yay or nay vote or as simple as a thumbs up or down. This vote’s outcome should be recorded but should not be considered the final vote.
  • Review of Questions/Responses: This is an opportunity for each interviewer to review the questions he/she asked, the responses that were provided, and what was expected in a response.
  • Final Voting: Based on the information shared by the interviewers, a second vote is taken. If the decision is not unanimous, additional discussion may take place, and another vote may be captured. The final vote is taken into consideration by the hiring manager when deciding the top candidate.

Making and Documenting the Final Hiring Decision

The hiring manager will use the notes and feedback from the debrief meeting to help inform his/her hiring decision.

Once all candidates have been evaluated by those who conducted the interviews, it is the responsibility of the hiring manager to make a final hiring decision. To help with this decision, the hiring manager should:

  • Review each candidate’s ratings.
  • Ensure that the notes provide support to the ratings given to the candidates.
  • Ensure that the ratings relate to specific behavioral examples.
  • Ensure that the candidate is a match both in terms of his/her job and organizational fit.

On this is completed, the hiring manager is responsible for maintaining all documentation regarding the decision and the process used, including all questions, ratings, notes, job descriptions, and evaluations.