Department of Personnel – Recruitment & Assessment
Structured Behavioral Interviews
The purpose of this guide is to describe one of the Washington State Department of Personnel’s (DOP) most highly recommended interview approaches. This approach is known as the structured behavioral interview. Although similar to traditional interviewing techniques, structured behavioral interviewing employs some elements that make it more legally defensible and useful to employers in identifying qualified candidates.
All interview processes seek to: provide the candidate with an accurate view of the position; gather information about the candidate’s competencies (knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics) not previously assessed in the screening process; and, evaluate the candidate in light of the position and organizational culture.
Interviews range from intuitive processes to those that are strictly fact-based. While no technique is perfect, structured behavioral interviewing can alleviate some of the common problems associated with other interview methods which are not as valid or reliable.
Done well, structured behavioral interviewing increase the likelihood of receiving honest and revealing responses to structured, job-related questions. The information obtained may be used to gauge candidates’ job-related competencies and assist employers in determining which candidate is most qualified for a position.
This document contains:
; A definition of structured behavioral interviewing
; How to develop a structured behavioral interview
; Tips for conducting a structured behavioral interview
; Examples of structured behavioral interview questions
; Examples of different styles of rating guides
A definition of structured behavioral interviewing
Structured behavioral interviewing is founded on the notion that the best predictor of a candidate’s
future performance is his or her past performance. Therefore, structured behavioral interview
questions are built around specific incidents that have happened rather than hypothetical situations. The questions ask candidates to describe things that they have actually done, as opposed to what
they would do in a given situation. You may also create an interview that includes different types of questions (i.e., situational, behavioral, and job knowledge-based).
Answers to structured 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
level of experience and his or her potential to handle similar situations in your organization. The information may also be highly useful in conducting final reference checks, as one may verify that the candidate actually did what he or she has claimed.
For an interview to be most effective, it should:
; Be based on a recently updated description of the position resulting from a job analysis; ; Follow a pre-determined rating guide with which interview panel members are familiar; and, ; Include sufficient, factual documentation regarding the candidates’ responses.
This will provide a more accurate basis for selection, as well as documentation of a logical, objective, and legally defensible selection procedure.
Note to readers: A DOP Assessment Specialist (360)407-8433 (after 7/18/2011) can provide more
information on interview techniques.
How to develop a structured behavioral interview
The following are steps to describe the process used to create structured behavioral interview questions. We recommend that a group of people highly familiar with the position perform the steps together to promote objective and balanced thinking, and to generate more thorough information. Step #1. Identify what you are looking for by completing a job analysis and/or reviewing a recently updated position description.
Structured behavioral interview questions should be based on a current position description resulting from job analysis. The information about the position should include the work performed, as well as the competencies necessary to successfully complete the most important work.
From the competencies listed as crucial, identify those which are required upon entry to the position. Interview questions should only assess those competencies which will not be learned on the job during a training period.
Note to readers: DOP assessment consultants are available to assist you in performing job analysis and to teach you how to complete the process yourself. For more information, please contact DOP at (360) 407-8433 (after 7/18/2011) to speak to an Assessment Specialist, or visit DOP’s web site at
to view the Job Analysis Guide.
Step #2. Write behavioral questions to gather information.
For each key competency, create a question by describing a job-related scenario in which the competency is demonstrated. This may be done by describing in detail actual events that have occurred on the job (referred to as critical incidents), or by describing in more general terms situations that routinely happen on the job. The method chosen will often depend on the
competency, the level of the position, and whether you wish to measure specific behaviors demonstrated, results, or both.
For example, if one of the position’s key competencies is “ability to mediate disputes,” you may want to know the behaviors a candidate has demonstrated. You may ask a question such as:
“This position serves as a facilitator or coordinator of special projects and
committees. In this role, you need to resolve differences of opinion among
committee members regarding project issues. Please describe a situation in which
you faced a similar challenge. Include the type of project and the differences of
opinion. Be specific about the actions you took and what you said when resolving
This type of question should elicit detailed statements about behaviors the candidate has demonstrated when mediating disputes. You can then compare those behaviors with those you value most.
Alternatively, if a key competency is “ability to manage multiple priorities,” you may want to know whether a candidate possesses that competency at the proficiency necessary for the position. You may be looking for specific actions and reasoning behind those actions, and the final outcome of the scenario you describe. (Only measure outcomes if the candidate had control over the end result.) You may ask:
“Tell us about a time when you were required to complete multiple assignments in
the same time period. How did you handle the situation? Please be specific about
the number of assignments, the actions you took, the reasons for those actions, and
This type of question should elicit enough detail to give you a good indication of the candidate’s ability to manage multiple priorities. It will also provide you with information about the level of difficulty or complexity the candidate has handled, which may be compared to that of your position. No matter the method you choose, the questions should ask candidates to provide details about times when they demonstrated the competency you are trying to measure. Avoid the temptation to bundle up too many questions in one, as candidates may overlook part of the question if it is too long or complex. If a question does have multiple parts, you may make this explicit by stating the various parts separately (e.g., This question has three parts. The first part…). Examples of behavioral questions and the competencies they measure may be found near the end of this document at Examples of structured behavioral interview questions.
Step #3. Identify what constitutes successful demonstration of the competency. Rating or scoring criteria is essential to a structured behavioral interview. Instead of relying solely on subjective and vague terminology such as “poor response,” “average response” and “excellent response,” the rating guide for structured interview questions should contain the specific behaviors or criteria of an appropriate response.
For each question, identify the key behaviors or criteria that separate an excellent performance of the competency from a poor one. These statements will be used by interviewers to rate candidates’ responses, so the language should be clear, simple, and straightforward. Using the mediation example from Step 2, the group may decide (based on the actual job) that behaviors which indicate excellent performance of the competency would include:
; Directed discussion toward identifying common interests and possible solutions;
; Involved all parties in development of alternatives that fulfilled their interests and needs; ; Helped all parties understand the key issues from others’ perspectives; and,
; Resolved the differences in a way that each person felt his or her concerns were respected and addressed.
The group should also identify behaviors which indicate adequate and inadequate performance of the competency. This allows interviewers to match candidate responses to a full range of behaviors. The managing multiple priorities example from Step 2 may have very different rating criteria. For this competency, the criteria that demonstrate proficiency may include:
; Worked concurrently on four or more assignments;
; Most or all of the assignments were of a complex nature and required thought and diligence to handle appropriately;
; All of the assignments were completed on time;
; Candidate employed sound rationale for the actions taken and for the method used to prioritize assignments; and,
; All parties involved (supervisor, customer, co-worker) were satisfied with the results. In this example, the interviewers are looking for signs that the candidate has successfully managed multiple priorities in a situation very similar to those encountered in the vacant position. It differs from the previous rating criteria in that the specific actions and rationale are not spelled out for the interviewers.
This is one way that the rating information may vary from question to question to meet your particular needs. The key is to have clear, relevant statements describing what you seek to use to measure the competency. The statements will allow interviewers to anchor the responses and assign scores.
Step #4. Create a user-friendly rating guide.
Ratings or scores should be given to each response provided by candidates. DOP recommend using 7- and 9- point scales. A 5- point scale can also be used but normally not as valid or reliable. Consider whether or not you wish to include zero as a score; you may wish to reserve zero for instances where no response is provided. After choosing a scale, split the possible scores into ranges and label the ranges to indicate levels of performance. Below are some examples of ranges and labels:
Level of Performance Rating Range
Exceptional demonstration of competency 7 to 9 points
Adequate demonstration of competency 4 to 6 points
Inadequate demonstration of competency 1 to 3 points
Well-qualified 6 to 7 points
Qualified 3 to 5 points
Not Qualified 1 to 2 points
Excellent response 4 to 5 points
Adequate response 2 to 3 points
Unacceptable response 1 point
Use the criteria identified in Step 3 to define the levels of performance and help interviewers assign points. How you choose to array the criteria will depend on the criteria themselves, along with other factors (such as the clarity of the response) you are considering during the interview. Following the mediating disputes example, a range of scores may be assigned to each set of behaviors identified as excellent, adequate, and unacceptable:
; 6 – 7 pts. - Candidate’s response shows extensive aptitude for resolving differences. Key behaviors demonstrated should include:
; Directed discussion toward identifying common interests and possible solutions;
; Involved all parties in development of alternatives that fulfilled their interests and needs;
; Helped all parties understand the key issues from others’ perspective; and,
; Resolved the differences in a way that each person felt his or her concerns were respected
; 3 – 5 pts. - Candidate’s response shows adequate aptitude for resolving differences. Key behaviors demonstrated should include:
; Listened to all parties and impartially re-stated and acknowledged all positions,
; Clearly identified areas of agreement and disagreement, and focused on those issues in
need of resolution,
; Identified and collected all necessary information relevant to the differences, and
; Identified circumstances necessary for a successful resolution to occur.
; 1 – 2 pts. - Candidate’s response shows little aptitude for resolving differences. Key behaviors demonstrated may include:
; Does not appear to have considered all positions equally;
; Made little attempt at unbiased mediation of the differences in opinion; and/or,
; Allowed differing parties to “work it out among themselves.”
This scale allows interviewers to first identify the appropriate range of scores by comparing the response to the behaviors sought. Within that range of scores, interviewers can pinpoint a particular score for each response based on all factors, such as clarity, completeness, and number of behaviors demonstrated.
As for the managing multiple priorities example, candidates’ responses may be judged based upon how many of the criteria were demonstrated. The rating guide could also take into account the
complexity of the situation presented in the response. Here is how the multiple priorities rating guide might look using a 9-point scale:
__ Worked concurrently on four or more assignments;
__ Most or all of the assignments were of a complex nature and required thought and
diligence to handle appropriately;
__ All of the assignments were completed on time;
__ Candidate employed sound rationale for the actions taken and for the method used to
prioritize assignments; and,
__ All parties involved (supervisor, customer, co-worker) were satisfied with the results. ___ (7 - 9 pts) Response covers in detail all of the criteria listed. The situation described is highly
complex, similar to what may be encountered in this position. Response indicates that the
candidate fully understood and considered the issues involved, and that he/she took
proactive steps to ensure timely completion of the assignments.
___ (4 - 6 pts) Response covers at least 3 of the criteria listed, but is less thorough than a 7-9 point
response. The situation described is similar in complexity to what is routinely encountered in
this position. Response indicates that the candidate understood the issues involved, and
that he/she handled the situation satisfactorily.
___ (1 - 3 pts) Response is inadequate or vague, or contains fewer than 3 of the criteria listed. The
situation described is much less complex than what is routinely encountered in this position.
Response indicates that the candidate did not understand the issues involved, or that he/she
could have handled the situation more effectively.
This particular rating guide allows interviewers to mark how many of the criteria each response provides, and then use that information to identify the range of scores. You may find it helpful to leave blank space for additional appropriate ideas brought up by the candidates. Using these types of detailed rating guides helps interviewers base their scores on the same criteria for all candidates. The end result is more objective, reliable, and defensible ratings of candidates. Complete examples of the rating guides for these competencies and others may be found near the end of this document at Examples of different styles of rating guides. While the format and
appearance are a matter of personal preference, the rating guide must be one that is easy to use
and in which the interviewers have confidence. Be sure to leave space for interviewers to take notes regarding candidates’ responses, and to explain their reasons for assigning particular scores.
Step #5. Prepare the interview panel members before interviewing candidates. This may seem like an obvious step, but it is possible that panel members might gather at the last minute on the first day of interviews. However, it is simply not fair to practice on the first few
candidates. DOP recommends conducting at least one mock interview, preferably two. The mock interview will provide additional insight into the way candidates may interpret the questions. Information obtained using the mock candidate(s) will also allow you to make any necessary adjustments to the questions and rating guide to reduce bias, misinterpretation, and other potential problems.
Educate panel members about the questions, rating guide, and interview process prior to the first interview. Ensure they know how to score candidates’ responses and allow them to ask questions and receive clarification about terminology or rating information. Point out where in the rating guide notes are to be taken, and how to mark elements covered by candidates’ responses. DOP recommends written instructions for interview panel members. If you need assistance you may contact the Assessment and Selection Services Group.
Two other important items related to the interview panel members include:
; Choose between two and five panel members who have in-depth knowledge of the position
for which candidates are interviewing. Ideally, at least one member would have participated in the interview development process. If this is not possible, members should at least be intimately familiar with the requirements of the position. Having between two and five members reduces the
likelihood of common interviewing errors and provides a manageable number of ratings to discuss. Also, having members with diverse backgrounds or perspectives can help ensure more valid and balanced interview scores.
; Use the same panel members for all candidates and assign specific questions to each panel member. Part of the structure and objectivity of the interview process involves consistency across candidates. This includes ensuring all candidates are asked the same questions in the same order by the same interviewers. Using the same panel members for all interviews increases the likelihood of consistent ratings. If this is not feasible, we advise that someone review the ratings to determine if substitute raters scored candidates differently (e.g., if one rater is consistently more or less lenient than another). Assessment staff at DOP can assist in this process.
Step #6. When the interview process is concluded, review all of the information gathered in a fair and objective way.
Like the previous step, this may seem obvious. However, it is easy to gather a lot of detailed information throughout the interview process, and then ignore it in favor of “a gut instinct.” Try to base your decisions upon what each candidate said in response to each question. Compare candidates’ responses to those elements listed in the rating guide. Avoid the temptation to compare
candidates to one other. Here’s why:
; Research has shown that when several people are interviewed, interviewers tend to remember more details (both good and bad) about the first and last candidates. Focusing on an objective review of one’s interview notes helps to mitigate this problem.
; Relatively superficial behaviors of candidates (e.g., how much they smiled) often have a big impact on interviewers’ decisions. Interviewers tend to form strong impressions about a candidate early in the interview, and everything the candidate later says or does only confirms this initial impression. Candidate responses that may be contrary to the impression are somewhat discounted in the mind of the interviewer. Please remember to consider all of the available information before deciding each candidate’s overall worthiness.
; If the interview process is challenged by a candidate, a strong defense is to demonstrate the fairness and objectivity of your process. A comparison of candidates’ responses to the rating
criteria is more objective than comparing candidates to one another.
When making the final decision about whom to hire, most hiring managers consider how well a candidate would fit into the existing team of workers. While this consideration may be proper, if you first consider the more objective information and then allow other factors to break ties between candidates who give similar performances in the interview, you are more likely to make a sound hiring decision.
Tips for conducting a structured behavioral interview:
1. Conduct the interviews in a private setting in which candidates can feel relatively comfortable.
Do what you can to put candidates at ease, including the offer of water and a comfortable chair. 2. Consider providing a list of the questions for candidates to look at during the interview. The list
allows candidates to review questions as they answer, and increases the likelihood that they will
provide complete responses. You may tape the list to the table to make sure candidates do not
accidentally take it with them when they leave.
3. Short and simple interview questions are better than long and complex ones. Also, candidates
typically know less about the job than you do, and they will not likely “read between the lines”
when answering questions. Make sure your questions are clear, easy to understand, and ask for
all the details you wish candidates to provide.
4. Consider having some of the more complex questions be pre-exposed. By allowing candidates
time (15 – 30 minutes) to think about the questions, you are likely to receive more thorough
5. Keep comments and gestures neutral. Saying “thank you” and nodding is more appropriate than
saying “that’s great!” or frowning. This maintains objectivity and reduces the likelihood of leading
(or misleading) candidates to feel or think a certain way.
6. If a candidate gives a generalized answer such as, “I have to prioritize my assignments every
day,” you may choose to restate the question to elicit a more specific response: “Do you recall a
particular situation of this type?” Panel members will find it easier to rate responses if the
candidates provide details. Similarly, if a candidate gives an incomplete response, such as
leaving out the result, you may ask, “How did that turn out?” DOP recommends limiting clarifying
questions because they can reduce the reliability of the interview process if only certain
candidates are asked extra questions. You may wish to have a pre-determined set of follow-up
questions to ask candidates as necessary.
7. Each panel member should take notes regarding the candidates’ responses. These notes
should be factual in nature for example: Candidate chose to finish typing report before
acknowledging customer, but customer expressed satisfaction with the service. Personal
judgments made by the panel members, physical descriptions, and comparisons between
candidates should not be part of the notes.
8. Each response should be scored independently of all other responses made by the candidate,
and should be based upon the rating criteria for that question.
9. After each interview, panel members should first discuss what they heard the candidate say.
They should then go over the ratings given to each response and discuss significant differences
in score (perhaps those of more than one point). While consensus is preferred, panel members
are entitled to their individual decisions and should not be required to change a rating. They
may, however, choose to do so as a result of the discussion.
10. Allow sufficient time between interviews so that the process isn’t rushed. Sitting through hours
of non-stop interviews can cause panel members to lose focus and grow tired. Better decisions
are usually made by interviewers who are not exhausted by the process.
11. Be sure to give candidates the opportunity to ask questions of you. Also tell them approximately
when they may expect to be informed of your decision.
Examples of structured behavioral interview questions
Competency: Creative & Innovative Thinking: Develop innovative ideas that provide solutions to
all types of workplace challenges.
Question: Describe a situation in which you developed a brand new idea for a product or
service that your organization offered to its clients. What was unusual or innovative
about this idea? What resistance, if any, did you encounter as you attempted to
“sell” your idea to your colleagues or customers, and how did you overcome it?
Describe a situation in your career in which you were asked to develop a product or
service that no one had ever thought of before. This should be something that really
had no previous “blueprint” from which you could build your idea. What was the
product or service? Describe how you took things from the “concept phase” to the
Competency: Customer Focus: Build and maintain internal and external customer satisfaction
with the products and services offered by the organization.
Question: Describe a situation in which a customer had an unusual business need, and you
were tasked with finding a way to meet that need. This might have been either a
large-scale revamping of your organization’s business process, or a response to a
one-time need. In either case, please be specific in describing the need and what
you did to meet the customer’s expectations.
Competency: Ethics & Integrity: Earn the trust, respect, and confidence of coworkers and
customers through consistent honesty, forthrightness and professionalism in all
Question: Describe a time in your career in which someone asked you to perform a task you
thought was unethical. Without naming names, what position did this person hold
(for example, supervisor, colleague, customer), and how did you respond to this
person? We are interested in how you handled the situation in general terms. Competency: Fiscal Accountability: Responsibly and accurately handle the public's money when
processing financial transactions and/or committing fiscal resources. Consistently
follow applicable fiscal guidelines, regulations, principles and standards.