KC Atchinson, J.D.
Director of Equity & Title IX
Title IX Coordinator, Employee ADA Coordinator
Conflict Management Program Coordinator

Competency-Based Behavioral Interviewing

Behavioral interviewing is a job interviewing technique where candidates are asked to describe past performance and behavior to determine whether they are suitable for a position. Behavioral-based interviewing provides a more objective set of facts to make employment decisions compared to other interviewing methods.

When writing behavioral questions, you use phrases such as:

  • Give me an example of….
  • Tell me about a time when…
  • Think about a situation where you had to…

As a search committee, you will need to identify the  job-specific competencies, or the knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors necessary for job success. Once these essential competencies are determined, the next step will be to develop interview questions based on these competencies.

What are Competency-Based Behavioral Interviews?

A structured interview that uses behavioral questions to help the interviewer identify a candidate’s potential performance based on critical competencies identified for that position (Barclay, 2001; Decisions, 2010;Kessler, 2006).

Competency-based behavioral interviews are a widely used mode of job interviewing, there is evidence that both standardization and the use of behavioral questions increase the psychometric properties of interviews (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998; Roulin & Bangerter, 2012).

Preparing for a Competency-Based Behavioral Interview

Job specific competencies can be matched with candidate strengths in the pre-hire phase of employment to clarify expectations and help in the selection process. Behavioral questions that are linked to job-related competencies may be used in the structured interview to help identify top qualified candidates.

The interviewer identifies desired skills and behaviors, and then structures open-ended questions and statements to elicit detailed responses. A rating system is developed and selected criteria are evaluated during the interview. Even if you don’t have a great deal of work experience, companies expect you to be able to relate past experiences – from undergraduate or graduate school, campus activities, volunteer work, membership in an organization, etc. – to the job for which you are interviewing.


Step 1 – Determine Essential Job-Specific Competencies:  In order to determine the essential competencies for a position, the first step is to look at the job duties. What does it take for the incumbent to perform the duties well? These competencies are typically established in the analysis of the position and should be communicated to the search committee while setting the committee charge.

Step 2 – Develop Behavioral Interview Questions: With the essential competencies defined, create a question for each one. Stay away from traditional questions that begin with statements like, “what would you do it…

  • Tip:  If you have hired for this position before, it’s important to take time to review and update the questions with the current needs of the department in mind and to update and change accordingly.

As you are creating the list of questions, it’s important to make sure you are asking the right questions to candidates, since the way you ask a question can provide different answers. See: Developing Appropriate Interview Questions

Once a list is created, review the full list of individual questions and how they flow together as a whole. Also review your list of competencies and make sure they are all covered by the questions you created.

Step 3 – Interview Candidates: Each candidate should be asked the same questions. If the answer provided by the candidate leads to a follow-up question, these can be asked as they arise, as long as they are relevant to the original question.

Focusing on what the candidate is saying is one of the most important things during an interview process. Candidates will usually provide a lot of information, but as an interviewer, it’s your job to listen to that information, use it and relate it to the individual’s qualifications and to check for inconsistencies. Listening to the candidate’s answers will also be helpful to determine if any follow-up questions are needed. Through listening you will know if the candidate has fully answered the question presented.

Another technique that can be helpful during the interview process is the ability to reflect back on what the candidate has mentioned during the interview. For example, “You mentioned earlier that your favorite part about teaching is working with students, can you tell us about a time when you involved students in your research?”

Also, during the interview process be sure to also make notes about the candidate’s behaviors during the interview. The non-verbal actions can provide insight into if the candidate feels comfortable with their answer for each question.

Step 4 – Evaluate Candidate Responses for Each Question: Review the candidate’s responses to each question and decide if they truly answered the questions.

When evaluating candidates, it can be helpful to use a rating instrument. A rating instrument can consist of multiple categories (unacceptable, acceptable, and target), or even a simple numeric scale of 1 to 5 or 1 to 10. The rating instrument can be used for each answer provided by the candidate and can provide an easy way to see how many questions were answered on target or who had the highest scores.

Role of Human Resources

UMKC Human Resources is available to provide guidance throughout the search process including but not limited to:

  • Behavioral Interview Question creation/evaluation
  • Evaluation form creation/evaluation
  • Candidate screening
  • Interview tips/guidance