March 19, 2015

a successful behavioral interview

Or “How to Find and Hire the Right Employees Every Time”

A great hiring tool that all medical and dental office managers and doctors should have in their arsenal is the “behavioral interview.” What is a behavioral interview, you may ask? To get a better understanding of what a behavior-based interview is, we should first look at what is considered a “traditional” interview.

In a traditional interview, the interviewer asks prospective hires a series of straightforward, open-ended questions like, “How would you handle [insert hypothetical situation],” “What 5 words best describe you,” “What is your greatest weakness,” or “Describe what customer service means to you.”

Traditional interviews generally tend to elicit “stock” answers that the candidate heard or read someplace as the ideal answer to the question. Who hasn’t heard the answer “My greatest weakness is that I work too hard” as the response to your question? In addition, another feature of a traditional interview is that you, the interviewer, do most of the talking.

Behavioral Interview Questions

In contrast, for a behavioral interview, the employer identifies a vital skill set that they want the ideal person in that position to have and then develops a series of questions geared toward eliciting answers where the candidate demonstrated those skills in the past.

For example:

  • Tell me about a time where you had to use patience to calm down a patient
  • Have you ever been at-odds with a coworker? How did you resolve the conflict?
  • Describe a goal you set for yourself and how you met it
  • What do you consider your greatest work achievement?
  • Have you ever disagreed with your doctor about something? How did you handle the situation?
  • Tell me about a time where you worked effectively under pressure to meet a deadline
  • How do you handle interruptions at work? Give examples

In other words:

Instead of asking the candidate to talk about her skills or how she might behave in a theoretical situation, you are asking her to describe the skills and behavior she demonstrated in an actual, prior work situation. The candidate’s responses should reflect prior actions and decision making that matches the skills and attributes list you create. At the very least, they should seem consistent with the values and attitudes in your dental or medical practice. As an added benefit, questions about a prior experience tend to get more honest answers.

TIP: If the candidate can answer your interview question with “yes” or “no”, or without a situational example, then you should reword the question so the only response is a behavioral response. Make sure the responses sound like a match for your practice. Ask follow up questions if the candidate’s answer is not complete.

To illustrate how you can use a behavioral interview, I am going to use the example of hiring a dental assistant. However, you can easily take this and modify it to fit any job position.

Example: You’ve decided you need a new Dental Assistant for your office. After reviewing your dental assistant job description and evaluating your business environment and needs, you have determined that the most important skills the candidate needs to have are Technically Sound, Customer Oriented, Detail Oriented, with Excellent Listening Skills.

Quality/Skill: Technically Sound

  • Question: Tell me about a time when you encountered a patient in pain and your first attempt to help him/her did not work. How did you ease the patient’s pain?
  • Question: How do you feel your education has prepared you for the technical aspects of your job? Be specific. What did or didn’t you learn that has impacted you the most?

Quality/Skill: Customer Oriented

  • Question: Give a specific example of a time when you had to address an angry customer. What was the problem and what was the outcome? How would you assess your role in diffusing the situation?
  • Question: In your opinion, what are the key ingredients in guiding and maintaining successful patient relationships? Give examples of how you made these work for you.

Quality/Skill: Detail Orientation

  • Question: Tell us about a job or setting that required great attention to detail to complete a task. How did you handle that situation?
  • Question: Tell me about a time when your attention to detail got you out of a bind at work.

Quality/Skill: Excellent Listening Skills

  • Question: Describe a situation in which you effectively “read” another person and acted according to your understanding of his or her needs and values.
  • Question: Have unforeseen problems or obstacles with a patient ever caught you off guard? What happened?

Remember: you are simply trying to understand how a candidate behaved in a given situation, not looking for a “correct” answer (because there isn’t one!). Be clear and detailed when asking questions and listen to the answers carefully. If the answers aren’t what you are looking for, this candidate may not be the best job fit for the position.

Click to download our free guide, "Making Working Interviews Work."

If you have any questions about the best hiring techniques or how to hire great employees for dental medical practices, please call us anytime toll free at (866) 414-6056 or email us at

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Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.