What is a behavioral interview?

Behavioral based interviewing is based on discovering how the interviewee acted in specific employment-related situations. Employers use this method to predict how you will behave in the future; basically, past performance predicts future performance.

Traditional Interview vs. Behavioral Interview

In a traditional interview, you are asked questions which typically have straight forward answers like "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" or "What major challenges and problems did you face? How did you handle them?" or "Describe a typical work week."

In a behavioral interview, an employer has decided what skills are needed in the person they hire and will ask questions to find out if the candidate has those skills.

For example, instead of asking how you would behave, they will ask how you BEHAVED. The employer is more interested in HOW you handled a situation, instead of what you might do in the future.

Typical questions in a Behavioral Interview:

Be prepared for more direct and more specific questions:

•  Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem.
•  Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
•  Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you handled implementing it.
•  Have you gone above and beyond the call of duty? If so, how?
•  What do you do when your schedule is interrupted? Give an example of how you handle it.
•  Have you had to convince a team to work on a project they weren't thrilled about? How did you do it?
•  Have you handled a difficult situation with a co-worker? How?
•  Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.

The icing on the cake is that the questions above will accompany detailed follow-up questions! You may be asked what you did, what you said, how you reacted or how you felt.

How do you prepare for a Behavioral Interview?

It's important to remind yourself that you won't know what type of interview will take place until you are sitting in the interview room.

So, prepare answers to traditional interview questions; use your 'retentive' memory and jot down some special situations you have dealt with or projects you have worked on. Don't fret if you have only one example or one project; you will be surprised how only one situation or project can help you frame meaningful responses for several different questions. The best method is to refresh your memory and consider some special situations you have dealt with or projects you have worked on. You can use them to help frame responses. Prepare stories that illustrate times when you have successfully solved a difficult situation.

It always helps to review the job description or the job posting or ad. You may be able to get a sense of what skills and behavioral characteristics the employer is seeking from reading the job description and position requirements.

During the Behavioral Interview...

Take a few moments to understand and absorb the question the interviewer is asking. Many job seekers feel they need to answer in a split second otherwise the interviewer may think they are slow for the job. That is not true. Do not feel embarrassed to tell the interviewer "I'm going to take a few seconds to gather my thoughts" OR ask for clarification if you are not sure how to answer the question. If you answer hastily, you might not answer the question properly.

Be sure to include these points in your answer:

•  A specific situation
•  The tasks that needed to be done
•  The action you took
•  The results i.e. what happened

It's important to keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers. The interviewer is simply trying to understand how you behaved in a given situation. How you respond will determine if there is a fit between your skills and the position the company is seeking to fill. So, listen carefully, be clear and detailed when you respond and, most importantly, be honest. If your answers aren't what the interviewer is looking for, this position may not be the best job for you anyway.

There is no right or wrong answer to questions like "What are the most difficult decisions to make?" or "Describe a difficult work situation / project and how you overcame it." These are behavioral interview questions designed to discover how you handled certain situations. The logic behind these types of questions is that how you behaved in the past is a predictor of what you will do in the future.

Give concrete examples of difficult situations that actually happened at work. Then discuss what you did to solve the problem. Keep your answers positive ("Even though it was difficult when Jane Doe quit without notice, we were able to rearrange the department workload to cover the position until a replacement was hired.") and be specific.