Acing your behavioral job interview
If you’ve been on the job hunt for a while, you’ve probably been exposed to a wide variety of interview styles and scenarios, all designed to try and get the most accurate reflection of what you’d be like as a potential employee and gauge your value if hired. And chances are you’ve been exposed to—in one form or another—a type of approach known as the behavioral interview.
So, what exactly is a behavioral interview, and how does it differ from other types of interviewing approaches? True to its name, a behavioral interview aims to find out how you responded to different types of work situations in the past. Instead of asking you about yourself, interviewers will ask how you tackled specific scenarios, both stressful and not. The point is to see if your personality and skillset within a work environment matches who they hope to hire for their open position.
The truth is, a behavioral interview will look and feel much like any other traditional interview you’ve been on, with the key difference being the types of questions you’ll be asked during the process.
A recent post on The Balance highlights some of the typical questions you might encounter while on a behavioral interview:
“Behavioral interview questions will be more pointed, more probing and more specific than traditional interview 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.
Follow-up questions will also be detailed. You may be asked what you did, what you said, how you reacted or how you felt during the situation you shared with the hiring manager.”
So, now that you have a good handle on what a behavioral interview is and how to recognize when you’re in the middle of one, what’s the best way to approach and handle it?
The first step is to realize that you won’t know when you’re on a behavioral interview until you’re in the middle of one—unless you can predict the future, you won’t be alerted in advance to the types of questions you’ll be asked. Therefore, when prepping for an interview you should prep for every possible scenario, question, and contingency.
That said, there are some proven strategies for effectively tackling behavioral questions and setting yourself up for a successful interview. Consider the following tips to make a strong and lasting impression on your next interview.
Do your homework.
When preparing for an interview—whether behavioral or traditional or something else altogether—make sure you thoroughly research the company and job description provided and search for helpful cues regarding things the company may value and the attributes they are likely looking for in an ideal candidate. Try and get a good sense of what the company’s culture and mission is—all of these elements will help you gauge what sorts of questions you might encounter and the sorts of answers hiring managers and company representatives will likely be looking for.
What types of problems normally come up in the industry you hope to join? How have you handled situations in the past in an impressive way in order to tackle these problems? How do your actions and reactions to work issues in the past show that you are well-suited for the open position? Have these answers ready to go.
Be prepared to tell your story.
When you’re in a behavioral interview, be prepared to “tell your story”—these should be honest and favorable expressions of how past experiences in your life have shaped your ways of thinking and modes of behavior, making you the capable and effective professional you are today. According to Ladders, your stories should be specific, and should always include the following three parts: a description of a specific, real-life situation or challenge you encountered, a description of the specific tasks and actions you took to overcome that challenge, and a summary of the results of those actions.
If handled correctly, including stories in your responses that demonstrate instances of how you successfully solved problems or displayed exemplary behavior will always make you look good.
Address past behaviors in an orderly way.
The Balance advocates using the following four-step technique for answering questions about past behaviors at work, which they refer to as the STAR interview response technique:
- Situation. Describe the situation or set the scene. Explain the place you were working for or the task you were given. Paint a clear picture of what went on so you can then elaborate on how your stellar skills saved the day.
- Task. Describe the issue or problem you were confronted with. Make this as clear as possible—don’t get too bogged down in details. Prepare 1-2 sentences to explain the task at hand.
- Action. Describe the action you took to intervene in the situation or solve the problem. This should introduce the key asset you would like to illustrate. Here is where you pull key words from the job posting. What skills are the hiring manager looking for? How you can demonstrate that you possess those skills in your answer?
- Results. Describe the results your action generated. Explain how you helped solve the problem or improve the company in some way.
Okay job hunters, take advantage of the strategies and tips provided here and you’ll be ready to handle even the toughest behavioral interview that you might come across. The key, as it is most of the time with interviews, is to enter prepared and confident. Now that you know what to expect, start prepping!