It’s been said that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. The behavioral interview is intended to take advantage of that old axiom. In a behavioral interview, the interviewer will ask questions about how you would act or how you have acted in a specific situation.
Because the interview questions will ask you to elaborate, the interviewer will also be assessing your communication skills, judgment and personality. In a behavioral interview, you will be hard-pressed to use buzzwords or standard answers like “my biggest weakness is that I care too much and work too hard!” Instead, you must be able to tell your own story and sell yourself within that story.
If you are looking to switch the focus of your career path, this is a good opportunity to show your transferable skills. You will be able to showcase those underlying traits that make you the right fit for the position, even if your work experience is unconventional. For example, if you were a bookkeeper, but are now applying for an auditor position, you can discuss the verification work you’ve done and show how you would be a good fit for the position, even if you have no auditing experience per se.
Understand Some of the Questions That Are Likely to Be Asked
The interviewer will ask open-ended questions. Following are some examples of the types of questions you may be asked:
Give me an example of…
- A time you had to solve a problem.
- A time when you’ve achieved a goal and what it took to get there.
- A time when you made an unpopular decision and how you communicated it to your co-workers.
Describe a situation when…
- You were involved in an interpersonal conflict and how you resolved it.
- Your supervisor was not happy with your work and how you reacted to it.
Tell me about a time when…
- You motivated others to help you even when they were busy with their own projects.
- Your project failed and what you did about it.
How to Prepare
Sit down and write out a few big accomplishments that had their share of different actions – struggles, challenges, achievements, disagreements, team-building, etc. You can use the same scenario for multiple answers so long as you remain truthful about your answers.
Try to anticipate some of the questions that you might be asked. This is better done after you review the job description to understand what the company is looking for and after you do some research on the culture within the company. For example, if you are applying to a project management position, you can bet you will have questions on team-building and resolving conflict.
Practice, practice and practice! Review the sample questions you came up with and go over your answers. Your answers need to have a beginning, middle and end. Practice in front of the mirror and be careful to keep your body language calm and relaxed.
You always want to put yourself in a good light, even if the outcome of the situation was bad. This is an interview, after all! So, if you have to answer a question on when you didn’t get along with someone, show how you were the better person putting aside personal conflicts in order to get the job done. Always show you did your best and worked hard in the best interest of the company.
Let’s say you, as the candidate, are asked the following question: “Describe a time you were part of a project and you thought you might fail at your task due to no fault of your own and tell me what you did about it.”
- First, lay out the story. Briefly explain the situation. If you wish to discuss implementing a software upgrade, you might say “About 5 years ago, I was part of a project team tasked with implementing a major software upgrade that had to be completed on time due to contractual obligations.”
- Second, explain what happened in relation to the question that was asked. In this case, you may state that you fell short of test machines needed for UAT because someone in procurement keyed the wrong number in the hardware order.
- Third, talk about what you did or how you contributed. Using our example, you may state how you walked around the building to find machines that were sitting in empty desks. Then you worked with the business unit directors to borrow the machines for the two week UAT period.
- Finally, discuss the end result. You may tell the interviewer that between setting up computer-sharing and using computers at desks where no one sat, you had enough computers to finish UAT on schedule.
In truth, you would want to provide a little more explanation than the short example given above. You want to balance the need to be specific and detailed without straying off topic or over-explaining. If something only requires 30 seconds to explain, then use only 30 seconds, but most situations will require a little more than that.
Useful Tips for Answering
You can use the same scenario for multiple answers. In fact, it might be easier for the interviewer to help gain an understanding of the scenario you faced and how you reacted.
Do not give general answers. Your answers should provide specific details of the particular event.
Stick to the process when answering. This will keep you from going off topic or rambling on. If you’re not sure you answered the question, it is OK to ask, “Did I answer your question adequately?”
Do not bad mouth your old boss or co-workers. You may be asked to describe someone you didn’t get along with and it’s OK to provide the facts of the situation. It’s not OK to trash someone else, call them names, or engage in childish drama regarding that person. For example, you can state that due to a personal issue, your boss was missing so many days that he was unavailable to guide the project, so you stepped in. It’s not OK to call your boss a drunk and a jerk and that because of that you had to do extra work.
Do not give away confidential information. You may really, really want the job, but breaking confidences is not the way to do it.
If you do not have a work example, feel free to use a personal example. At this point, you’re better off illustrating all your positives even if they don’t come from a work environment.
Always Be Truthful!
A good interviewer, like a good police interrogator, may ask the same question different ways to see if he gets conflicting answers. Conflicting answers are a big red flag that you are either not being truthful or you are stretching the truth.
In short, a behavioral interview is designed so that the interviewer can get a real feel for how the candidate will behave in the job. The best way to handle this type of interview is just to be truthful and to be yourself.
List of the different interview types:
- The Video Interview
- The Informal Interview
- The Technical Interview
- The Phone Interview
- The Structured Interview
- The Scenario Interview
- The Assessment Event
- The Second Interview
- The Panel Interview
- The Lunch Interview
- The Group Interview
- The Behavioral Interview