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How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview

Behavioral Competencies Assessed by Employers through the Behavioral Interview

Behavioral based interviewing is interviewing based on discovering how the interviewee acted in specific employment-related situations. The logic is that how you behaved in the past will predict how you will behave in the future (i.e. past performance predicts future performance).

In a traditional interview, the potential employee is asked a series of 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. Instead of asking how you would behave, they will ask how you did behave. The interviewer will want to know how you handled a situation, instead of what you might do in the future.

In a survey of 1,400 chief financial officers by Robert Half International, the following question was asked:

Other than technical ability and willingness to do the job, what quality impresses you the most when hiring a candidate?”

The answers may surprise some as behavioral characteristics account for 92 percent of the responses:

•Honesty & Integrity 58%

•Enthusiasm 14%

•Communications Skills 12%

•Professional Appearance 7%

•Sense of Humor 1%

•Other 8%

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.

Keep in mind 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.

Then, since you don't know exactly what situations you will be asked about if it's a behavioral interview, refresh your memory and consider some special situations you have dealt with or projects you have worked on. You may be able to use them to help frame responses. Prepare stories that illustrate times when you have successfully solved problems or performed memorably. The stories will be useful to help you respond meaningfully in a behavioral interview.

Finally, review the job description, if you have it, 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.

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. The key is to 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.

The Virginia Tech University provides useful questions for behavioral interviewees to prepare for the interview including:

Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stresses at work that tested your coping skills. What did you do?

Give an example of a time when you had to be relatively quick in coming to a decision.

Give me an example of an important goal you had to set and tell me about your progress in reaching that goal.

Describe the most creative work-related project you have completed.

Give me an example of a problem you faced on the job, and tell me how you solved it.

Tell me about a situation in the past in which you had to deal with a very upset supervisor or co-worker.

Give me an example of when you had to show good leadership.

At the end of the day the interview process is designed to see if a potential employee’s values and work ethic are a good fit for the company. Remember,

Technical gets you the interview, Behavioral gets you the job !

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 4, 2012