Surviving the Behavioral Interview

Behavioral interviews are a different breed of interviewing style which, unless recognized as such by the candidate, can be troublesome and difficult.  However, when prepared for this kind of interview, candidates can still represent themselves accurately and positively to their prospective employer.

How it’s Different

Where traditional interviews generally look at a candidate’s possible reaction to a hypothetical scenario, behavioral interviews focus on events and examples from the candidate’s past.  This method draws on those previous actions, and examines the candidate’s demonstrated behavior.

Based on the “Behavioral Consistency Principle,” this style of questioning is considerably more systematic, and is thought by some professionals in the hiring field to be more effective in sorting the “good fit” candidates from the “wrong fit” ones.  Typically, these questions will be carefully planned out by the interviewer, and will be asked in precise order, so as to unearth the most valuable of your past behaviors.

Because behavioral interviews are not always used by hiring managers and firms these days, the first task of the candidate will be to determine early on what style the interview is.  An interview in a more traditional line of questioning may ask the candidate to “describe what you might do in this situation…”  By contrast, a typical question from a behavioral interview might sound more like this: “Tell us about a time in your previous job when you had to overcome a challenging situation with a co-worker, and how you handled it.”

How to Succeed

The first step in successfully navigation the behavioral interview is preparing for it.  Long before you step foot in the interview room, you’re first task is to anticipate the variety of questions that might be asked of you.  Brainstorm what kinds of behavioral questions might come up in the interview.  The may include:

  • Describe a previous job experience where someone else’s actions created additional, undue work for you.  How did you address this with your coworkers and/or employer?
  • Tell us about a time when you felt overworked or stressed at a past job, and how you dealt with that pressure.
  • When was the last time you were praised on the job, and how did that effect your performance at work?
  • Have you ever felt like walking off a job?  What did you do, and what led to that decision?
  • What parts of your last position caused you the most anxiety or frustration?  What parts brought you the most satisfaction?

By expecting and planning for these kinds of questions, you can confidently handle a behavioral interview once you recognize that you’re in one.  The most prepared candidates will actually memorize their responses to a handful of questions they suspect will be asked.

Be thorough, Be Honest

Though applicable to any question in any style of interview, it’s especially critical in a behavioral interview to give airtight answers and examples.  Interviewers who use this method of questioning will almost always have specific follow-up questions meant to flesh out your initial answers.

Whether for the sake of testing your accuracy, or just in the process of finding out more about you, the interviewer will likely press for details and elaboration based on your first answer.  Shrewd candidates will expect this and prepare accordingly ahead of time, factoring in all kinds of follow-up questions when they brainstorm possible inquiries (see above).

Learn to recognize the different styles of interview questions, and prepare for a wide array of questions.  Follow these guiding tips (remembering to take a deep breath and relax), and you should be ready to give a stellar interview.

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