Behavioral interviews are very popular in today’s job market. Knowing how to handle them and how to avoid mistakes might just be the difference between getting passed over and getting the job you want.
While It’s unusual for every question in a job interview to be a behavioral question, you will likely encounter at least one. If it’s a second or final interview, behavior-based questions will increase in frequency.
What is a Behavioral Job Interview?
It’s an interview where the questions are structured to discover examples of how you handled specific situations related to the skills and experiences considered essential for that job. The basic presumption is that your past behavior is a good predictor of your future behavior.
Common Behavioral Questions
A common format for behavioral questions goes something like this: “Tell me about a time when _____”.
The blank can be just about anything, but by far the most common one is “when you made a mistake”.
Here are some other common behavioral questions.
- “Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.”
- “Tell me about a time when you had to balance competing priorities.”
- “Tell me about a conflict you had with a co-worker and how you resolved it.”
- “Give me an example of a stressful situation and how you handled it.”
- “Give me an example of a problem you faced and how you solved it.”
- “Tell me about a time you took the lead on a difficult assignment.”
As you can see, there can be many variations of behavioral questions. Sometimes they will be even more general than these examples. Something perhaps such as this: “Tell me about a time when
you had conflicting priorities.”
If you get this type of a general question, remember that as a Hiring Manager, I don’t want to just hear you describe the situation you faced and leave it at that. What I really want to know is how you successfully addressed the situation and what you learned from it.
How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview
You won’t know in advance that it will be a behavioral interview. This means you should assume that all interviews will have some behavioral questions and prepare yourself accordingly.
Of the hundreds of interviews I’ve done as a Hiring Manager, the behavioral questions I’ve asked can be put into five categories:
- Questions about working in a team.
- Questions that relate to problem-solving.
- Questions regarding your interpersonal skills (ability to get along with co-workers).
- How you’ve handled challenges, pressure, and stress.
- Examples of leadership and/or initiative.
You should prepare at least one – preferably two – examples for each of these five general categories. This way, chances are good that you’ll be able to smoothly pull one out that matches or closely matches most behavioral questions you may be asked.
Be sure that the examples you create directly relate to the requirements of the job, as they are shown in the job posting. These are the topics most likely to be asked.
Top 5 Behavioral Interview Mistakes
There are some easy holes to fall into when answering behavioral questions. They require different handling than the more quantitative questions such as how many years experience do you have, what is your technical training, etc.
Here are the most common mistakes I’ve seen over the years when candidates were answering behavioral questions.
Explaining the Situation But Not How You Solved It.
For example, I once asked an applicant for a project manager position to tell me about a time where he was faced with two conflicting priorities. He told me about a time where he was asked to incorporate additional features into a project but keep the completion date the same.
And then he stopped, apparently thinking he had answered the question.
Okay, he did tell me about a time he had conflicting priorities. But what I really wanted to know was did he successfully resolve the conflict and if so how.
Additionally, the best answers will also include what lessons were learned. Many other articles you may read will tell you this isn’t all that important, so long as you describe a successful resolution. I disagree.
If you can describe not only how you successfully resolved the situation but also the lesson you learned as a result, that tells me you can successfully avoid that conflict in the future. This is how the best applicants will answer the question.
Using an Example That Doesn’t Reflect Well On Your Performance
It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway. The behavioral examples you give should put a positive slant on your performance, not a negative one!
I was once interviewing a bright young woman for an Operations Supervisor position. My question was to tell me about a time when she had a conflict with one of her direct reports and how she handled it.
With a straight face, she told me she handled it by having that employee transferred to another department.
If past behavior predicts future behavior, this is not the approach to conflict that I wanted my supervisors to use. Be sure your examples all have successful outcomes that put you in a good light.
Your Answers Ramble On Too Much
Since behavioral questions can be open-ended, it’s sometimes difficult to organize your thoughts cohesively. This is when candidates will frequently ramble on without ever getting to the point.
I’ve had candidates start an answer addressing the question asked and then soar off aimlessly into areas unrelated to the topic. If you find yourself in this loop, the best advice I can give you is to use the proven “STAR” method when answering behavioral questions.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.
First, describe the situation. This is the context within which the topic of the question occurred. For example, the project you were working on when answering the question “Tell me about a problem you were faced with.”
The Task is the actual problem itself. In the example above, you would describe the problem you were faced with during the project.
Action is what you did address the problem you described in Task.
Finally, the result of your Actions. Ideally, this will be the successful resolution of the problem and lessons learned.
By using this four-step approach, your answers will be laser-focused and your rambling will stop before it starts.
You Don’t Have Enough Examples
I’ve had many applicants that come into interviews with only one or two examples of successful behavior. You’d be surprised by how many have none.
If you only have a few, you’ll end up having to reuse them over and over during the interview. This repetition does not make you look good and there’s a high likelihood that your examples won’t fit any of the questions well.
You should have at least two examples of successful behavior that are specifically related to each of the major requirements of the job. These requirements are the most likely candidates for behavioral questions. If you have several examples of each, you will almost certainly be able to successfully answer any behavioral question you’re asked.
Additionally, if the job requirements don’t cover each of the five behavioral question categories I gave above, make sure you’ve also covered those with examples.
Saying You Can’t Think of an Example to Give
This is the same thing as saying you didn’t come prepared.
If you’ve prepared enough examples of behavior related to the job requirements, you’ll always be able to relate one of them to the question, even if it’s not an exact match.
If you’ve prepared examples for each job requirement, plus my five categories, at least one should work. You should never have to say you can’t think of an example, as that is almost a sure deal killer for your interview.