What to Expect in the Behavioral Interview
In simple terms, behavioral interviews attempt to predict your future on-the-job behavior based on your past on-the-job (and other) behavior. Using the theory that you're likely to repeat behaviors from previous jobs at new jobs, questions are designed to have you illustrate how you acted (or reacted) in the past.
The questions almost always involve soft skills rather than hard skills. Questions may be about the ability to handle large workloads, the ability to deal with difficult patients, the ability to work independently, the ability to problem-solve, organizational abilities, leadership potential, conflict resolution skills, initiative, flexibility, etc.
Employers like this style of interview because it doesn't lend itself to yes/no or formulaic answers, and it gives candidates the opportunity to tell anecdotes that make them stand out in the interviewer's mind. And it's a great way to get around clichéd and jargon-filled answers that mean nothing – it forces a candidate to illustrate how s/he is flexible, a team player, or a people person, rather than stating it without evidence.
What types of questions can you expect in a behavioral interview?
Questions in a behavioral interview usually start with phrases like: "Describe a situation in which you …" or "Tell me about a time when you …" or "Give me an example of an instance when …" or "How would you handle a situation where …."
So you might get questions like:
- Describe a situation in which you felt challenged.
- Describe a situation in which you motivated others.
- Tell me about a time when you were swamped with work and under tight time pressures.
- Tell me about a stressful situation you experienced and how you dealt with it.
- Tell me about a time that you made a mistake on the job.
- Describe a time when you didn't get along with someone you were working with.
- Give me an example of a difficult decision that you had to make.
- How would you handle a situation where a coworker wasn't pulling her weight?
- Was there ever a time when you were working in a situation where you were understaffed?
How do you prepare for a behavioral interview?
- Develop possible questions based on the job description and your résumé.
- Think of a real-life example – not a theory, and not a fiction – to answer each question. It's best if you have an example that occurred at work, but even if the example occurred elsewhere (e.g. while volunteering, at school, or in a personal situation), make sure that the anecdote's applicability to a workplace environment is clear. Also make sure that the story is logical – like any well-crafted tale, it needs a beginning, middle, and end. In the case of a behavioral interview, this means the answer should:
- Describe the situation, ensuring that it clearly relates to the question;
- Explain what action you took, and
- Tell the interviewer about the results.
Be concise and focused. The common recommendation is that the answer take only about two to three minutes, no more. Don't fall into the trap of giving too many details and appearing long-winded.
Think about the follow-up questions the interviewer could ask about the story you tell. For example, interviewers may ask you a more introspective question, such as "What were you thinking when you made the decision to …" or "How did you arrive at the decision to act as you did?" or "How did the incident make you feel?" They may also ask about whether you used the same action again and how it worked out, or how you knew the situation was a problem, etc.
Other Things to Note
- Be honest!
- Make sure the anecdote answers the question asked. Don't just tell a story in the hope that the interviewer can figure out the connection.
- It's OK to pause before you give the answer to decide which example to use and how to structure your answer. Your answers will reveal not only your experience in dealing with situations, but also your personal approach to issues and problems and your attention to detail. It will also give insight into your personality, such as your empathy and self-confidence.
Finally, as with any interview, remember that the employer will also be looking at your communication and reasoning skills. Pay attention not only to the content of what you say, but to how you structure your answers, your tone of voice, and your body language.