What is a Behavioral Interview?

Take Advantage of This Opportunity to Demonstrate Your Competencies

Businesswoman conducting a job interview
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When interviewing for jobs, you will likely have to participate in behavioral interviews. Unlike with regular job interviews, employers conduct these not to find out if job candidates can do something, but that they have done it. The interviewer will expect you to demonstrate your competencies—knowledge, skills, and abilities—by giving specific examples from your past experiences at work, school, and in life.

Before meeting with you, the interviewer will determine what competencies are required to perform the job for which you applied and then develop a series of behavioral questions that will allow him or her to find out if you have them. Many behavioral interview questions ask about soft skills, which are personal qualities that would enable you to do your job including problem solving, critical thinking, interpersonal, listening, and speaking skills. The basic premise of the behavioral interview is that past performance is a good predictor of future performance.

Many candidates are intimidated by this method, but they shouldn't be! A behavioral interview is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate to a prospective employer that you are well-suited for the job. Rather than just talking about yourself and telling the interviewer what you are capable of as you would do in a regular job interview, in a behavioral interview you will describe—in detail—how you handled a situation in real life. What better way to "strut your stuff?"

Most behavioral interview questions start with "Tell me about a time when..." or "Give me an example of when..." Fill in the blanks with one of any number of skills, knowledge, or abilities the employer values. For example, if conflict resolution is a required competency, the question may be "Tell me about a time two people you had to work with weren't getting along." If you have work experience, give an example involving two current or former coworkers. If this is an interview for your first job, it will be challenging to discuss a past job-related experience. Instead, select an experience that occurred during a group project for a class or while you were participating in team sports. As long as you clearly state the problem, demonstrate the steps you took to resolve it, and discuss the results, it doesn't matter what experience you draw upon.

Why Employers Use This Technique

When replying to simple yes or no questions, a job candidate can easily tell the interviewer what he or she wants to hear. For example, if the question is "what you would do if a client suddenly moved up the deadline on a project," it's not hard to reply with what you assume the interview wants to hear—that you would put in overtime as needed to complete the project on time.

However, if the interviewer asks what you have done in the past to complete a project on a tight deadline, it would force you to give a real-life example that details how you actually handled the situation. In following up to confirm your story, the interviewer may ask how many hours you spent on the project and whether the client was happy with the results, or what grade you got if your example involves a school project. It is essential not to make up a story and act as if it were true. If you don't have any experience to draw upon, it is okay to give a hypothetical situation. Just make sure to say that is what you are doing. Otherwise, you will look dishonest.

Preparing for the Behavioral Interview

Getting ready for a behavioral interview is challenging. First, determine what competencies the employer is seeking. Thoroughly read the job description. If you are working with a recruiter, talk to him or her. Research the company to learn more about it. Here are some of the competencies you should plan to discuss on your behavioral interview:

Come up with examples of how you've demonstrated those competencies. Start by listing questions an interviewer might ask you. Then, look back at your past jobs to come up with examples of when you've had to use those competencies. While it's best to come up with work-related answers to behavioral interview questions, it is okay to give examples from your time in school if you cannot. If you are a recent graduate, your work experience may be limited. Group projects provide excellent opportunities to demonstrate skills that employers are seeking as does time spent participating in time sports.

Write down your stories with as much detail as you can. Discuss who was involved, what occurred, and the things you did to try to reach the desired outcome. Don't only come up with examples that had positive results but also those with negative ones. Interviewers will ask about situations that you could not resolve favorably and what you learned from those experiences.

Prepare Now for Future Behavioral Interviews

If you are like most people, you probably don't think about interviewing for your next job if you are currently employed or in school. You should. When you do something that demonstrates a competency, write down the details. Don't allow it to become a distant memory, because when you need to talk about it, it will be difficult to recall.