The good news is that if you are looking online for ‘best behavioral interview questions,’ you have made it past the first cuts and have advanced to the job interview part of the hiring process.
The bad news, however, is that you don’t know for sure if you will be asked behavioral interview questions or not.
Liz Ryan, career coach for Forbes and author of the book, Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve, informs her readers that scripted questions rarely give a glimpse into how a candidate’s brain works. Getting popular in the 1980s, behavioral job interview techniques sustain inequality between the employer and a candidate perpetrating a concept of a job interview as an oral exam.
Meanwhile, Ryan says, “Good managers know that the purpose of a job interview is to look for a great match between the candidate and their needs on the one hand, and the employer and its needs on the other.”
You never know what type of person you will see in the interviewer’s chair or whether they will have an old school approach or a new school approach to the interview process. So make sure you are ready for anything, including how to answer behavioral interview questions. Use the following tips and advice as basic guidelines.
What are the Behavioral Interview Questions?
To accurately assess how fit a candidate is for a vacancy, the recruiter needs to understand how the candidate behaves in certain situations and discover the analytical thought process they use in atypical stations. What kind of situations depends on a particular job. Filling a sales manager position requires a different set of behavioral questions for interviews than filling senior executive positions.
In any case, this type of interview process usually involves scripted questions, called behavioral or situational questions. Typically starting with “Tell me about a time when,” the process next moves into a situational-focused direction to highlight specific skills, such as leadership, creativity, and resourcefulness.
Story of Success
The aim of asking behavioral-based job interview questions is less focused on your work performance and more focused on your soft skills. The recruiter may want to find out whether you will crack under stress, what kind of person you are, the extent of your competencies, and your ability to think quickly.
That is why, in most cases, you are expected to tell a success story highlighting a particular quality the company is looking for in a candidate. Getting ready for an interview, candidates should try to recall a number of success stories demonstrating a range of their useful qualities (not necessarily job-related). By refreshing your recollection of events and having them fresh in your mind, it will make it easier for you to quickly think of the most appropriate story under the pressure of the interview setting.
Success or Failure?
You believe that you have considered each aspect of the job hunt and came prepared. You have your application honed and polished (there are many career websites such as getcoverletter.com offering cover letter format templates and resume writing services that can be used if you don’t feel confident in your writing skills or today’s job hunting rules), you practiced your elevator speech, you googled the company and learned the names of all the top managers you could potentially come in contact with, and then you hear the question “Tell us about a time when you failed as … ”
Uh-oh. That’s far from what you expected. How about a success story?
Yes, that’s true. Recruiters can sometimes pull out a trick like this and evaluate your potential for success by assessing your failure. The thing is that failure has the potential for growth. If you can accept failure, it means you are not obsessed with perfection, are not afraid to act, and can take risks and learn from your mistakes.
How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview
Start by understanding the logic of the recruiter in asking behavioral interview questions. You don’t need to come up with a success or failure story for all of the top 30 most common behavioral interview questions.
Peruse the job description
If you are applying to a CAD drafter position, the odds are slim. You will be asked about leadership skills. Similarly, for senior leadership, if candidates are asked about their creative skills, it is done in the most general sense to check out their ability to come up with innovative solutions rather than specific qualifications. So peruse the job description to see what skills are expected from a candidate and think about what you can say to demonstrate them.
Take time to consider standard job-related behaviors
Prepare success stories for general skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, initiative/leadership, interpersonal/communication skills, and challenge/stress/pressure situations. Depending on the industry and the specific field within the industry, the most sought after skills may vary. It could even be client-facing skills, the ability to adapt, time management, or ethical behavior/values.
Structure your answers by following the STAR method
STAR stands for Situation Task Action Result. First, you open with the context and describe the situation (who, what, where, when, how). Then you explain the task and specific challenges you had (deadlines, numbers, etc.). Next, you outline the specific actions you took to accomplish the task. Finally, you explain what result your actions had, quantifying it with figures, if possible.
Preparation is the key
Practice making sure your story is not too long. 1 to 3 minutes are more than enough.
Focus on giving clear details for the situation and the solutions you offered. It is important for the recruiter not only to get a general idea that you can solve problems but also to understand the specific steps you take and the particular way your mind works.
Examples of Behavioral Interview Questions and Sample Answers
Now, let’s take a closer look at some specific questions and the possible ways of answering them.
The recruiter asks this group of questions to probe your ability to deal with conflicts, clashing personalities, and to work with others under challenging circumstances.
For example, the recruiter may inquire about a conflict you had with a peer, a difficult situation you encountered while working on a team, your way of dealing with someone whose personality is very different from yours, or your thoughts about how to build a relationship with someone on the team. To demonstrate your ability to resolve or avoid conflict, you should come up with a story (does not matter at this point, whether it is a story of success or failure) where you exhibit maturity and problem-solving skills. For example:
“Two years ago, I was part of a project with a few peers, and we participated in sharing suggestions and solutions on equal terms. When the client did not like one of the solutions we spent some time implementing, a colleague got upset and snapped at me, blaming me for a ‘silly suggestion from the very beginning.’ I quickly realized that he was frustrated and too emotional for me to pay attention to the things he was saying. So I was not compelled to defend myself and justify my choices and suggestions. I said, ‘Let’s focus on how to address the client’s criticism and what to do next.’ Without waiting for him to cool down, I started troubleshooting. Eventually, my colleague joined in, and we jointly came up with a great solution that the client approved. Afterward, we talked, and there was no longer any bad blood between us.”
Ability to Adapt
The hiring manager wants to make sure that you don’t crack under pressure and can react to problems adequately. They may ask you about a work crisis you resolved with flying colors. Or quite the contrary, about a time you were under a lot of pressure and did not handle it properly. This would be to find out what conclusions you drew from the experience to avoid making that mistake again. Giving an example, think of a case where you exhibited a sound mind, quick thinking, and responsible behavior. For example,
“When I first started as a bookkeeper, I confused data and entered several wrong numbers. It compromised the results we were about to file to the Tax Service. Luckily, I noticed the mistake quickly and still had time to correct it.
I let my seniors know about it as soon as I knew how to correct it. I was ready to take full responsibility for my mistake. Fortunately, it had no serious repercussions for the company or for me. However, that case prompted me to come up with a method for checking all future documents and data entries for free. From then on, I never made any mistakes like that again.”
Some Final Tips
If you are entry-level or have never had any experience answering strategic interview questions, you should make a list of questions you may face in the interview and practice answering them with appropriate stories/examples to reduce your stress during the actual interview. As soon as you develop narratives for the most common examples of behavioral interview questions, you will be able to tweak your stories on the spot without a problem.
You should also practice answering your example questions in an interview-like setting to reduce the stress you may feel during the actual interview. Dr. Sydney Ceruto, Founder & CEO of NYC MindLAB, advises against engaging your friends or relatives to ask you questions if you can’t hire a career coach to create an interview simulation. Make the environment as close to the real-life interview as possible.