How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview
August 24, 2022
Get behavioral based interview tips, including common questions, and learn how behavioral interviewing benefits both candidates and companies.
When my son graduated from college and was taking his first step on the career ladder, we’d talk about his different interviewing experiences. He often felt that the interview process seemed unfair, with a bias towards a certain type of candidate. He also thought that many of the interviewers' questions sounded confusing, and some questions seemed designed to trick him. When he felt positive about his interview, including the company and people who had interviewed him, I’d ask about their interview process. He’d then go on to describe what is known as a behavioral interview.
In this blog, I’ll define behavioral interviewing and answer your most-asked questions about this interviewing method. Plus, I’ll provide behavioral based interview tips to help job seekers prepare to put their best foot forward in a behavioral interview.
What Is Behavioral Interviewing?
Behavioral interviewing focuses on a candidate’s past experiences by asking candidates to provide specific examples of how they have demonstrated certain behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities. The interviewer evaluates their past behavior to predict how the candidate will perform in the future.
But even in behavioral interviews, candidates should be prepared to answer different types of questions. Behavioral interviewing questions differ from situational questions:
- Behavioral interview questions deal with the past or present.
- Situational interview questions deal with the future.
Why Do Employers Use the Behavioral Interviewing Approach to Hiring?
A poor hiring decision costs companies more than the bottom line. There is often a negative impact on productivity and culture, too. For example, hiring a below-average employee can leave a bad impression with clients or add to other employees’ workloads, even motivating them to look for another job. Behavioral interviewing helps to ensure you’re the right fit for both the company and the position you applied for.
In a behavioral interview, the interviewer aims to collect a lot of different information that they need to know about the candidate. Your résumé gives the interviewer a good idea of your knowledge and experience. But what about your soft skills? How do you handle day-to-day challenges? Do you learn from mistakes and grow? Learning about your successful project is important, but what the interviewer really needs to ask is:
- How did you decide what to do next?
- How did you handle your frustration?
- What did you learn from this problem?
When you answer these questions with real examples, the interviewer learns about your thinking style, motivations, tendencies, and preferences.
Behavioral interviewing can accurately predict how someone will act—good or bad. Using past behavior to predict future behavior is a proven technique that can help assess for the future performance or success of an individual. It also helps hiring managers think objectively and avoid making decisions based on instinct or gut feelings alone.
The Benefits of Behavioral Interviewing for Candidates
There are several advantages for candidates when interviewers conduct behavioral interviews:
1. Acts as a quick way of getting to know you.
When you respond to behavioral interview questions, the interviewer gains insight into who you are personally. By simply asking one or two behavioral questions, they get to know how you think and respond to different situations. They quickly begin to understand your personality, skills, strengths, and values.
2. Enables you, the candidate, to consider your behavior.
Being asked behavioral interview questions enables you to reflect on how you behaved in your past professional experiences or roles. It allows you to determine how you’d respond to similar circumstances if they happened again. This is often a lot less stressful for you than being asked a theoretical question about how you would do something without a frame of reference. Being the candidate in a behavioral interview allows you to be yourself and not feel like you need to make up answers that you think the interviewer wants to hear.
3. Helps streamline the interview and hiring process.
Once you have answered a few behavioral questions, the interviewer develops an understanding of who you are. You aren’t having to answer many questions that restate the information you already provided in the cover letter or résumé. This makes the interviewing and hiring process more streamlined and time efficient.
4. Behavioral interview questions are customizable based on who is being interviewed.
For example, if you applied for a sales position and you have experience, you can tell the interviewer how you used your strengths to generate more sales. If you have little to no sales experience, you can describe how you used your strengths to influence someone to take action.
5. Behavioral questions allow candidates to expand on information.
These questions often allow candidates the opportunity to offer more details and information about their work experience than traditional interview questions. Candidates can share anecdotes or personal stories to answer behavioral questions, which may mean a more engaging, detailed, and interactive conversation than with traditional interview questions, which can help both of you learn more about each other.
What Are Some Common Behavioral Interviewing Questions?
Here are some typical behavioral questions linked to a few of the most common competencies that could come into most interview scenarios:
- Adaptability: Describe a time when you adjusted well to a major change. Contrast that with a time that was more difficult for you.
- Collaboration: Have you ever helped a peer or team member develop an idea? Tell me about one of those times.
- Decision Making: Tell me about a decision you thought about for a long time. How did you finally make your decision?
- Motivation: Describe a recent job that was a good fit for you. Why was it a good fit?
- Planning & Organizing: Tell me about a time when you had to coordinate resources (people, processes, departments, equipment) to complete a complex project.
- Stress Tolerance: We all have times when we feel overwhelmed with our responsibilities. Give me an example of a time when you felt overwhelmed. How did you react to this?
- Teamwork: Give me an example of a time when you had to build an effective working relationship with an internal partner to be successful.
Now that you have some understanding of the types of questions you’ll be asked, let’s get into some behavioral based interview tips to help you get ready.
Behavioral Based Interview Tip #1: Make a List of the Top Skills or Qualifications from the Job Description
When you’re preparing for your interview, start by looking at the job description. The job description should give you a sense of what’s most important to the hiring manager and company—i.e., what interviewers are most likely to ask you about or look for in your answers. Prepare to highlight your most relevant qualities and qualifications in your answers. This might include skills or experiences, but it could also be why you want to work for the company or how you represent their values.
For example, if the company is looking for a “self-starter,” you might want to be ready to talk about a time when you took initiative at a past job. Or if the job description mentions “data-driven decision making,” “using data,” and “data analysis,” come prepared to speak about how you’ve analyzed data in the past and what results you were able to achieve. You can even jot down some specific numbers so you’re ready to give the interviewer a full picture of something you’re likely to be asked about.
Behavioral Based Interview Tip #2: Prepare Answers to Sample Behavioral Interview Questions Using the STAR Format
After reviewing the job description, prepare answers to behavioral questions that you think you might be asked. Once you have some sample questions in mind, practice structuring your answers in the STAR format. STAR is an acronym for Situation/Task, Action, Result. The behavioral examples you provide in an interview should have all three elements.
Here’s an example:
“I was part of a team working on a complex project. When the project fell behind schedule, everyone started blaming someone else. (Situation/Task)
I called a meeting, and by focusing on the facts, I persuaded the team that we needed to stop attacking one another and address the issues that were stalling the project. (Action)
When we focused on those issues, we came up with a plan that rescued the project, and we completed it on time.” (Result)
Also, remember that a behavioral example in the STAR format should be no more than two to three minutes long (depending on the question). And you’ll want to deliver your example with energy and enthusiasm.
Behavioral Based Interview Tip #3: Practice Aloud
To make sure you are fully prepared for behavioral questions, I recommend practicing your answers in the STAR format out loud. This exercise gives you a chance to time the length of each answer to make sure it’s not too long or rambling. Practicing out loud also helps you to memorize the example so you can recall all of the details during the interview.
In addition, memorizing examples should help calm your interview nerves and avoid conversational fillers like “umm” and “err.” If possible, have someone ask the behavioral questions and listen to your responses to check for clarity and that you cover each component of the STAR in your examples.
A Few More Behavioral Based Interview Tips
Here are a few other tips that apply to any interview situation.
1. Prepare questions you want to ask the interviewer ahead of time. Sometimes it can be hard to think of questions as soon as the interviewer asks, “What questions do you have for me?” Be sure to prepare in advance a list of questions you might want to ask the interviewer.
2. Research your interviewer on LinkedIn®. If you know the name of the interviewer, look them up on LinkedIn. You might find that you have something in common with them. Maybe you’re from the same hometown, went to the same college, or belong to the same professional association. Bringing this up during the interview can help you establish a connection and shows that you are well prepared.
3. Ask clarifying questions after you respond. At the end of your response to a behavioral question, you could ask, “Does that answer your question?” or “Was that enough detail for you?” This shows that you are conscientious and concerned that the interviewer is getting the information they need to evaluate you as a candidate.
4. Take notes along the way. Always go into the interview with a notepad. Your notes might be a prompt for a question later on, or help when you are preparing for your next interview with the company. Taking notes shows that you are present and prepared.
5. Be aware of your body language. Be sure to make eye contact, sit up straight, and don’t fold your arms, which can be interpreted as being defensive.
Use Behavioral Interviews to Make Your Best First Impression
There is a lot at stake for both parties during an interview. If you plan, prepare, and have your behavioral examples ready to go, you’ll be making a positive impression and doing your best to help the interviewer make an informed decision.
You’ve got this!
Learn more about the STAR format.
Bruce Court partners with organizations on all aspects of their leadership strategy. He’s experienced in every facet of leadership strategy design, development, and execution. Outside of work, Bruce likes to travel with his wife, Maureen. He loves eating at great restaurants as well as sampling good wine and craft beers. Bruce is also a huge fan of smooth jazz.