Behavioral Interviewing Strategies

Interview

The premise behind behavioral interviewing, an interview approach developed in the 1970s, is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations.

Behavioral-based interviewing is touted as providing a more objective set of facts to make employment decisions than other interviewing methods. Traditional interviewers ask you general questions such as “Tell me about yourself.” The process of behavioral interviewing is much more probing and works very differently. In a traditional job interview, you can usually get away with telling the interviewer what he or she wants to hear, even if you are fudging a bit on the truth. Even if you are asked situational questions that start out “How would you handle XYZ situation?” you have minimal accountability. How does the interviewer know, after all, if you would really react in a given situation the way you say you would?

In a behavioral interview, however, it’s much more difficult to give responses that are untrue to your character. When you start to tell a behavioral story, the behavioral interviewer typically will pick it apart to try to get at the specific behavior(s). The interviewer will probe further for more depth or detail such as “What were you thinking at that point?” or “Tell me more about your meeting with that person,” or “Lead me through your decision process.” If you’ve told a story that’s anything but totally honest, your response will not hold up through the barrage of probing questions.

Questions (often not even framed as a question) typically start out: “Tell me about a time...” or “Describe a situation...” Many employers use a rating system to evaluate selected criteria during the interview. As a candidate, equip yourself to answer the questions thoroughly. Obviously, you can prepare better for this type of interview if you know which skills the employer has predetermined to be necessary for the job you seek. Researching the company and talking to people who work there will enable you to zero in on the kinds of behaviors the company wants.

Typical behaviors that employers might be trying to uncover in a behavior-based interview:

  • Adaptability/ Flexibility
  • Oral Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Entrepreneurial Skills
  • Fact Finding
  • Independence
  • Integrity
  • Listening
  • Participative
  • Planning and Organizing
  • Process Operation
  • Risk Taking
  • Strategic Analysis
  • Technical/Professional Proficiency
  • Control Analysis
  • Attention to Detail
  • Energy
  • Equipment Operation
  • Financial Analytical Skills
  • Initiative
  • Judgment
  • Motivation
  • Sensitivity
  • Practical Learning
  • Rapport Building
  • Safety Awareness
  • Teamwork
  • Tenacity
  • Decisiveness
  • Delegation
  • Development of Subordinates
  • Insight
  • Impact
  • Innovation
  • Leadership/Influence
  • Negotiation
  • Management
  • Presentation Skills
  • Resilience
  • Sales Ability/Persuasiveness
  • Technical/Professional Knowledge
  • Work Standards

In the interview, your response must be specific and detailed. Candidates who tell the interviewer about situations that relate to each question will be far more effective and successful than those who respond in general terms.

Briefly describe the situation, what specific action you took to influence the situation, and the positive result or outcome. Frame it in a three-step process, usually called an S-A-R, P-A-R, or S-T-A-R statement:

  1. Situation (or Problem or Challenge)
  2. Action
  3. Result/Outcome

Situation (S): When I stepped into my current position with Health Management Associates, an antiquated information system was costing the firm far too much, especially for how ineffective it was.

Action (A): I served as the point person for the entire overhaul of this outdated information system, guiding a team in implementing a state-of-the-art system.

Result (R): The company stopped bleeding money and got a system that made everyone’s job much easier.

It’s difficult to prepare for a behavior-based interview because of the huge number and variety of possible behavioral questions you might be asked. The best way to prepare is to arm yourself with a small arsenal of 6-8 example stories that can be adapted to many behavioral questions. Despite the many possible behavioral questions, you can get some idea of what to expect by looking at websites that feature behavioral questions.

Here are a few sample questions to get you started:

  • Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
  • Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion.
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done.
  • Tell me a about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks.

Think of examples that will exploit your top-selling points, but realize that many behavioral questions explore how you responded to negative situations. You’ll need negative examples, but try to choose negative experiences that you made the best of – or better yet, those that had positive outcomes. Half your examples should be totally positive, such as accomplishments or meeting goals. The other half should be start out negatively but either ended positively or with an outcome you leveraged.

To cram for a behavioral interview right before you’re interviewed, review your resume. Seeing your achievements in print will jog your memory. In the interview, listen carefully to each question, and pull an example out of your bag of tricks that provides an appropriate description of how you demonstrated the desired behavior. With practice, you can learn to tailor a relatively small set of examples to respond to a number of different behavioral questions. Once you’ve snagged the job, keep a record of accomplishments so you’ll be ready with additional great examples the next time you go on a behavior interview.

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