What to Expect in a Behavioral Interview

John Krautzel
Posted by in Career Advice

No hiring manager wants a long track record of poor hiring decisions. When employers rely on superficial questions and quick judgements to weed out applicants, they risk hiring people exceptional at self-promotion but unqualified for their jobs. Hiring managers use behavioral interviewing techniques to predict your future potential, evaluating your behavior in past roles. Show up for your next behavioral interview with detailed examples of how you demonstrated teamwork, leadership and ingenuity in previous positions.

1. Open-Ended Questions

In behavioral interviews, hiring managers want to determine what you can do for the company. The goal is to evaluate how you approach responsibilities, make decisions and resolve conflicts. Expect open-ended prompts that require personal examples rather than one-dimensional questions you can answer with "yes," "no" or an unsupported opinion. Consider these two questions.

A. Are you a good multitasker?

B. Describe a situation when you had to handle multiple responsibilities at once.

The first question prompts you to provide an opinion about yourself. Yet, most candidates know hiring managers want positive responses, so they can easily succeed in interviews by misrepresenting themselves. On the other hand, the second question prompts you to share a snapshot of your personality and background. You have to outline the thought process you used to multitask in a real professional environment.

2. The STAR Method

Proponents of behavioral interviewing often use the STAR method to assess a candidate's answers, so be prepared to present your stories in this format. The acronym "STAR" stands for Situation/Task, Action and Results. Describe the situation or task, and follow up with an explanation of the actions you took to handle the problem. Conclude with a summary of the outcome and how your behavior led to those results.

Avoid using hypothetical examples that make you appear inexperienced or dishonest. Stick to stories that describe what you did, why you made specific choices, how you achieved successful results and what you learned from the experience. Pay attention to which professional skills are important to the interviewer so you can emphasize them in your examples.

3. Character Assessment

Employers are of course interested in your hard skills, but they also seek information concerning your personality compatibility and work ethic. Hiring managers realize a resume cannot provide a complete picture of an applicant's qualifications, so they use behavioral interviews to learn how you relate to others and analyze different situations.

In a 2014 CareerBuilder survey of 2,138 employers, 73 percent of respondents chose a strong work ethic and dependability as the most important soft skills in new hires. Other top traits on the list include a positive attitude, self-motivation, organization and a team-oriented mentality. Keep in mind the hiring manager's job is to probe for character flaws that may hinder workflow. Make sure your statements show a balanced depth of character, and avoid generalizations that make you seem shallow and disinterested.

Behavioral interviews may seem daunting at first, but in reality, they help you provide structured examples that highlight your most valuable skills and accomplishments. If you follow the STAR method and prepare detailed stories, you can avoid a mental block and feel confident when talking about yourself in a high-pressure interview.

Photo Courtesy of Imagerymajectic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    Thank you for the comments. @Jay Concerning the issue of introverts, I believe everyone has an area in life where they can perform impressively. Depending on the duties to be performed by the new employee, the employer can actually use the introvert nature of the person if they think the job would be better handled by an introvert.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    Thank you for the comments. @Jay Concerning the issue of introverts, I believe everyone has an area in life where they can perform impressively. Depending on the duties to be performed by the new employee, the employer can actually use the introvert nature of the person if they think the job would be better handled by an introvert.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    Thank you for the comments. @Jay Concerning the issue of introverts, I believe everyone has that area in life where they can achieve impressive results. Depending on the duties to be performed by the new employee, the employer can actually use the introvert nature of this person if they think the job would be better handled by an introvert.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Kellen I know what you mean - have been there. The candidate looks awesome on paper but acts like a 2 yr old during a behavioral interview. My response to that - next! @Jay in my personal opinion all of the assertiveness training in the world isn't going to help someone who is an introvert. The best advice is to practice ahead of time. Get a trusted friend or even coworker, find some behavioral interview questions online, and then have a mock interview. See how you feel. Were you nervous? Did all of your information just run out of your head and everything was blank? Or did you start to relax as it went along? If you were able to do this with a friend, you can do it during an interview also.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Behavioral interviews seem so intimidating! Does anyone have any advice for introverted or anxious people who want to prepare for behavioral interviews in advance? Would it be advantageous to enroll for an assertiveness course, for example — and if so, how would I go about finding an effective assertiveness program on the Internet?

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    I agree that a resume does not at all paint an accurate picture of an applicant. Behavioral interviews are an absolute necessity! I have interviewed candidates with resumes that made them seem like the ideal choice. But during the behavioral interview, they behaved ... oddly. Has anyone else had this experience? Have you ever conducted a job interview with a candidate that made you feel like you were on "Candid Camera" (or "Punk'd" for the younger generation)?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comments. @Abbey I agree with what you said. So many job seekers get carried away wanting to know every possible question that might be asked along with the applicable response! That's crazy. It's not a test. We are not being graded. It's an interview and the interviewer wants to see the real person - not the person who has 20 pages of notes in front of her so that she has an answer to every possible question! You can still respond with "I'm sorry but I don't know the answer." That's honesty and that's what they are looking for. Remember you can write the question down, research it and then, when you write up your thank you note, you can include the question and your response. Hope that helps.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    I agree that being prepared for a behavioral component in most interviews is absolutely key. even if you aren't able to think through and practice answers for the exact questions an interviewer throws at you, having started the process of thinking about answering open-ended questions and preparing yourself to provide those snapshots of your career gives a huge leg up in the interview.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I understand the rationale behind the behavioral interview. I see that the interviewer wants to get a better feel of the candidate than you can get from simple yes or no questions. However, I question whether an open-ended question deters misrepresentation by the candidate. If a person knows they are going to be asked these types of questions, they can plan ahead with misleading answers just as easily as anyone else. I think that a little less stock should be put into the answers to the questions, and more focus put on the person's body language, social and communication skills, and references. Anyone can make up a story, and most people know what to say to look good. I just don't see how behavioral interviews are any better than a traditional interview for weeding out such behavior.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @William thanks for that. Group behavioral interviews used to be all the rage many years ago. I, too, found them to be fun. You never knew and yes you were competing against each other. Did you ever see a movie where the dowdy secretary comes to a company for an interview and is put in a room with a group of extremely beautiful women who are wearing outfits to accentuate their attributes. We laugh at that but it is pretty much the same concept.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Erin, yes, to be honest, I think a fast paced, behavioral interview could be stressful if you're naturally shy. But keep in mind that many celebrities and company leaders will tell you that they are naturally shy. So shyness is not an obstacle to getting the job you want. The STAR method allows you to tell your own stories based on personal experience. This is a bonus because you be work with material that you know best.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    My favorite behavioral interview occurred in a group setting. About half a dozen people, with varying roles in the company, interviewed 20 of us at one time over the course of two hours. It was almost as if I was competing against others while trying to impress a future boss. It was like training camp for football! Sometimes it was difficult to come up with a unique answer that was different from everyone else's.

  • Erin Jean
    Erin Jean

    When being asked about your own character flaws (such as with "What's a weakness you can identify in yourself?"), how can you spin a negative to a positive without sounding cliche?

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    This makes a lot of sense- everyone knows what the "buzzwords" are, but the behavioral interview requires the interviewee to back up his assertions with proof of his experience and good judgment. I'll definitely think about some past work situations that might apply the next time I have an interview.

  • Shaday Stewart
    Shaday Stewart

    Following the STAR method could definitely be helpful for someone who is shy or nervous when speaking. As long as you take the time to practice and prepare relevant examples for common questions, you have a narrative you can refer to keep your thoughts on track. Having a list of talking points ready to go can help relieve the stress of interviewing.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Shannon absolutely - must be on your toes at all times. Sometimes it helps to practice some behavioral questions ahead of time. You can find tons of them on the Internet. Have a friend ask you the questions and see how you fare. That will give you a good idea, within reason, how the interview will go. @Erin many of us are shy when it comes to talking to strangers - even in an interview. But, the bottom line is that we have to get over that shyness if we want to find a job. Maybe as just suggested you try a mock interview with a friend. Or you might want to check in with the career services at your local college to see if they will hold a mock interview with you. They can give you pointers and offer insight into where you might need to change - such as never looking directly at the interviewer. It can't hurt and it might be enough to alleviate your shyness at least for the interview.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    Although I agree that behavioral interviews do show insight into a candidate's character and personality, I am bothered by the intent. Some companies use these strategies to uncover personal information about candidates that can be used to discriminate. It really shows the need for interviewees to be on guard and to keep their answers completely professional.

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    I think this article offers great insight into the mindset of hiring managers. What do you do if you are naturally shy around strangers? Many applicants are naturally nervous during an interview. Do you think this could make someone clam up and not be as vivacious as they would normally be? Some applicants find it hard to talk about themselves.

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