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Behavioral Interviews: What are They Are and How to Prepare for One

Behavioral interviews are becoming more common, and they are different than traditional interviews. They can be a bit more intensive than a traditional interview, but the good news is that you can prepare for it much like you would a traditional interview.

What is a behavioral interview?

A behavioral interview focuses on a person’s past experiences. The questions typically ask a candidate to provide specific examples of how they’ve exhibited certain behaviors, skills, abilities, and knowledge. The questions tend to be direct and probing. Your answers should be equally specific and concrete as to how you dealt with past issues. They should not be general answers. For example, if the interviewer asks “Tell me about a time you provided exemplary customer service”, your answer shouldn’t be something like “I say hi to all my customers”. It should be more like: “I had a customer that didn’t know anything about computers but wanted to buy one. I took the time with the customer to explain in simple terms what each computer offered. I then discussed with them what they wanted to do with their computer and was able to assist them in choosing a computer that best suited their needs.” In other words, give a specific example of how you accomplished a task.

Why do they do behavioral interviews?

The information and examples you provide the interviewer tends to reveal the prospect’s character, actual level of experience, and potential to handle similar issues within the company and in day to day work. The questions also tend to be more job specific, and they will use the same questions with every candidate making it easier to compare and contrast the candidates allowing them to choose the best person for the job.

How do I prepare for a behavioral interview?

I’ll admit it can be difficult (but not impossible!) to prepare for a behavioral interview. For starters you won’t know until you sit down with the interviewer what type (traditional or behavioral) of interview you’ll be having. So you’ll have to prepare for two types of interviews.

That being said, since behavioral interviews tend to be rather job specific, there’s no real extensive list of common interview questions for them. What to do? What to do? For starters, take some time to think about past situations where you went above and beyond, special situations you may have dealt with, projects you’ve worked on, difficult situations where you were able to turn things around, that sort of thing. If you have them, look at your past performance reviews to recharge your memory.

You’ll want to study the job description and especially focus on the knowledge, skills, or abilities they list. You may get a hint about what topics they may ask.

Next learn about or refresh yourself on STAR. No, I’m not talking astronomy or astrology here. STAR is an interview response method. It stands for





Therefore, you’ll want to respond by describing the situation, the task that needed to be done, the action you took, and the results. By following the STAR method you’ll be giving the specific response the interviewer will be looking for.

When the interviewer asks a question, listen to it carefully so you know how to select your answer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions for clarification or for a minute to consider your answer.

Keep in mind there is no right or wrong answers to these questions. As long as you give them specific answers, you’ll be doing fine. Be open and honest with your answers as well. Don’t make anything up. If you don’t have a great answer, admit it and maybe be willing to offer to talk about a not so good situation and the valuable lesson you learned from it that you carry with you. The interviewer will likely find your candidness refreshing.

Lastly, be thorough with your answers but fairly brief. Try and keep it under two minutes. You want to be specific but you don’t need to bore them with every detail of the situation.

Common interview questions

I know, I know. I said there was no definitive list, and there really isn’t. However, there are topics that very well may come up because they don’t want to know just about your knowledge, skills, and abilities, but also you as a person and the kind of fit you would be within the company. Some of these topics will be problem solving, conflict resolution, teamwork, customer/client service, communication, values & professionalism, initiative/motivation, adaptability/flexibility, and time management. If you take each of these topics and consider a STAR answer (remember these are topics, not actually questions so be prepare to think on your feet) for them, you’ll likely be in pretty good shape.

Behavioral interview are not easy to prepare for but you can do well in the interview by thinking carefully, using STAR, and being ready with some professional examples. Be positive in both your demeanor and answers. Don’t exaggerate or try to impress the interviewer; be yourself. Do all this and you’ll naturally impress them.


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