Behavioral interviewing is an interview designed to determine if an applicant has the necessary traits for a job.  Specific questions allow the interviewer to ask applicants to pinpoint success in specific areas from their past.  Selected questions can also help a hiring manager determine if an applicant has the necessary behaviors and competencies that have proven to aid a new hire in onboarding, ramp up to production and overall long term success in the specific role for which they are being considered.

Typically, behavioral interview questions include key areas of focus when probing to gain more insight on an applicant’s strength and skills.  In answering questioning during an interview, be prepared to expand or provide details for example:

  • ACTIONS:  How did you approach the situation/example given?
  • THINKING:  What was your strategic thinking or analysis?
  • OUTCOME:  What was the end result or impact?
  • LEARNINGS:  What did you take away from the result?  What have you changed about your actions, thinking, and process?
  • APPLICATION:  Did you apply your learnings or lessons from the experiences or examples you share – immediately or over time? 

It’s easiest to simply recollect the exact scenario you are using for the example and explain.  First at high level and then in greater detail as directed by the interviewer or if you feel it will give a better picture to highlight your expertise, experience or skills.  Remember, the interviewer is also looking for the behaviors that lead you to this example:

  • Most behavioral questions begin with, “Tell me about…” or “Describe for me…” or “Give me an example of…” They are not close ended questions or “yes”/”no” questions.  The interviewer wants the story, so to speak, but make sure your answer is sharp and clear, avoid getting too deep into the weeds.  Also avoid giving scenarios or theories, behavioral interviews are set up so that the interviewer can hear real life examples that happened to you directly. 

Behavioral questions are not situational; the interviewer isn’t looking for what you think they want to hear.

There are dozens, even hundreds of behavior type interview questions, formats, outlines and structures.  So to list them out would be impossible.  Certainly, it is never a good idea to “wing it” but it would be a smart idea to come prepared with some strong examples of what makes you the best and brightest candidate for the role.

  • For example, did you notice in the job description or role summary that the company listed skills/experience terms such as “strategic leader” or “customer focus”.  If so, before your interview, think of a time or a few examples in your past in which you were recognized or stood out for your strategic approach as a leader or perhaps outstanding customer service.  Be prepared to share that example, provide details etc. 

Below is a vanilla example, but one that will show what the flow may look like. 

Behavioral question seeking competency of Strategic Agility:

INTERVIEWER:  Tell me about a time when your strategic skills really helped you with a project as a leader.

APPLICANT:  When I was at XYZ Company, our team goals were to increase our performance metrics by 20% by year end.  Since I was new to the company and industry, I did a bit of research first to benchmark our internal track record as well as our competitor’s track record. (ACTION)  I noticed that some of our practices and processes were out of date, specifically in the technology arena and in our service level agreements with clients. (THINKING) Working with a few industry peers and following additional research, I prepared a plan of program improvements, set up training for team and then found a form of measurement to track our process. (OUTCOME)  In less than 6 months we were already trending toward our goal but there was still an opportunity to do some tweaking.  For instance (LEARNINGS), having an outside vendor train the team would have been better suited, while I was trying to cut costs in all areas,  I had stretched myself too thin in covering all of my own responsibilities and most importantly it temporarily took me away from being able to properly support, coach and mentor the team through this change.  (APPLICATION/RESULTS)  This experience allowed me to learn that cutting costs may need to be done by priority and long term goal.  As we wrapped up the year, we conducted surveys with our clients as well as had a team offsite to talk about what we did well, what we need to keep doing and where we need to make adjustments.  In the end, we did save money, spending in some areas allowed for more efficiencies and higher production, which in turn generated more revenue.  We exceeded our goal by moving the needle to 25% increase in performance metrics.

As you can see from above, the focus areas (highlighted in parentheses) were included for you.  In a more natural setting, this type of flow would allow the interviewer to get a full picture of the candidate’s experience and skill set as well as what behaviors and competencies drive them.  And don’t be surprised if the interviewer asking “probing questions” on top of the behavioral question.  That’s where those areas of focus, above, will come into play.

Behavioral questions, in general, can often be found on the internet.  Most common competencies employers hire for are:  Integrity, Leadership, Initiative, Communication, Problem Solving, Relationship Building and Adaptability/Agility.  In fact, you may even ask the recruiter, in advance of meeting the hiring manager or next interview, “What types of competencies do you feel would make someone in this role successful?”  That’s a fair question and a great way to help you be even more prepared for what they’ll be looking for and what they’ll be asking.

And remember, if you don’t have an answer to a question when you’re in the hot seat, never make one up or speak off the cuff.  Simply ask for more time to collect your thoughts and if you are really stumped, ask the interviewer to come back to the question later.  Sometimes as the flow of the interview progresses, you’ll have found your way back to an excellent example. 

Practice 

For practice, ask yourself questions beginning with “Describe a time…”  Think about what the hiring manager may want to learn about you that will directly allow them to see why you are the best fit.  Show them the “can do” and “will do” of your history, specifically as it relates to the role for which you’re being considered.  Reflect on your recognitions, achievements and moments in your career where you shined.  What makes that memory stand out to you, what makes it special?  Use it in the interview!  Those are the ideal examples to use and they happened to you, so your detail and ability to share those examples will flow easily and authentically, allowing you to stand out above the rest. 

Best of luck!