Behavioral Interviews: What Are They & How Do You Handle Them?

The term “behavioral interview” isn’t new. It’s been around since at least the 1990s, I believe. However, you might still not have heard it or you might have encountered a behavioral interview without knowing that’s what it was going to be.

You can prepare just as well for a behavioral interview as for a “normal” interview (whatever that is!). However, you do need to understand what they involve in order to do the most effective preparation.

What is a Behavioral Interview?

According to an article titled “What is a Behavioral Interview?” by Alison Doyle, “Behavioral interviews are based on the premise that a person’s past performance on the job is the best predictor of future performance. When a company uses behavioral interviewing they want to know how you act and react in certain circumstances. They also want you to give specific ‘real life’ examples of how you behaved in situations relating to the questions.”

To put it another way, in a behavioral interview the employer is asking “what did you do when…? ” or “tell me about a time when…” rather than “what would you do if…?” The interviewer doesn’t expect you to hypothesize about what you might do in a certain kind of situation. In fact, he/she doesn’t want you to do that. Real-life examples are the goal.

You really can’t effectively “wing it” in your answers to behavioral questions or try to frame them in a way you think the interviewer will like. Your answers need to be on target.

How Do You Handle Behavioral Interviews?

Start by doing your homework ahead of time. (Groan! Yes, I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it because it’s essential.) Find out as much as you can about the situations you might encounter in that company and position.

Then comb through your success stories and other sources of information about the challenges you’ve encountered and overcome. Identify at least several kinds of situations you’ve run into that could be applicable to the company and the position you’ll be interviewing for. Become comfortable with presenting a story that relates to each one of them. Notice that I said comfortable, not rote-response-enabled. There’s a big difference.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to fake it. Glib, off-the-cuff responses will more than likely land you in the soup! If you don’t have a response that fits the question neatly, try to come up with one that’s close enough so you can legitimately say something like: “I’ve never encountered that exact situation, but I did experience one that I believe is similar. Here’s what I did about that….”

Remember, too, that in a job interview it’s always okay to take a second or two (even three) to consider a question you’ve been asked and focus your thought on the most desirable answer before you start speaking. You don’t need to rush into speech and stumble all over yourself trying to answer the question quickly.

On the other hand, as I sometimes tell clients when I’m doing interview coaching, you don’t want to sit in front of the interviewer with a “deer in the headlights” expression that tells him/her you haven’t a clue what to say!

Get your act together before the interview, and it probably won’t matter whether it’s a behavioral interview or some other kind.

One Comment on “Behavioral Interviews: What Are They & How Do You Handle Them?”

  1. jeffgillistheinterviewguy says:

    Great points, I completely agree with your approach to behavioral questions. I think job seekers do run into the problem of balancing between preparaton and “rote memorization” as you said. It takes some practic to get the balance right…

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