9 Steps to Prepare for Behavioral Interviews | My Global Career

In a job interview, you may field questions about your situational behavior and decision making. That’s based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Behavioral questions (often not even framed as a question) typically start out: “Tell me about a time…” or “Describe a situation…”

Example questions are: “Tell me about a time where you confronted an unexpected problem,” “Describe an experience when you failed to achieve a goal,” or “Give me a specific example of a time when you managed several projects at once.”

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, studying the job description, and talking to people who work there will enable you to zero in on the kinds of behaviors the company wants. In the interview, your response must be specific and detailed. Candidates who tell the interviewer about particular situations that relate to each question will be far more successful than those who respond in general terms.

Ideally, briefly describe the situation, the specific action you took to have an effect on the situation, and the positive result or outcome. It’s also helpful to think of your responses as stories. Frame each example as a three-step story, usually called a S-A-R, P-A-R, or C-A-R statement: 1. situation (or problem, challenge), 2. action, 3. result/outcome. Become an engaging storyteller in your interviews, but be careful not to ramble.

It’s difficult to prepare for a behavior-based interview because of the huge number and variety of behavioral questions you might be asked. The best way to prepare is to arm yourself with a small arsenal of example stories that you can adapt to many behavioral questions. Despite myriad possible behavioral questions, you can get some idea of what to expect by looking at Web sites that feature behavioral questions. Knowing what kinds of questions might be asked will help you prepare an effective selection of examples.

Interviewers will expect most of your examples to spring from your professional experience, but it’s acceptable to draw a few responses from such activities as volunteer work and community service. Wherever possible, quantify your results. Interviewers especially want to hear these outcome metrics.

Remember that many behavioral questions endeavor to probe the way you responded to negative situations; you’ll need to have examples of negative experiences ready, but try to choose negative experiences that you made the best of or–better yet, those that had positive outcomes or that you learned from.

Here are 9 effective steps to prepare for behavior-based interviews:

  1. Identify up to 20 examples from your past experience in which you demonstrated top behaviors and skills that your research has indicated that the targeted employer seeks. Think in terms of examples that will exploit your top selling points.
  2. Half your examples should be totally positive, such as achieving accomplishments or meeting goals.
  3. The other half should be situations that started out negatively but either ended positively or you made the best of (or learned from) the outcome.
  4. Vary your examples; don’t take them all from just one area of your career.
  5. Use fairly recent examples–within the last year is best. Some employers, in fact, specify that candidates give examples of behaviors demonstrated within the last year.
  6. Describe examples in story form using a PAR/SAR/CAR structure.
  7. Write your example stories down and give them titles. Though you don’t want to use these written versions as scripts or memorize your responses, you’ll find that writing them helps organize and crystallize them in your mind. Giving them titles will help you recall them from your memory bank more easily.
  8. To cram for a behavioral interview right before you’re interviewed, review your resume. Seeing your achievements in print will jog your memory.
  9. 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 diverse range of behavioral questions. Expect interviewers to pose several follow-up questions and probe for details that explore all aspects of a given situation or experience.

Once you’ve snagged the job, keep a record of achievements and accomplishments so you’ll be ready with more great examples the next time you go on a behavior-based interview.

Katharine (Kathy) Hansen, Ph.D., is the author of Top Notch Executive Interviews (from which this post is adapted), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes, and six other books. Kathy is creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers. She is an educator, author, and also blogs about storytelling at A Storied Career.

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