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Behavioral Interviewing

Most interviews include behavioral questions. Be prepared!

Behavioral interviewing is a technique used by employers to learn about your past behavior in particular situations. The reason: Past behavior is a better predictor of future behavior than is speculation - on your part - about how you would act in a hypothetical future situation.

For example:

Weak question: "Do you like working with people?"

This question could be answered with a "yes" or "no" and is extremely vague. It begs the questions: What kinds of people (coworkers, clients, etc.)? Working how (teaching, serving, leading)? The answer is implied; most likely the interviewee is expected to say "yes." Thus this question is poorly phrased and is likely to yield no useful information.

Better: "If you had to work with an annoyed customer, what would you do?"

Better because this specifies the type of person and the situation. Still not the best because it calls on you, the interviewee, to speculate. You can likely come up with a predicted future behavior that is preferable, even if you did not behave that way in the past.

Best format, not a question, but more a statement calling for a response: "Tell me about a time you had to deal with a disgruntled individual in a work situation."

This is best because you must draw on your past behavior, which is the best predictor of future behaviors. Most college students have worked in some kind of customer service environment and can likely cite an example.

Notice most of these are statements for your response, not questions.

  • Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stresses at work that tested your coping skills. What did you do?
  • Give an example of a time when you had to be relatively quick in coming to a decision.
  • Give me an example of an important goal you had to set and tell me about your progress in reaching that goal.
  • Describe the most creative work-related project you have completed.
  • Give me an example of a problem you faced on the job, and tell me how you solved it.
  • Tell me about a situation in the past in which you had to deal with a very upset supervisor or co-worker.
  • Give me an example of when you had to show good leadership.

Responding well to these types of questions:

  • In behavior-based interviews, you are asked to give specific examples of when you demonstrated particular behaviors or skills or processes (such as problem-solving).
  • Be specific, not general or vague.
  • General answers about behavior are not what the employer is looking for. You must describe in detail a particular event, project, or experience and how you dealt with the situation, and the resulting outcome.
  • Avoid using language such as, "I would do...," or "One should do...."
  • Don't talk about what others did or would do (unless this is part of a larger response focusing on what you did).
  • Do talk about what you, individually, actually did. You can talk about others in context of your role on a team, if applicable.
  • Don't describe how you would behave. Describe how you did actually behave. If you later decided you should have behaved differently, explain this. The employer will see that you learned something from experience.
  • If you did not encounter the situation the employer presents, ask if you can describe a related situation in which you used skills or behaviors or processes that would also be applicable to the situation the employer presented.
  • The "S.T.A.R." technique is a useful approach to structure your response:
    Describe the Situation you were in or the Task you needed to accomplish; describe the Action you took, and the Results.

For any interview: Prior to your interview, review the skills, abilities and characteristics required for the job.

Review your memory for occasions when you demonstrated these skills, abilities and characteristics, and make any notes you need to prepare yourself to discuss these in a factual, specific way in the interview. Don't expect to read directly from notes in an interview; use notes to prepare and practice.