Being on the candidate side of a behavioral interview can be exceedingly stressful. For those of you who have never encountered one, a behavioral interview is one in which the interviewer asks detailed questions about your past experiences. Instead of asking “How would you deal with an irate customer?” The interviewer will say, “Tell me about an incident in which you had to deal with an angry customer. What did you do? What was the outcome?” It’s pretty easy to figure out what the interviewer wants to hear in answer to the first question and give them that hypothetical answer. If you’re asked the second question, and unprepared, you can easily start to panic, trying to think of the least bad situation or the incident that had the best outcome. If you hesitate or tiptoe around the question, the interviewer will delve deeper to get at the truth.
So, before you get into this situation, it’s best to prepare for it. Even if you never encounter a behavioral interview, you’ll be surprised at how thinking about your experiences in these terms will improve your ability to present yourself and your qualifications in any situation.
Behavioral interviews are designed around the premise that the best indicator of your future performance is your past behavior. The basic traits that interviewers most often search for are: Assertiveness, Clarification, Commitment to Task, Dealing with Ambiguity, Decision Making, Interaction, Leadership, Management Skills, Communication Skills, Organizational Skills, Problem Solving and Team Building. Questions are developed around these traits to determine a candidate’s capabilities in each of these areas (or other areas relevant to the position).
The interviewer, in asking these open-ended questions, wants to hear a detailed accounting of what happened – not just a general overview. By providing a thorough account, including a background of events leading up to the situation, your reaction and role in it, and the outcome and lessons learned from it, the interviewer will be able to predict how you will react in the future to a similar situation.
Candidates should prepare for a behavioral interview by thinking of instances that correlate with each of the above traits – a situation in which you showed leadership, how you functioned within a team, etc…Thinking of a negative example may be even more useful, as interviewers will often ask about the times when things didn’t go as planned. If your interviewer takes this approach, make sure that you include the lessons you learned and how these will impact your future behavior in your answer. “If it happened again, I would make sure to…”
Behavioral interviews don’t have to be nerve-wracking if you’re prepared. Just remember to stay calm and be honest.