You saw a job posting, sent in your resume or filled out their application, and waited. Then came the news, you were picked – and they want to have you come in for an interview – a behavioral interview. Getting yourself mentally ready for a behavioral interview can be overwhelming. If you don't know what questions the interviewer will ask, how can you ever feel confident that you are ready?
The answer to this question is preparation. Actually, over preparation.
Behavioral-style interviews typically follow a similar format, even if you don't know an interviewer's exact questions. You can take specific steps to prepare for it, and hopefully walk out with your dream job.
What Is a Behavioral Job Interview?
Behavioral interviews provide insight into how a candidate has previously behaved in a particular situation. It's not a perfect way of assessing past performance, but it does seem to do better than standard interview questions such as the good old “what is your greatest strength/weakness.”
Behavioral interview questions generally start with “tell me about a time when.” A few examples of behavioral interview questions include:
- Tell me about a time a customer got upset with you.
- Describe a significant mistake you made and what you did to correct it.
- Tell me about a time when you were right, and others were wrong.
- Describe a time when you had to adapt to significant changes at work.
To answer, you generally want to start by describing the situation, then lay out the problem, followed by going into detail about the action you took to solve the problem, and finishing with the result or any lessons learned.
It can be tough to anticipate answers to these questions. They can span a wide variety of situations and circumstances, and are designed to catch you off guard a bit. Not to trick you, but to get you to describe the situation as if you were reliving your past.
Here is a solid step-by-step process you can use to prepare for behavioral interviews.
Preparing for a Behavioral Interview
Step 1: Gather Your Stories
Finding practice questions online and then running through several examples isn't a terrible approach. But it's a reactive approach instead of a proactive one.
The key to mastering the behavioral interview is, in a word, stories. Well-organized and compelling stories are the key to nailing your behavioral interview.
Your goal is to develop eight to ten stories you want to tell during your interview. Great stories get people hired.
Narrow down your planning to eight to ten stories by brainstorming dozens of potential situations.
Start by writing out topics. Go through old performance reviews, emails, or task lists to jog your memory about possible stories. Write down anything that comes to mind, no matter how good or bad.
Step away for a few hours. When you come back, review your brain dump of potential stories and narrow the list down to those eight to ten stories that you feel compelled to share during your interview.
Step 2: Write Out Your Stories
Once you narrow your list of stories, it's time to start writing them out in detail.
You will want to ensure your stories follow the process outlined here:
- Describe the situation
- Layout the problem
- Detail the action you took to solve the problem
- Finish with the result and any lessons learned
Don't cheat yourself here. Take the time to write out each of your stories in detail.
Here's a good example.
Two years ago, I led a project to determine cost efficiencies in our business line. This project required me to collaborate with peers and senior team members to sell our ideas to senior leadership. This project was incredibly challenging because I relied on input from busy individuals several pay grades above me.
Thankfully, I had invested in relationships with these individuals before this project, so there was a level of trust established when I needed assistance. Selling the team on the “why” of the project was the most critical factor in getting others on board.
Upon completion, the project received positive feedback from senior leadership, and I implemented two measures to reduce costs by 10%. In addition, this initiative taught me to lead a team of peers and with seniority through relationships and influence.
Repeat the process with different stories from your past.
The job description of the position you're interviewing for will help you determine the focus of your stories. For example, if communication is mentioned several times in the job description, ensure you have several related examples. If at all possible, draw on more recent experiences.
Step 3: Rehearse Your Stories
When you have a list of eight to ten detailed stories, you should be able to apply them to almost any behavioral interview question.
Sites such as Glassdoor may provide examples of questions candidates were asked during the interview process. Interview questions are predominantly available for larger companies. In addition, there is a section dedicated to the actual interview questions from candidates.
Spend an hour or two reading through sample interview questions and think about what story applies to each. Maybe run through a few examples in detail, talking through exactly how you would answer the question.
Don't memorize or rehearse too much, or you may appear robotic during the interview. You want the interview to be more conversational.
Step 4: Ace Your Interview
Here are a few more suggestions to help you ace your interview.
- Research the organization to show interest in the company where you're interviewing.
- Be prepared to share about the position or organization that interested you. Also, be ready to share why you left or are leaving your most recent organization.
- Ensure you know the parking or mass transportation situation. There's nothing more stressful than trying to find parking last minute. Instead, take a drive to the organization a few days before if time allows, and if not, use Google street view to get a feel for the location.
- Unless explicitly stated, always dress in business professional attire for an interview. Even if via video conference.
- Nothing will help you better prepare than a great night's sleep. Don't stay up all night preparing at the risk of losing sleep.
- Plan to arrive at least 15-30 minutes early. Many large companies have a time-consuming sign-in or security process that you may need to go through. Being prepared is the best way to show up relaxed.
- During the interview, be polite, positive, and confident. Never say anything negative about a previous employer or boss.
- Prepare two or three questions about the position for the end of the interview. Questions such as “what do you like most about this company?” are generally well-received as it shows that you are interested in learning more.
- Be flexible and agile, as there will almost always be at least one question that catches you off-guard.
- Be prepared for other personality, cognitive, or technical testing if you advance through the process.
Landing your dream job is about selling yourself to your potential future employer. There's no better way to do that than through effective storytelling. A new job can completely change the trajectory of your life, so prepare accordingly.
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Featured Image Credit: Unsplash.
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.