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Career Advice

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Marc Cenedella

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Interviewing

Acing the Behavioral Interview

Have a story for every skill.

By Jeanne Knight
FILED UNDER: Interview Questions.
Interviewing

"The most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation."

This statement is the premise behind behavioral interviewing, an interviewing technique created in the 1970s by industrial psychologists. This style of interview is becoming popular with employers, and it can be a challenging experience.

You're likely to face the technique on job interviews and you should be prepared to confront it the right way.

Traditional interviewing calls upon the candidate to state opinions: "Tell me about yourself." "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" "Why do you want to work for this company?" By contrast, behavioral interviewing requires job candidates to relate stories about how they handled challenges related to the skill sets the company requires for the position.

For example, if a job requires strong communication and team-building skills, an interviewer might ask candidates to recount past experiences where they explained new plans that brought a team together. Behavioral interview questions often start with phrases like, "Tell me about a time when ..." or "Describe a situation in which ... " or "Give me an example of ..."

While your skills and experiences could be a perfect match for the position, you could lose out if you can't validate them with relevant anecdotes.

So how do you prepare for a behavioral interview?

First, you'll want to put yourself in the shoes of the employer and imagine what the ideal candidate for the position would answer from the interviewer's perspective.

Then, take the time to review thoroughly the job description and research the company and its culture. Look for cues about skills necessary for the job and valued by the organization. Next, think about the sorts of behavioral questions an interviewer might ask to determine those skills.

Here are a few examples of skill sets and some behaviorally focused interview questions aimed at surfacing them.

Decision Making and Problem Solving

  • Describe a situation in which you used good judgment and logic to solve a problem.
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to be quick in coming to a decision.

Leadership

  • Have you ever had trouble getting others to agree with your ideas? How did you deal with the situation, and were you successful?
  • Describe the most challenging group from which you've had to gain cooperation.

Motivation

  • Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty.
  • Give me an example of a situation in which you positively influenced the actions of others.

Communication

  • Describe a situation in which you were able to communicate with another individual who did not personally like you (or vice versa).
  • Describe a time you had to use written communication to convey an important argument or idea.

Interpersonal Skills

  • Give me examples of what you've done in the past to nurture teamwork.
  • Give an example of an unpopular decision you've made, what the result was and how you managed it.

Planning and Organization

  • When scheduling your time, what method do you use to decide which items are priorities?
  • Describe how you've handled a sudden interruption to your schedule.

Once you've determined which behavioral-based questions you might be asked during an interview, look back on your past experiences and develop stories to answer those questions. Your stories should be detailed yet succinct, and they should always include the following three elements:

  1. A description of a specific, real-life situation or challenge you encountered.
  2. A description of the specific tasks and actions you took to overcome that challenge.
  3. A summary of the results of those actions. (Try to quantify these results whenever possible.)

Here is a sample answer to a behavioral interview question that incorporates each of these elements.

Question: Give an example of a goal you reached, and tell me how you achieved it.

Answer: Due to cuts in funding to our adult continuing education program, we faced the daunting goal of drastically reducing our promotional budget without sacrificing our media presence in the community. As program director, I researched alternatives to the effective, yet costly, course brochure, which was produced and distributed biannually to about 60,000 residents of our service region. I was able to negotiate with two local newspapers to produce and distribute a new course brochure that increased distribution by 33 percent, to 80,000 residents, and decreased costs by 50 percent.

Familiarizing yourself with the behavioral interview style, crafting and practicing your stories and doing some homework on the position you seek will ensure that you won't be caught off guard should you encounter a behavioral interview.

Jeanne Knight is a certified Career Coach/Resume Expert who helps individuals navigate career transitions. She offers career and job search coaching as well as resume writing services.

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