Thursday, October 11, 2012

Acing the Behavioral Interview

By Jeanne Knight

"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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

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