Understanding Behavioral Interview Questions

It’s been a while since I’ve been job hunting, but recently a good friend of mine and I had a conversation where she shared with me how “difficult” a recent job interview had been for her. My friend isn’t much of a complainer so it made me curious about what had been so hard about the interview. She went on to explain that it SHOULD have been easy, but since she wasn’t prepared properly she thought she’d bombed it. That made me even more curious, because I know this girl knows her field top to bottom.

It turns out that the interview was not a technical interview – those measure what you know. This interview wasn’t about what she knew. She wasn’t mentally prepared for it because it was a different type of interview. One that is known as a behavioral interview. Basically, in a behavioral interview the interviewee is asked questions that probe for specific past behaviors with the theory that past behaviors will be a predictor of future behavior. So, if the interviewer wants to know how you’ll react in a situation that you’re likely to face in their workplace then they can ask you how you’ve acted in similar situations before and also “how that worked out”.

Instead of asking a candidate for a manager position how they THINK someone should deal with an employee who is often tardy (a question that can be “studied for”) the interviewer can instead ask the candidate to “tell me about a time when you had to deal with an employee who was unable to get to work on time. What was the end result?”

Now, as someone answering these types of questions all you can really do is tell the truth… it’s hard for most people to lie on the spot about specific situations that didn’t happen at all. So that means they’ll get honest answers that are completely relevant and only “fact based” not “what you want to hear based”, right? Well mostly.

In reality, to maximize your interview, you’ll definitely want to tell the truth, but then also ANALYZE the truth out loud. This gives you an opportunity to be truthful, to describe a less than ideal behavior that you’ve acted out before (this gives credibility that you’ve atleast really faced the situation). But then, whether you acted well or not,  you can also add something like “if I was presented with the same situation again I’d do xyz because pdq”. That was where my friend failed. She answered the questions that she could, but several times she told them “true stories” about how she had behaved, but she didn’t follow up with WHY she would or would not do the same thing again.

I only pass this along because she was really upset about her performance and we both agreed when it was done that it was really a good experience that she learned from… even I learned from it!

I, having been out of the market of job interviews (not actively seeking a change in employment), hadn’t really studied up on the topic. I have now. There are several good sites out there with great information on behavioral interview questions categorized by topic (leadership, business acumen, ethical issues, etc) and by position type (managers, leaders, nurses, mechanics, etc).

For some reason I actually like reading the questions I linked to and thinking about my answers… imaging an interviewer sitting across from be being awed by the depth of my experiences and the wisdom it has gained me! (Note: lots of sarcasm in that last sentence… i don’t have that much wisdom and my experiences are deeper than some but no where near the others). Either way, going through the occasional questions allows for some reflection about my previous experiences and corresponding actions / results.

If you’ve got some free time OR you’re at all interested in becoming better in job interviews then I recommend checking out that website. See how you feel about answering the questions that are relevant to the type of position you’d be seeking before you go on your next interview. Look through the job description and see which categories of questions are liable to be important and work on answering a few of them before the interview. Being aware, being practiced, and being prepared might be the difference! Good luck!

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