Mastering Behavioral Interview Questions

I recently had students engaged in a very competitive interview process that involved a case interview.  Students were so worried about the case interview, the successful students invested significant energy in preparing for that portion of the interview.  With other students, they did what they could to prepare for the case question but unfortunately left no time to prepare for the behavioral questions and that led to their downfall in this particular round of interviews.

In almost any interview situation it is highly likely that you will encounter behavioral questions.  They are easy to identify because they typically start with “tell me about a time…”, “Give me an example…”  “Describe a situation…”, etc.  Sometimes they are asked specifically during the interview but they can also be interjected during a conversation.

Why do hiring managers ask behavioral questions?  Since they can’t see exactly how you will perform in their job at their company, they are looking for situations in your past that will help them anticipate how you will perform in their job.  They are using past behavior to anticipate future behavior.

Interviewers will expect answers to their behavioral questions on the spot so it is important to have several examples in mind that you can use as needed.  The more prepared you are ,the stronger your response will be.

Craft Your Responses Using the STAR Approach

 It is important to follow the STAR approach when answering a behavioral question.

  • S/T – Situation or Task (10% of your answer) Describe the situation you were in or the task you needed to accomplish.  Use a specific event or situation and provide enough detail to put your response in context.  Be careful not to use acronyms.  This should be a high level summary.
  • A – Action (60% of your answer)  Share details of what you did, the obstacles you overcame and how you demonstrated your skills.  Show the interviewer what you did and what you accomplished in the situation.
  • R – Results (30% of your answer) Discuss the outcome. What were the results?  What did you accomplish?  If the outcome was not positive, focus on what you learned.

 Most interviewees spend all their time on the situation and the action and neglect the most important aspect which is the results.  Be sure you allow time to show how your actions made a difference.  Also resist the temptation to spend so much time setting up the situation that you rush through the rest of your response.  Your goal is to demonstrate how you applied your skills and accomplished results.

Preparation is Key to Success

 Those who believe they can “wing it” on behavioral questions often stumble in this critical part of the interview.  While you will not be given a list of behavioral questions in advance the job description offers significant insight into what the employer values in this position.  Read the job description carefully and highlight the key critical skills.  Think about examples you could share to address each of those critical skills.  Prepare your answers using the STAR method ensuring that you have a strong results summary at the end.  Practice has a significant positive impact on your responses to behavioral questions.  Be sure to practice multiple examples since you should only use the same story once in an interview.

Remember Team has no I

 Employers realize that projects are often handled by a team.  Be very careful of using “I” to describe all the actions if you were part of a team.  Be clear about how you worked as part of the team and where you took individual responsibility.  They are often seeking new employees who can effectively work as part of a team.  Even if you played a major role, taking too much credit in the interview can be a red flag to employers who will worry about your ability to successfully work as part of a team.

So, even if you are facing the challenge of a case interview, don’t forget that there will also likely be another part of the interview focused on behavioral questions.  For success, you must be prepared for all aspects of the interview.



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