Successfully Answer Behavioral Questions in Your Job Interview

Many employers are now doing “behavioral interviews”. Rather than focusing on your resume and reviewing your accomplishments as you have written them on paper, the “behavioral” interviewer will ask you open-ended questions that will cause you to describe real circumstances and your responses to them.

General answers about behavior are not what the employer is looking for. You must describe in detail a particular event, project, or experience and you dealt with the situation, and what the outcome was. The premise behind behavioral interviewing is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations.

Although it will be more difficult to prepare concrete answers in advance to these interviews (as opposed to traditional ones), you can and should take some time to review your understanding of yourself, your past successes and concrete examples of your accomplishments. Work on honesty, sincerity and candidness. When you start to tell a behavioral story, the interviewer may try to sort out the details by understanding your behaviors.

The interviewer will probe for more depth, detail or understanding with questions like: “What were you thinking at that point?” or “Tell me more about what you discussed with that person.”

If you’ve told a story that’s anything but totally honest, your response will not hold up through these probes.

If you have a spouse or friend that can pose as an interviewer for you, it can be helpful for you to practice answering open-ended questions, such as the following. Have your friend probe further:

  • Tell me about a time that you demonstrated initiative?

  • Describe a situation when have you motivated yourself to complete an assignment or task that you did not want to do?

  • Think about a difficult boss, professor or other person. What made him or her difficult? How did you successfully interact with this person?

  • Think about a complex project or assignment that you have been assigned. What approach did you take to complete it?

  • Tell me about the riskiest decision that you have made. What were your considerations in making that particular decision.

  • Can you tell me about an occasion where you needed to work with a group to get a job done? What were the challenges and difficulties and how did you face these?

  • Describe a situation when you or a group that you were a part of were in danger of missing a deadline. What did you do?

  • Tell me about a time when you worked with a person who did things very differently from you. How did you get the job done? Would you work with that person again if given the choice?

  • Describe your three greatest accomplishments to date.

  • Tell me about a situation when you had to learn something new in a short time. How did you proceed?

  • Can you tell me about a complex problem that you solved? Describe the process you utilized.

  • Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split second decision.

  • Give me an example of a bad decision that you made and what you learned from that mistake?

  • Tell me about a time when something you tried to accomplish and failed. What did you learn from that failure?

  • Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem. What did you learn from that mistake?

  • Tell me about a challenge that you successfully met.

  • Describe a situation when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.

  • Please tell me about one or two unpopular decisions you have made. What were the positive and negative outcomes of those decisions?

  • What leadership positions have you held? Describe your leadership style. What aspects of your leadership style have you changed or deleted once you learned that these aspects were not successful?

  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.

  • Summarize a situation where you successfully persuaded others to do something or to see your point of view. Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion.

  • Give an example of when your persistence had the biggest payoff.

  • How have you most constructively dealt with disappointment and turned it into a learning experience? Please give me a concrete example in your life.

  • Tell me of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.

  • Describe a situation in which you effectively developed a solution to a problem by combining different perspectives or approaches.

When answering “behavioral questions”, do try to steer clear of the pat answers that interviewers are adept at spotting. For example, don’t try to portray yourself as a person that never makes mistakes. Or as a person whose only failings are that you work too much, are too dedicated, too loyal, etc.

Be honest about your mistakes since the experienced interviewer will be looking for “progress” and “growth”, not perfection. But, do give an example of how you learned from your mistake and how that experience has benefited you in the long run.

Be succinct and concise! In all behavioral answers, the interviewer wants to hear:

  • A brief description of the problem, challenge or situation.
  • What your action was & how you decided that action.
  • A brief description of the result of your action and your assessment of its result.

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