How to survive a Behavioral Interview

by Rich DeMatteo on July 14, 2009 · 20 comments

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The use of Behavioral Interviewing (BI) in company recruiting strategies is on the rise.  It’s use in the overall interview strategy varies.  While some organizations use the BI process for each skill set being tested, many organizations spread a few of these detail oriented, open-ended questions throughout the interview.  A well trained interviewer should know to explain to the candidate exactly what will happen during the interview.  This explanation should include the type of questions that will be asked, and how those questions should be answered.  It’s also not uncommon for the candidate to receive an interview preparation email from the HR contact, recruiter, or hiring manager which explains what to expect on the interview, or even possibly which interview methodology the company uses.  Just in case you are not so lucky to receive these preparations, let me provide some tips on my favorite interview strategy, Behavioral Interviewing.

What is a Behavioral Interview Question? – A BI question is an open-ended question that asks you to think of, and provide as much detail as possible on a previous work experience.  Interviewers goal is to keep you away from one word answers.  BI questions move away from the hypothetical, so instead of  being asked, “What did you do?”, you’re asked, “What DID you do?”.   Simple, right?

Sample BI Questions:

  • Please provide an example that shows you do everything possible to meet goals and deadlines.
  • Think of a positive experience a customer had because you had independently anticipated and met their needs.  Tell me about it.
  • Tell me about a successful group project at work.  What was your part in the project and what was the outcome?  Who were group leaders and how did the group work together as a unit?

How these questions will not be asked during a BI interview:

  • Do you meet goals and deadlines? (You, or anyone will simply say, “Yes, of course i do!”)
  • How are you with customers? (“Wonderful, customers love me, I always provide top notch service while focusing on company goals”.  You’d say that, right?)
  • Do you work well in groups? (I think you get the point.  You would say, “Sure, I can lead, or follow.  I get along well with others.”)

How to answer the BI question? – When the question is asked you should take your time and think of a specific example.  More detail the better!  If you are talking about a specific project you worked on, speak of the job titles of the people you worked with, what time of the year the project was, what you did on the project, any customers that were involved, how long it took to complete, what problems you or the group faced, and what the end result was.  If you don’t provide enough information then the interviewer will probe for more information.  Here’s possibly the biggest tip I can give.  Interviewers are trained on one of two information collection methods.  STAR or SHARE!




Results you achieved


Hindrance, or problem

Action you took

Results you acheived

Evaluation, or what you thought about the results.  Could you have done better?  What did you learn?

Keep STAR and SHARE in mind when asked a BI question.  They are looking for you to provide these four or five detail points.  Take your time with it, and don’t be afraid of some silence.  Good interviewers are trained to believe that silence on an interview is a good thing.  They expect a lot of detail from you, so they realize you need a minute or two to think of a specific situation.

The best predictor of future performance is previous performance.  This is why BI is so effective.  They say history repeats itself, so make sure you study your history and come to an interview prepared to talk about projects you’ve worked on and successes you’ve had.  If you can do this then you’ll be already one up on the interviewer.  Good luck!

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