Job interviews can be nerve-wracking, but the more you prepare, the better you’ll perform, generally speaking. To be sure, there are a lot of bad interviewers (the people evaluating candidates) out there and several types of interview questions they might ask. But good interviewers – hopefully, most recruiters – will ask a lot of behavioral interview questions.
What is a behavioral interview question?
A behavioral interview question is one that asks the candidate to recount a time or an example of when they’ve demonstrated a particular competency. A competency is a set of knowledge, a skill, or a trait. For example, a particular job may require that the successful candidate have knowledge of DEI best practices, strong analytical skills, and be highly collaborative. A behavioral interview question is designed to elicit specific, convincing evidence of a desired competency, and reduce perceived risk in the recruiter or hiring manager’s mind.
How can I best prepare for a behavioral interview?
Start your preparation by identifying required competencies for the job. These are often detailed in the job description. Once you’ve identified what you think are the most important competencies, have two to three stories prepared that demonstrate each of these. One story can be used to illustrated several competencies. It’s okay to use a story more than once, but you don’t want to over-use it. Hence, have more than one example ready.
A framework to follow
The most common framework to prepare for behavioral interviews is the STAR framework. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. For example, if the role requires someone who has strong project management skills, you might draft a story as follows:
Situation: I was in charge of organizing a women’s conference for 300 women employees.
Task: I was responsible for all logistics, including selecting a venue, managing registration, communication with attendees, organizing the agenda, arranging food, purchasing swag, and engaging both internal and outside speakers.
Action: I fortunately had an assistant to help me, so I delegated all initial research to her, including making cost comparisons, and she presented me with options for each area. Once I decided on the options that best fit with our budget, we created a process to track progress and execution of each work stream. We enlisted volunteers to help with these work streams the day of the conference to make sure things went smoothly, since the two of us could not be everywhere at once.
Result: The result was that the conference was a huge success. We got lots of great feedback and new ideas for next year’s conference.
While the exact behavioral questions you receive will vary based on the specific job for which you are interviewing, here are three common behavioral interview questions that you should prepare for, along with sample answers.
Tell me about a time when you had to manage a conflict or deliver difficult feedback. How did you handle it?
Situation: A colleague of mine had been consistently late to several meetings, which made them less productive for everyone and felt disrespectful to some people.
Task: I knew I had to bring it to his attention and discuss it with him.
Action: At the end of a regular meeting I had with him, I shared with him that he seemed to be stressed and I noticed that he had been late to several meetings, including that meeting and shared what the impact had been. I got curious to see if there was something going on that I wasn’t aware of that was causing this, and he shared that he was getting a late start to his day all week due to a sick child. This, in turn, pushed everything else behind, so all of his meetings ran over throughout the week.
Result: By bringing this up with him and getting curious about it (versus making judgments or jumping to conclusions), we were able to discuss how he might still set a boundary in order to end each meeting on time, so he could show up on time for his next meeting. Our discussion helped him feel like he had permission to make a ‘hard stop’ when the meeting time ran out. This reduced his stress and allowed him to stay on track for the day and not hold others up.
Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision with imperfect information.
Situation: When I accepted my last job at Company A, I was interviewing at two companies – Company A and Company B. I had received the offer from Company A, but I was also very interested in a job at Company B, where the interview process was moving more slowly. When it came down to it, I was not going to know if I had an offer from Company B before I needed to give a response to Company A. The job at Company B seemed really interesting, so it was hard to make a decision at first without knowing if I’d get an offer at Company B or not.
Task: But ultimately, I had to decide if I was going to accept the job at Company A—or not—without knowing if I was going to receive an offer at Company B.
Action: I took a step back and articulated what was most important to me in my next professional experience. I then rated the job at Company A based on these criteria, rating the job on a scale of 1-10 for each criterion. I told myself that if the average rating surpassed an 8, I would feel confident that I’d be happy in the role and would accept the offer from Company A without knowing the outcome of Company B.
Result: Using this method, the job rated an 8.5 and I accepted the job. I withdrew from the process at Company B once I accepted the offer, so I don’t know what that outcome would have been. In the end, I was very happy with my choice, as I learned a lot in that role.
Tell me about a time when you had to influence someone.
Situation: In my last role, I wanted to hire an outside company to design and deliver a leadership development program for high potential managers. This firm was more expensive, but the quality they offered was clearly better. My boss was very much a ‘numbers person’ and primarily cared about the budget.
Task: I needed to influence her to go with the higher-priced company.
Action: I prepared a side-by-side comparison of what each potential vendor offered, highlighting the depth of content and experience that this particular firm offered. I took the liberty of quantifying the bigger impact this program would have for our people and what that could translate to in terms of business results and positive financial impact that exceeded the cost.
Result: By putting things into her language, she was able to see how spending more here might save the company money in the long-run through increased leadership effectiveness and productivity, as well as lower turnover, and agreed to my recommendation to hire the more expensive firm.
Practice is still key
As with preparation for any interview, practice is key. Write out your STAR responses to each behavioral interview question. Do several mock interviews and get real-time feedback from a friend or a coach. Practice out loud in the in the mirror. The more you have the content prepared for your answers without sounding canned or rehearsed, the more you can be present in the interview. This will, in turn, allow you to focus on the dynamic of the conversation, and connect with your interviewer, and ultimately be more successful in the interview process.