INTERVIEWS / JUL. 26, 2016
version 13, draft 13

How to Prepare for a Behavioral Job Interview

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Behavioral questions are some of the most popular interview questions as they showcase your skills and competences. This is how to answer them successfully.

Job interviews are usually nerve-wracking. Having to sit across a room from a stranger and talk to them about yourself and your skills is never pleasant, but it is a necessary step if you want to go from being unemployed to employed.

What Are Behavioral Questions and Why Are They Asked?

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Some of the most common questions asked at job interviews are pretty straightforward and providing an answer for them won’t be hard with enough preparation, but not all interview questions are going to be as straightforward to answer.

In fact, behavioral job interviews might be the most nerve-wracking of all job interviews. But with enough preparation, you should be able to dazzle your hiring manager. As they are a relatively new process; behavioral interviews are often conducted as a follow-up to the traditional interview, so you can at least take courage from knowing you’ve already gone through stage one of the hiring process successfully.

Behavioral job interview questions are essentially interview questions that focus on how you’ve behaved in the past in specific work situations. They usually relate to anything from how you coped with learning something new quickly to how you handled a demanding customer, so it’s important to familiarise yourself with some of these questions to be more confident when answering them.

Unlike traditional job interviews, however, there isn’t a single recipe for success when it comes to behavioral interview questions. Because they are much more specific to the job you’re applying for; you need to prepare for interview questions that will tie into the themes that are listed in the job description.

If for example, ‘organization’ or ‘teamwork’ are highlighted in the job description, you can rest assured that questions relating to your skills in these areas will be asked. Also, when preparing for behavioral interview questions make sure that you do some research on the company to see if you can find out anything about their practices. The more your answers relate to what the company the more your chances of impressing them.

The reason why behavioral questions are asked is that they allow the hiring manager to assess your past performances and decide if you have potential. This is why it’s essential to remain calm throughout the job interview even if you’re stressed; remember that your ability to perform even when under stress is evidence on its own of how well you can perform when working under pressure.

The first step in answering behavioral interview questions successfully is to understand that there’s no wrong answer. These questions are personal, and they relate to how you’ve performed in difficult situations at work, so you need to be honest and try to highlight your best skills.

If you’re asked something that’s never happened to you make sure that you don’t make up a scenario as not only will you get confused while answering the question, but hiring managers also tend to ask follow up questions, and you don’t want to get caught lying during a job interview. The best course of action is to tell the hiring manager that you’ve never come across it and answer how you’d deal with it should the situation arise in your new job opportunity.

The STAR approach will help you deal with behavioral interview questions with confidence so make sure that you understand what it is and how to use it to your advantage before starting to prepare for the job interview.

The STAR Approach

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As we discussed earlier, behavioral interview questions are used in job interviews because they’re more objective than traditional job interviews as they can effectively measure your competence. But, as this type of interview question is more complex it can be difficult to answer them in such a way that they bring out your best qualities. During the heat of the job interview, it can be easy to give unstructured answers.

And this is where the STAR approach comes in as it can help you remain focused and provide a compelling answer. STAR stands for constructing your answers in such a way that they cover the Situation at hand, your Task, the Action you took to deal with the situation and the Results of your actions.

Essentially this means that you should start each answer by giving the context of the situation (for example any numbers, names, etc.) that will help your answer be more memorable. Move on to describing the task which you were put in charge of. Describe the actions you took to resolve the situation and then results of your actions.

It goes without saying that you should always finish on a positive note and cater to a hiring manager’s potential short attention span by keeping your answers concise. Used properly the STAR approach shouldn’t be recognisable (this means that your answer should flow and be natural).

Examples of Interview Questions You Need to Prepare For

To successfully prepare for these behavioral interview questions you’ll need to break them down into categories such as teamwork, leadership, motivation, etc. This will help you focus on bringing out the qualities you want during the job interview, and it will also help you remain focused throughout your answer.

Teamwork

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#1 Describe a situation where you had a conflict with someone.

Back in 2014, I was working with a team of people on a project developing new software that would make language acquisition easier. The software used a variety of online games to help kids learn new vocabulary and grammar rules. We were supposed to come up with five ideas to present to the board to get approval for our budget. We all agreed on the same five ideas except a girl that wanted to present the ideas that were originally hers. Although some of her ideas were good, it would have been more difficult and more time consuming to present those ideas, so we all agreed to leave them out except this colleague who insisted on having it done her way.

I felt that to make the most of the presentation she should understand what our priorities were so I set up an informal meeting with her and asked her why she thought we should use her ideas and how she thought we could present them as concisely as possible. As she tried to explain it was obvious that it would be impossible to present her ideas in the time frame we had, and I stressed our time constraints to her, as well as pointing out why it would be difficult to present her ideas during the presentation.

In the end, she agreed that if our goal was to get the best ROI by wasting as little time as possible, it would be best if her ideas weren’t included in the presentation.

Working Under Pressure

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#2 Describe a situation where you had to work on a task which you didn’t have any previous training for or didn’t know how to do. How did you learn to do the job?

When I was working for my previous employer, one day in December most of our team fell ill, and there were very few of us in the office. With the Christmas holidays coming up it was essential to finish our projects as quickly as possible so we couldn’t wait for our sick colleagues to get better and get back to work. I had never been required to work with our database before so I knew very little about it. I had some background on how the system operated as I always make a point of acquainting myself with all the operations within my department, but I didn’t know enough to do the job on my own.

However, as we were time pressured I quickly went online and skimmed through a few articles about how to operate the system. I then sat down and organized the procedure that I needed to follow step by step and logged into our system and followed my plan. Whenever I encountered something I wasn’t entirely sure of I would look it up online and eventually I figure it out.

We were lucky that we had the internet our disposal because it’s such a great resource for everything, but I guess even if I hadn’t been able to find what I needed online I would have found someone who knew how to operate the system and ask them questions. Luckily everything turned out fine, and we were able to get everything finished on time.

Accomplishing a Goal

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#3 Describe a situation where you were able to meet a goal you had set.

I began my last job in a department that was rather chaotic and where nothing got delivered on time because no one worked well with each other and there wasn’t anyone to organize the team to make it run smoothly. I knew that the department could benefit from my organisational skills, so I figured that by becoming a team leader I would be able to help the department become more efficient.

I began with acquainting myself with everyone’s work and trying to understand what slowed them down and why miscommunications kept occurring. After I figured out that everyone worked independent of each other even though we were all co-dependent I set up an online program where everyone could see our short-term and long-term goals, the steps that needed to be taken to reach our goals and what each member of the team had to contribute to get there. The program also showed at what stage everyone was and who was waiting for them to deliver, this helped the team realise that we depended heavily on each other, and pushed them to stay within the assigned time frameworks.

Communication Skills

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#4 Describe a situation where you were required to ‘sell’ an idea to your colleagues. How did you do it?

When sales started dipping at my previous job I figured it was time to change our strategy. After discussing it with my boss, we decided that the best idea was to target a different audience, but, to do that we’d need to change our whole routine, and I knew it would be a tough sell to my colleagues.

I set up a presentation that would comprehensively fill everyone in on what we were trying to achieve because I was confident that if everyone felt a part of what we were doing they’d be more likely to embrace it. It worked, not only did my colleagues not complain about the amount of work they would have to do, but they also had some excellent ideas on how to become even more successful.

Motivation

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#5 Describe a situation where you had to motivate yourself to do a task you did not want to do.

A few years ago my boss asked me to do some archiving as he felt that there needed to be someone who knew enough about our day to day operations to decide what we should keep and what we could destroy. But, it was still a very mundane task, and although I was flattered by my boss’s show of trust, it took a lot of self-motivation to actually pull off.

To be efficient and finish my task as soon as possible I decided to actively look through our old documents for creative ideas that we could perhaps bring back to help us push our current projects forward. I came up with lots of suggestions that we used down the line, but I was also inspired enough to complete this rather mundane task without so much as batting an eye.

It’s important to remember that to make the most of your behavioral interview you need to focus on bringing out qualities that will be deemed desirable by the hiring manager. Even if you don’t have a long work experience, don’t hesitate to use experience from all aspects of life to provide answers to these interview questions.

Don’t forget to use the STAR approach as this will help you produce more captivating answers and it will ensure that the hiring manager sees you as a confident, reliable employee.

Have you ever attended a behavioral job interview or have you ever been asked behavioral interview questions? Share your experiences with us in the comment section below...

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