Interviewers often use “behavioral interview questions” (a.k.a., “BI” questions) in job interviews today.
The reason employers ask BI questions is to understand how the job candidate handles different -- often difficult -- situations.
BI questions typically start with, "Tell me about a time when you..." or "Describe how you have handled..."
While these questions may feel like a trap when you are asked, that’s really not the employer’s intent (most of the time).
They are looking for insight into the job candidate's behavior beyond the questions traditionally asked (read Smart Answers to Interview Questions for those).
Your answers to these questions demonstrate your personal qualities and illustrate your "soft skills." People claim them relentlessly, but, in a behavioral interview, employers are hoping for genuine insight into those qualities and skills.
As with the other interview questions, the interviewer’s goal is to understand how well you would perform the job as well as your fit into the organization.
Your answers to BI questions give insight into how you have succeeded in your previous jobs:
As you answer these questions, remember that the interviewers are assuming that how you have reacted to a situation in the past is likely a good indicator of how you will react in the future.
As usual, the best strategy is to be prepared for these questions. Think about your achievements and difficult situations that you overcame at work.
Employers are looking for key abilities (a.k.a., "soft skills") like these:
Problem-solving, initiative, judgement
Handling stress, resilience, adaptability
Analytical skills, creativity
Attention to detail, planning and organizing
Integrity, reliability, motivation
Team building, leadership
Think about situations where you had to put these abilities into action, and make sure they are listed on your interview checklist. Your “stories” about these experiences can provide concrete answers to BI questions.
Many of the behavioral questions follow a pattern where each have certain soft skills in mind.
The key to handling these questions is to already know how to address the most popular skill sets they will ask about.
I have provided some popular skills along with related questions or thoughts for you to consider as you develop your answers:
As I said, many of the questions are looking to understand how you leveraged certain abilities (more than the actual outcome).
Don’t feel you must immediately provide an answer. Think about the question before you answer -- which of the examples of your accomplishments would provide an answer to the question asked?
Ask for a clarification, if that would be helpful
Or simply say something like,
“That’s an interesting question. Let me think about that for a second…”
Then, after a short pause while you gather your thoughts, use the strategies described below to answer the questions successfully.
Be sure to give enough details to make it clear that you are describing a genuine experience. When appropriate, use the same example to answer more than one of the BI questions.
Expect follow-up questions asking for clarification or requesting more details about the situation.
Throughout the process of answering these types of questions you will be slipping in the soft skills you leveraged (see my other article on discussing your Soft Skills during the interview).
These are not questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. BI questions are open-ended, so you can take them in a direction that presents you in the best light.
Behavioral interview questions are asked not only to see how well you perform tasks, but also to see the strengths you demonstrated to overcome obstacles, deliver quality results, and interact effectively with people.
Tell your stories to answer these questions. Provide examples of real work situations where you were successful -- where you had a challenge and you overcame that challenge.
If the question asks you to provide an example of a personal failure, give the example and then follow up with what you learned as a result and how you have avoided making that mistake again.
When answering --
For candidates who “own the interview,” like I’ve always instructed, it is just another chance to pull from your interview checklist and cite examples of projects you’ve worked on that showcase your fit for the job.
Notice these are short and positive --
Don't be intimidated. Think of these questions as opportunities to share how you have succeeded in your work. Prepare by analyzing the job, determining both the hard and soft skills needed for the job, and then give examples of how you have handled similar situations, demonstrating your soft skills.
Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. He is a unique recruiter with Lean Engineering experience and a Six Sigma Blackbelt. Learn more about him through his company site alistsolutions.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter (@JLipschultz).