Behave Yourself: How to Master the Behavioral Interview

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Posted by The Editors on July 11, 2011
Behave Yourself: How to Master the Behavioral Interview

Career counselors will tell you one of the worst missteps you can commit is to use an interview for nothing more than an opportunity to recite your resume. That’s because interviewers want to discover more about you than where you went to school and the last job you held. They want to know who you are and how you’ll behave on the job.

You’ve probably heard the term behavioral interview, but you might not have a firm grasp on what exactly that means. Simply, a behavioral interview attempts to predict how you would behave on the job when confronted with different problems.

The key to nailing behavioral interview questions is to not be caught off guard and immediately recognize these questions for what they are. You should come to an interview prepared with a plan (but not a canned response) for how you to answer some of these questions.

In many cases, the interviewer will try to discern your future behavior by inquiring about your past behavior. This approach probes your potential to make positive contributions to the organization in the future by asking you to define past contributions you’ve made to teams, organizations, and volunteer efforts. Most behavior-based questions will begin with: “Can you tell me about a time when you . . .” “Please describe an instance where you . . .” “Could you give me an example of a situation when you . . .”

When you hear this cue, know that you are being asked to relate a specific anecdote that shows how you applied your talents to help an organization tackle a problem or make the most of an opportunity. Your answer will be judged according to set criteria that we refer to as the “Straight A’s” of behavioral interviewing:

• Analyzing the opportunity or problem effectively

• Approaching the opportunity or problem creatively, to overcome major obstacles

• Accessing appropriate team resources to implement solutions

• Achieving concrete results (with figures wherever possible)

Remember, employers are trying to get to the core of who you are and how you’ll behave, so it’s important to reveal yourself: Be genuine when recalling past behavior. Admit to shortcomings, and highlight lessons learned. If you hit on all four of the Straight A’s, you’ll build confidence in the interviewer that you will behave well on the job—if given the opportunity. 

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