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How to Nail a Behavioral Interview

If you're in the market for a new job, preparing for potential interviews is likely on the top of your priority list.

In today's world, practicing for the traditional interview isn't enough. In recent years, the behavioral interview, also known as the competency-based interview, has gained popularity.

Developed in the 1970s by industrial psychologists, behavioral based interview questions help the interviewer understand how you've performed and behaved in the past with actual results and scenarios. The traditional interview, on the other hand, focuses on open-ended questions that permit the opportunity for you to share what you think the interviewer wants to hear because they ask for opinion-based responses.

When candidate selection is solely based on a traditional interview, the wrong candidate can easily be selected for the job. That's not to say the same thing can't happen when a behavioral based interview is used, but the behavioral interview typically allows for a better job fit and performance match long-term. In fact, per Ph.D. Katherine Hansen on Quintessential, behavioral interview questions are said to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior, whereas traditional is only 10 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior.

At the same time, the traditional interview can add value, because it allows for questions that show whether or not a candidate has ambition, goals, and has thought about their future. The traditional interview question "Where do you see yourself in five years?" is one such an example.  

Many companies use a combination of traditional and behavioral interview questions, which is a smart strategy in my opinion. When I'm interviewing a candidate, I want to know how well they've performed and how they approach difficult situations or problem solving. However, I also want to know what they have to say about themselves prompted by traditional, open-ended questions. When you ask competency based questions coupled with traditional questions, it's harder for an interviewer to fabricate on the traditional questions, because a follow-up question to an answer might require real-life examples and quantifiable results.

Why prepare for behavioral based interview questions?

The benefits of preparing for a behavioral interview goes beyond the interview itself.

  1. The top companies in the world use behavioral based interviews, and they're the companies many want to work for.

  2. The examples and stories you come up with for these types of interviews can also help you at networking and industry events.

  3. You'll be better equipped for any type of interview when you practice and prepare for a behavioral based interview.

  4. You'll have a good record of your work accomplishments and scenarios to use for bios, your resume, your website and cover letter as a result of your preparation.

  5. Because many of us don't give credit where it's due, coming up with examples for behavioral based interviews can be a confidence booster when we acknowledge our strengths and accomplishments on paper.

  6. When we are thinking back for examples to use, sometimes we forget about a process or idea that worked in the past that can be applied today or in the future when needed.

  7. You'll be one step closer to landing your dream job by knocking the interviewer's socks off with your amazing answers.

How can you prepare for a behavioral interview?

Do your homework. You want to study the job description and company you'll be interviewing with to help you prepare for a behavioral based interview. If you can, find out some info about the last or current incumbent of the position and the types of employees the organization hires. This will help you come up with a list of competencies, attributes, and skills, which is discussed in the next paragraph.

Come up with a list of competencies, attributes and skills. Behavioral interview questions will give you the chance to showcase your talent, ability and results. To prepare, you'll want to think about the type of competencies the company is looking for. Most companies will look for similar competencies, attributes, and skills, such as communication, team player, ability to focus, efficiency, timeliness, flexibility, attention to detail, management and leadership material, creativity, goal orientation and responsibility. Take a moment to rank the list you come up with in relation to the position for which you are applying.

Create a list of your past experiences. Make a list of your past experiences and successes that highlight the list of competencies, skills and attributes you come up with, as noted in the point above. Come up with good antidotes and stories, as we all love a good story. With that said, you want to keep your answers focused and to-the-point.

Focus on the good and the not-so-good. Don't forget to come up with some examples or scenarios that were challenging, yet you pulled through successfully. Such examples showcase your problem-solving skills and ability to handle challenges professionally. You might also be asked how you might handle such situations differently, so be prepared to discuss your areas for improvement, as well.

Use the STAR method. When coming up with examples, include the Situation or Task you had to resolve, the Action(s) you took, and the Results of the situation. Use specifics, such as people, places, scale, and scope, and quantify as much as possible. Provide details that can be verified by references in case the employers decides to check.

Look at past performance documents and appraisals. To prepare for future job interviews, look back at past performance appraisals and notes to help you identify achievements and situations that will help you come up with examples for a behavioral interview.

Begin taking notes now. If you're not currently working, then this might not apply to you; but could still be good to take note of for the future. Document your successes, achievements and so on, while you're working to help you come up with stories and examples for behavioral interviews in the future. This will also help you when it comes to completing performance appraisals if you're required to do so.

What if you're an entry-level candidate with little to no work experience?

If you're a candidate fresh out of school with little relevant work experience, your interviewer should already realize this. You'll be asked similar behavioral interview questions as an experienced hire would be asked, and all of the above points on how to prepare still apply to you. Your answers, however, will be based on results or how you handled situations in college, within organizations, on sports teams, at a part-time job, within your family and so on.

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!