Are Your Ready for a Behavioral Interview?

Are You Ready for a Behavioral Interview?

"Tell me about a time when you were on a team, and one of the members wasn't carrying his or her weight."  

If this is one of the leading questions in your job interview, you could be in for a behavioral interview.  Based on the premise that the best way to predict future behavior is to determine past behavior, this style of interviewing is gaining wide acceptance among recruiters.  Today, more than ever, every hiring decision is critical.  Behavioral interviewing is designed to minimize personal impressions that can affect the hiring decision. By focusing on the applicant's actions and behaviors, rather than subjective impressions that can sometimes be misleading, interviewers can make more accurate hiring decisions.

James F. Reder, manager of staff planning and college relations for Occidental Chemical Corporation in Dallas says, "Although we have not conducted formal studies to determine whether retention or success on the job here has been affected, I feel our move to behavioral interviewing has been successful. It helps concentrate recruiters' questions on areas important to our candidates' success within Occidental.

Behavioral vs. Traditional Interviews

If you have training or experience with traditional interviewing techniques, you may find the behavioral interview quite different in several ways:

Instead of asking how you would behave in a particular situation, the interviewer will ask you to describe how you did behave.

Expect the interviewer to question and probe (think of "peeling the layers from an onion").

The interviewer will ask you to provide details and will not allow you to theorize or generalize about several events.

The interview will be a more structured process that will concentrate on areas that are important to the interviewer, rather than allowing you to concentrate on areas that you may feel are important.

You may not get a chance to deliver any prepared stories.

Most interviewers will be taking copious notes throughout the interview.

The behavioral interviewer has been trained to objectively collect and evaluate information, and works from a profile of desired behaviors that are needed for success on the job.  Because the behaviors a candidate has demonstrated in previous similar positions are likely to be repeated, you will be asked to share situations in which you may or may not have exhibited these behaviors.  Your answers will be tested for accuracy and consistency.

If you are an entry-level candidate with no previous related experience, the interviewer will look for behaviors in situations similar to those of the target position:

"Describe a major problem you have faced and how you dealt with it."

"Give an example of when you had to work with your hands to accomplish a task or project."

"What class did you like the most?  What did you like about it?"

Follow-up questions will test for consistency and determine if you exhibited the desired behavior in that situation"

"Can you give me an example?"

"What did you do?"

"What did you say?"

"What were you thinking?"

"How did you feel?"

"What was your role?"

"What was the result?"

You will notice an absence of such questions as, "Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.

How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview

Recall recent situations that show favorable behaviors or actions, especially involving course work, work experience, leadership, teamwork, initiative, planning, and customer service.

Prepare short descriptions of each situation, be ready to give details if asked.

Be sure each story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, i.e., be ready to describe the situation, your action, and the outcome or result.

Be sure the outcome or results reflects positively on you (even if the result itself was not favorable).

Be honest.  Don't embellish or omit any part of the story.  The interviewer will find out if your story is built on a weak foundation.

Be specific.  Don't generalize about several events, give a detailed accounting of one event.

A possible response for the question, "Tell me about a time when you were on a team and a member wasn't pulling his or her weight" might go as follows: "I had been assigned to a team to build a canoe out of concrete.  One of our team members wasn't showing up for our lab sessions or doing his assignments.  I finally met with him in private, explained the frustration of the rest of the team, and asked if there was anything I could do to help.  He told me he was preoccupied with another class that he wasn't passing, so I found someone to help him with the other course.  He not only was able to spend more time on our project, but he was also so grateful to me for helping him out.  We finished our project on time, and got a 'B' on it."

The interviewer might then probe: "How did you feel when you confronted this person?"  "Exactly what was the nature of the project?"   "What was his responsibility as a team member?"  "What was your role?"  "At what point did you take it upon yourself to confront him?"  You can see it is important that you not make up or "shade" information and why you should have a clear memory of the entire incident.

Don't Forget the Basics

Instead of feeling anxious or threatened by the prospect of a behavioral interview, remember the essential difference between the traditional interview and the behavioral interview: The traditional interviewer may allow you to project what you might or should do in a given situation, whereas the behavioral interviewer is looking for past actions only.  It will always be important to put your best foot forward and make a good impression on the interviewer with appropriate attire, good grooming, a firm handshake and direct eye contact.   There is no substitute for promptness, courtesy, preparation, enthusiasm, and a positive attitude.