Behavioral Interviewing Basics

Behavioral interviewing is an interview strategy that relies less on discussing the candidate’s direct resume experience than traditional interview styles. Instead, it relies on a pool of questions designed to provoke responses that give insight into the strategies that people use to navigate conflict, balance their workload, or approach other aspects of the job’s requirements. The idea behind this interview style is that you can better select a candidate when you understand the approach and technique they will use, rather than relies solely on training and prior knowledge. Employers assessing these characteristics tend to believe that understanding how the candidate’s approach will work with the professional styles of the corporate culture and their prospective team members allows them to better predict their long-term success in a role.

Many employers choose to fold in both traditional and behavioral interviewing questions to form a hybrid style of interview. This allows them to assess a wider range of skills than either approach would reveal on its own, and it also leads to more variety during the interview, which can break up the meeting and allow for different kinds of ideas to flow. Typically, the behavioral questions are used to assess “soft” skills like integrity, time management, and conflict resolution. These skills can be difficult to assess verbally, but behavior-based prompts like “Tell us about a time you didn’t get along with a coworker. How did you solve it?” give the interviewee a chance to explain their approach and contextualize it while also demonstrating their practical skills. This not only lets an interviewer see how their technique fits, it also helps to show how they arrive at decisions, which will point to the best approaches to use with them while training or retraining.

Tips for Navigating Behavioral Interviewing Questions

The key to understanding behavioral questions is understanding the values that they demonstrate and calibrating your response to demonstrate as many of those values as possible. For example, many leadership positions value the ability to take a firm stance, so that employees do not question decisions once they are made and the plan has moved into implementation. At the same time, though, they also require people who listen to new information, think flexibly on their feet, and trust their team members to bring up relevant details while suggesting alternatives. A behavior-based question like: “If you had to compare your leadership style to any fictional character, who would it be?” asks for a glimpse into the balance of those and other values, and there is no one right approach. Instead, the best approach is to show the variety of traits required to be successful, and to discuss how your method for balancing them works.

For example, you might answer the behavioral interviewing question above like this: “I’d say my leadership style is the most like the main character in The LEGO Movie. I concentrate less on leading from the front and more on understanding how each person fits into the overall plan. I also try to make sure they understand what we’re pulling toward as a goal, but I don’t bog them down with information that doesn’t relate to what they need to do, and I try to resolve conflicts according to what will get the job done on time and with high quality results.”

Quick Tricks for Unexpected Questions

Every once in a while, these questions can get really tricky for candidates. When you feel like the behavioral interviewing question is unclear or your experience doesn’t line up with it, here are some options:

  • Pivot to your personal experience. As long as you keep things related by highlighting community or volunteer experience that demonstrates the skill set, teamwork and communication skills can be demonstrated in a variety of ways.

  • If you aren’t sure you understand what the question is really asking yet, it’s okay to ask for it to be repeated or elaborated on. It’s best if you use this technique sparingly, though, because it sticks out as a stalling tactic if it’s overused.

  • Select the examples that let you demonstrate your most successful approaches to each scenario. Behavioral interviewing questions are designed to provoke you to think, so it’s reasonable to think for a little while before you start.

Keep track of your delivery so you don’t rush through your answers, and make sure that you have the whole story in mind before you start, and you should have no trouble flowing through each question.

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