Traditional vs. Behavior-Based Interview Questions
Traditional interview questions are well-known. These are forward-looking questions about you – the candidate – and are easily answered. A question such as “What prompted you to apply for this job?” (probing for a candidate’s motives), or a question like “Where do you see yourself in 3 years?” (probing for personal goals), may be easily satisfied with answers that are basically opinions.
Behavior-based questions are different in that they look back into the candidate’s past and zero in on what the candidate did, or did not do, in a particular situation (i.e. behavior).
Here is an example:
“Think of a time when you struggled to build a relationship with a co-worker or manager… what did you do to make it work and eventually succeed?”
When sitting across the table from an interviewer, a question of this manner feels more assertive, more complex and sometimes is a challenge to answer well.
Job-specific skills such as forecasting, project management or customer service may be probed by an interviewer asking a question like:
“How do you go about ___?”
Answers here are more straight-forward: yes/no or black/white. But other skills that fall into the competency category – not “what” is accomplished, but the “how” employees get work done – are better qualified by the use of behavioral questions which provide interviewers with more insight and better information.
Preparing For Behavioral Interview Questions
The use of behavioral interviewing started as a tool to uncover skills and experiences at the management level, but its popularity has expanded to now being an interview strategy for any type of role. A candidate at any level should be prepared for this line of questioning.
In anticipation of being asked behavioral questions, make a list of competencies that could be relevant to the role for which you are being qualified. Behavioral questions asked in this realm do not always have a true/false type of answer. Here is a partial list of competencies typically valued by most employers:
- Conflict management
- Relationship building
Add to this list if you can. Focus on those that you feel may be most important to the role in question. Next, identify examples from your previous work experiences where you feel that you successfully exhibited a particular competency behavior on your list. If you are just beginning your career and are short on work experiences, you may draw from past school or volunteer activities.
Think these examples through carefully and make notes to help you recall them later. Each example should have three specific components to frame up a complete answer: a description of the situation, the specific action you took, and the results you achieved (SAR). If you can speak to all three parts for each competency that you selected, you are likely ready. This exercise is not about memorization but is rather an intensive warm-up for whatever may come your way.
[blockquote]”Tell me about a time when you had to fix a service error with a client. How did you handle it?”
Once a behavioral question comes up in an interview, relax. Feel free to take a moment or two to think before you answer, but don’t refer to any notes. Your interviewer will want you to think of the best possible example to share, so take your time if one does not immediately come to mind. Then with an example firmly in hand, follow these guidelines to give your interviewer everything being asked for:
- use “I” statements instead of “we”
- be as specific as possible; describe visible actions (behaviors)
- avoid starting with “What I typically/generally do is…”
- set up your answer (situation) crisply and concisely; spend most of your response time describing the actions you took and the results you achieved
- keep overall answers focused and on target; if your interviewer wants more he or she will ask
- if you don’t understand the question, or simply cannot recall a relevant experience, ask for another.
Even if your interviewer does not ask any question that you were prepared to answer, the exercise of thinking through previous work situations is still useful for putting your best foot forward. Interviewing is a skill and doing it well requires practice. Good interviewers will not make the interview seem like a test, but rather more of an exercise in data collection.
Being forewarned is forearmed, and taking the time to prepare for a possible behavior-based line of questioning will ready you for whatever may come your way. Good luck with your interview!