What is a behavioral interview?

Developed three decades ago by industrial psychologists, behavioral (also known as competency based) interviews have rapidly grown in popularity and most organizations now use them to some extent. Unlike your traditional interviewing techniques, which are based around popping open questions to the candidate, behavioral interviews focus on past performance and behaviors.

The behavioral interview will give you the chance to showcase your competencies such as skills, abilities and knowledge through specific examples from your experience. The interviewer doesn’t want to hear what you think you can do in the future; they want to know what you have done and how you did it. It’s all about how your past performance being the guiding light for your future performance.

Why companies love them

In a traditional interview, it’s easy for the candidate to let their imagination run wild and say exactly what the interviewer wants to hear: “Work late nights and some weekends? No problemo. Increase my travel to 100%? Sure thing.”

In the behavioral interview, you will have to back your gung-ho work ethic with real-life examples, detailing how you handled specific situations. You will most likely be asked to specifics and quantify your answer as much as possible, allowing the interviewer to check your facts with referees, should it get to that stage.

The bottom line is that the behavioral interview is not about potential scenarios. It’s about what you have done and how you did it, making it very tough to fabulate any answers in the interview.

Reasons to master the behavioral interview

  • Anyone that prepares for a behavioral interview will engage in introspection and as a result you will be better prepared for behavioral as well as for old school interviews.
  • It’s easy to dazzle junior interviewers with behavioral answers, given that they are impressive and backed up by your facts.
  • You will develop a few good stories that you can use in other contexts, such as networking events and sales meetings.
  • The best companies to work for tend to make use of behavioral interviewing, so if you want to work there you best get practicing now.

How to prepare for a behavioral interview

Before you start preparing you answers, you have to determine what competencies you think the employer is looking for. Do your research, who else is doing this job? What does the job specification say? Speak to your recruiter, HR contacts, people in your network.

Any company is likely to look for a combination of the following skills: communication, creativity, attention to detail, management material, action orientation, loyalty, ability to make/save money, team player, enthusiasm and flexibility.

Identify and rank these based on the job you are interviewing for. Now come up with specific examples where you have demonstrated these competencies. For ideas on what questions and answers to work on, see the list of typical behavioral interview questions.

Whatever the question and answer may be, there is a useful tool for your delivery. The best way to tell someone about a specific event and how it went is to employ the STAR model:

Give the interviewer the Situation or Task that you had to resolve. Then describe the Action you took and what Result or outcome you achieved. Be as specific as possible, add any relevant components to your answer such as the people, environment, scale and scope. Be open about the outcome, whether it was a complete success or a result that you could learn from in order to do things better next time.

You now have to practice, practice, practice and turn your real-life competencies into interesting stories. More on effective story telling in interviews here.

You call to action

When we are happy and working away at our jobs, we don’t really take notice of our achievements. In order to be prepared for a behavioral interview long before you even consider changing jobs, you will want to take notes and track your progress on a daily basis. The more you write and think about it, the more specific you are going to be in an interview, much to the delight of the impressed interviewer.

Have you been in a behavioral interview and did you behave well enough to land the job?!

RELATED: How to Behave in Behavioral Interviews

photo by: Victor1558

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