Getting hired in today's market means knowing the best way to prepare for and navigate a behavioral interview.

A behavioral job interview is not a reason to panic. Once you learn the best behavioral interview tips, you'll be able to show any interviewer just how qualified you are on a variety of levels.

Why companies use behavioral interviews

A behavioral interview, also called a competency-based interview, is simply a way for a potential employer to learn how you've operated in past scenarios to predict how you'll handle similar situations in the future.

More and more companies are using this interview format, so it's critical to know how it works — and how to make it work for you. Read on for our guide to all things behavioral interview. 

What are behavior-based questions?

Behavioral interview questions are meant to uncover your specific responses and actions to actual work or life situations, and what the results were from your past experiences. Typical queries in this format open with:

  • Tell me about …?

  •  How did you handle …?

  • State an example of …?

  • Explain a specific past situation where …?

Ultimately, an employer wants to learn how you added value or influenced solutions in previous roles to determine your fit for their current position. But how do you answer these types of questions accurately and effectively? You use the STAR method. 

The STAR method

STAR interview preparation is a method for providing clear and effective answers to behavioral-based interview questions. It stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, and this is how you use it effectively:

  • Situation: Offer a few concise sentences about the situation or event you're describing without taking up too much time.

  • Task: Briefly describe the task you were given to handle, giving relevant details that fit into the larger question.

  • Action: Explain the actions you used to complete your task. Be as specific as possible and take the time you need to answer this fully.

  • Result: Provide the specific results you achieved in this scenario. Use statistics or other quantifiable information that shows how you achieved those outcomes, if relevant.

Prepare these answers before the interview, and then practice until you can respond naturally. Not sure if you're answering correctly? Consider getting help from an interview coach to help you effectively prepare to answer this question.

Now that you know the basics, let's move on to some more specific scenarios that you could face during your behavioral interview. 

Questions on handling stress

“How do you handle stress?” is almost always asked in a behavioral interview. This is one answer you don't want to come up with off the top of your head, so do your homework.

  • Come up with real-life examples that highlight your stress-management skills.

  • Don't blame others for the stress you felt. Instead, highlight how you used your amazing soft skills to overcome the stressful obstacle and ultimately succeed.

  • Acknowledge that you do experience stress; not doing so will make interviewers think you don't take your job very seriously. If you're blanking on work examples, explain how you personally manage your stress. For example, sharing that you meditate or run to alleviate your stress shows the interviewer that you don't let things bottle up until you burnout.

Questions about conflict

Questions about conflict might make you uncomfortable, but you need a relevant answer on how you handle it at work. The STAR method works particularly well for conflict questions.

Here's an example:

  • S/T (Situation/Task): I was in charge of a major project for the department. One team member kept missing deadlines and got angry when I confronted her about it.

  • A (Approach/Action): I calmly explained the reasoning behind the tight deadlines and the importance of meeting our goal on time. It turns out she had several other tasks that put her on overload. We spoke to her manager, who assigned some of her projects to other people and freed up her time for our team.

  • R (Results): After that, she was able to focus more of her time on the project, and we came in ahead of the deadline, which [saved x dollars, brought in x new clients, or any other quantifiable result].

Always be honest and highlight your strong communication skills. You can also share a conflict situation where you were wrong and explain how you handled it and what you learned from it. This proves you can accept criticism when necessary and use it for your personal and career growth.

Sharing your biggest weakness

This is another area where an interview coach can offer invaluable help on crafting your answer because, frankly, saying “I'm an overachiever and a perfectionist” is not an acceptable answer. No one wants to reveal an actual weakness, but lying is out of the question. Instead, the interviewer really wants some clue about who you are and how you handle problems.

So, examine your past and put together a response using these guidelines:

  • Be honest.

  • Show you can recognize and acknowledge your failures.

  • Explain how you can (or did) take steps to fix the issue you described.

  • Make it an impactful, compelling story rather than just a statement about weakness.

You'll be amazed at how well this works not just in a behavioral interview, but in any other interview setting.

The value of being yourself

In a recent study by TopInterview and Resume-Library, U.S. employers regarded authenticity as the most attractive quality in a candidate, rating personality as one of the top three things that determine whether they'll present a job offer.

Employers aren't looking for perfection. They want to see your interest in their position, whether you can handle the responsibilities, and how well they'll enjoy working with you. Use an authentic attitude along with your answers to convey this clearly.

The rule about notes

Bringing a list of questions to ask your interviewers is perfectly acceptable and shows them you're interested in their job. But that doesn't mean you can bring a whole paper or index card full of notes to use throughout your interview. 

According to TopInterview's career expert, Amanda Augustine, “While it's perfectly acceptable to write out talking points when you're practicing for an interview, it is not appropriate to bring those notes to the actual interview.”

Practice with a friend or an interview coach until you don't need to use notes for your answers.

While a behavioral interview can be challenging, it doesn't have to be overwhelming. When you know what to expect and prepare appropriately, you'll show a potential employer that you have everything they want in a new employee.

Don't wait until the day before to prepare for your interview. Learn more about our interview coaches now. 

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