Not sure how to answer behavioral-based interview questions? Here’s what you need to know.

When you're looking for a new job, you have a lot to consider in order to land a job interview — your resume, your cover letter, your online presence, the types of positions you're interested in, networking, etc. Then, once you receive the call or email stating you've been selected for an interview, you're ready to do your best "happy dance." That dance might come to halt, however, when you think about the next phase of your job-search process — preparing for the interview.

Whether you're an active job seeker, or you're considering a career move that will soon place you into the applicant pool, giving some thought to the interview process will put you in a better position to land the job. In today's world, many organizations are turning to behavioral-based interviews instead of traditional interviews to help them identify candidates for long-term success. For example,  ZipRecruiter reported that in a January 2015 ExecuSearch Regional Hiring Outlook survey that focused on the northeastern United States, 63 percent of respondents replied that they used behavioral-based questions during interviews.

What is a behavioral-based interview?

A traditional interview involves open-ended questions that allow the job candidate to share information and opinions with the interviewer. This interview approach often focuses on personality and hypothetical scenarios that leave room for the candidate to fabricate information and tailor responses to what he or she believes the interviewer wants to hear.

Behavioral-based interviews, on the other hand, focus on the candidate's past performance and behavior to predict future performance and behavior in similar scenarios. Per Creative Director and Associate Publisher of Quintessential Careers, Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., traditional interview questions are said to be only 10 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior, whereas behavioral interview questions are said to be 55 percent predictive of this. Developed by industrial psychologists in the 1970s, behavioral-based interviews are also referred to as competency-based interviews.

How can you prepare for a behavioral-based interview?

When you give some thought to what common behavioral interview questions and interactions might take place during your interview, it can relieve your nerves and help you stand out from your competition. To boost your confidence before a behavioral-based interview, consider the following tips.

Predict what the interviewer might ask

Yes, you can look into your magic crystal ball and come up with some behavioral-based interview questions the interviewer will likely ask you. To do this, study the job description provided in the job posting and research the company and the types of employees it hires. Create a list of skills, competencies, and attributes based on your findings and develop questions based on that list. Examples of some common skills and competencies that organizations look for include timeliness, detail-oriented, focus, ability to collaborate, action-oriented, goal-oriented, efficiency, effective communication, and leadership.

Create a list of your personal competencies

After you've predicted what the interviewer might ask based on the previous bullet point, you'll then want to create a list of your personal competencies, skills, and attributes that relate to your predictions. Provide specific examples from your work history that highlight the items on your personal list. You might choose to review past performance appraisals and communications to help you create your list and ensure you don't leave anything out.  

Share stories where you come out the hero

Use detailed and focused anecdotes to highlight your past successes. At the same time, we all love a hero's story, so when you're creating your list of successes, don't forgo coming up with examples where you were challenged and came up with solutions to the obstacles you faced. Come up with answers that speak to how you might have handled the challenging situations differently, as well.

Use the STAR method  

As you develop your examples and scenarios for your behavioral-based interview, use the STAR method to provide specific situations (S) you had to resolve or tasks (T) you had to complete, the actions (A) you took to resolve the matter or complete the tasks, and the results (R) you achieved. The more specific you are, the better. Keep in mind that employers might check your responses, so share accurate information that's verifiable.

Practice your behavioral interview questions and answers

It's never too early to begin practicing. Have someone work with you to review and answer the questions you've created. The more you practice, the clearer your answers will be when you're sitting across from the interviewer. Remember, don’t memorize your responses; the last thing you want to do during a behavioral-based interview is to have your answers sound rehearsed. Instead, practice sharing your relevant work stories using the STAR method, and try out different ways of telling the same story until it feels natural.

Continue adding to your list

If you're currently working, continue to add to your list as new experiences and accomplishes arise.

Prepare for a blend of traditional and behavioral-based interview questions

As you prepare your behavioral-based questions, know it's common for interviewers to blend behavioral questions with traditional questions. Doing so not only allows the interviewer to get a glimpse into past behavior and performance, it also allows the interview to get a sense of your personality. With that said, practice answering traditional questions like "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" and "Why do you want to work for our company?"

The more you prepare and practice for a behavioral-based job interview, the more confident you'll feel when you're in the interviewing room. You'll also be a step ahead of the competition that has not prepared. Good luck!

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