Not sure about that behavioral interview? We can help!

Behavioral interviews are popular with hiring managers across industries, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. Hiring teams must review dozens of candidates' resumes and interview several of them in quick succession. Then, the company has to make a decision based on nothing more than a series of short conversations where candidates were highlighting the best version of themselves.

Those hiring decisions, made with minimal information and under intense time pressure, are worth thousands of dollars. It's no wonder hiring managers want every edge they can get — and a behavioral interview can do just that.

Yet, it's a scary prospect for candidates. Should you expect a trap? Will the hiring manager try to throw you off your game? Is the conversation about to get confrontational? Before you get too nervous, let's explain what a behavioral interview is.

Understanding the anatomy of a behavioral interview

Hiring managers use behavioral interviews because they want to go beyond the obvious answer. When pressed for details and specifics, candidates can't help but reveal their habits, ways of thinking, and past responses to stressful situations.

Will you get a warning that your interview is going to actually be a behavioral interview? No. But you can be on the lookout for a few question openers that will indicate if you're in a behavioral interview. Here's what they might sound like:

  • Tell me about a time…

  • How have you dealt with…

  • Give me an example of…

  • Explain a past situation where…

What do those questions have in common? They take you back to a specific situation in the past and ask you to recall your real-life responses, action steps, and results. A behavioral interview can be intimidating, but it's also a fantastic opportunity to showcase your experience, skills, and strengths. You just have to know what to expect — and come prepared.

How to prepare for a behavioral-based interview

Know what to expect

Expect challenging questions.

Now, the hiring manager isn't asking hard questions just to make you sweat. However, they don't want to waste precious interview time talking about straightforward scenarios. The hiring team wants to see how you have handled real-life difficulties. They want to know what value you've added and how you've contributed to the solution. Finally, they want to understand what your definition of a “challenge” is. Every candidate has different calibration for what they consider to be difficult — and matching those calibrations is a big part of ensuring a solid long-term fit.

Do your research

The best place to start your prep is to determine which skills and qualifications matter most for the position. Go back to the job description and highlight keywords that describe the position requirements.

Once you have a short list, think back to specific situations where you have clearly demonstrated those skills, character traits, and attitudes. The best way to capture your responses is by jotting down one or two stories for each point. But, choose your stories carefully — they will provide a window into who you are as a professional and a human. The right story will turn the hiring manager into your champion. The wrong story, meanwhile, can elicit a cringe or an awkward pause.

If you are having a tough time choosing and verbalizing your stories, you are not alone; it's extremely difficult to do this without the benefit of feedback. If you don't want to learn a hard lesson in your next behavioral interview, consider hiring an interview coach now. Combine strategic prep with real-time feedback from the experts, and you will sail through that behavioral interview and be on your way to reviewing competing offers in no time!

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