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How to Handle Behavioral Job Interviews

By Rich DeMatteo

If you’ve ever interviewed with a Fortune 500 Company, you may have already experienced a Behavioral Interview. The questions start with "Tell me about a time when..." They can be deadly if you aren't prepared.

Behavioral Interviews (BI) have been increasing in popularity with HR professionals and recruiters over the last 10 or 15 years. They are generally seen as one of -- if not the most -- effective kind of job interview, from the employer's perspective. BI provides the employer with more insight beyond the typical factual questions traditionally asked.

Like all interviewing styles and methodologies, BI aims to understand how a candidate will perform if hired for the job.

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How Are Behavioral Interviews Different?

With BI, the interviewer asks you specific questions about your previous work experience. The questions relate to skill sets that are critical to the open position at the company.

Simply put, understanding how someone has reacted in similar positions and situations in the past will be the best predictor for future performance.

What do "traditional" interview questions look like?

In a traditional interview, job seekers are asked questions like:

  • Do you have Accounts Receivable experience?
  • How many sales did you make last year?
  • Have you ever dealt with upset customers?

Do you see how easy it would be to make up these answers, or just provide yes or no responses? The detail is limited here, and candidates can simply make up their answers.

What do "behavioral interview" questions look like?

They stay away from anything that could be hypothetical or close-ended.

  • Tell me about a time you worked hard to receive payment from a difficult client when you worked in Accounts Receivable.
  • Tell me about your greatest achievement and your largest sale?
  • Explain a previous situation where you were working with an upset customer. What was the problem at hand, and how did you resolve the issue?

These questions are open-ended and specific, and they lead candidates to talk about a specific situation in great detail.

BI questions usually start with, "Tell me about a time when...," "Explain a situation where...'" and "Describe a situation where..."

What is the interviewer looking for in answers?

The purpose of Behavioral Interviewing is to paint a full picture of how the candidate will perform in the future. To do this, a recruiter or interviewer is looking to complete SHARE or STAR.

S-H-A-R-E

S - Situation - Position held, who was involved, etc.
H - Hindrance - The problem.
A - Action - What the candidate did to resolve problem.
R - Result - What was the result? Was it favorable?
E - Evaluation - Would the candidate do the same thing next time?

S-T-A-R

S - Situation - Position held, who was involved, etc
T - Task - The problem or what the candidate needed to do.
A - Action - What the candidate did to resolve the problem.
R - Result - What was the result? Was it favorable?

As you see, the SHARE method involves a bit more, and adds on the Evaluation component. When the interviewer jots down notes, they are usually jotting down SHARE or STAR as the candidate speaks.

When candidates don’t answer fully, it’s the interviewer's job to use probing questions to complete the story.

What else should I know to be successful in Behavioral Interviewing?

To be successful in Behavioral Interviewing, it’s important to give as much detail as possible. BI questions are usually meant to make you think and target an exact situation.

It’s quite OK to take a minute in order to target an exact situation.

Most interviewers are trained to allow silence and time for you to think.

Once you have the situation in your head, keep in mind that the interviewer is trying to complete SHARE or STAR, and try to give them information in that order. If you do, you’ll be ahead of the game, and they’ll LOVE you.

Bottom Line

Be confident. Breathe slowly. Smile. These three things will go far in your interviewing, especially during a Behavioral Interview.

More Information

For more information on many other different kinds of interviews, visit Job-Hunt's Guide to Successful Job Interviewing column.


About the author...

Rich DeMatteo is a Philadelphia native with 5 years of agency and corporate recruiting. He’s the founder of CornOnTheJob.com, an award winning job search and career blog. Most recently, Rich has co-founded Bad Rhino, Inc., a social media agency. Follow @CornontheJob on Twitter, or be his buddy on facebook.com/cornonthejob.



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