Interviewers often use “behavioral interview questions” (a.k.a. "BI" questions) in job interviews today to learn about how job candidates behave.
The reason employers ask behavioral questions is to understand how the job candidate handles different -- often difficult -- situations, demonstrating their "soft skills."
Behavioral questions typically start with, "Tell me about a time when you..." or "Describe how you have handled..." or "Give me an example of..." or even "Walk me through..."
While these questions may feel like a trap when you are asked, that’s really not the employer’s intent (most of the time).
They are looking for insight into the job candidate's behavior beyond the questions traditionally asked (read Smart Answers to Interview Questions for those).
Your answers to these questions should demonstrate your personal qualities and illustrate those "soft skills" often relentlessly claimed on resumes.
Behavioral interview questions typically focus on common problems faced at work. Employers are looking for examples that you have demonstrated key soft skills like these:
To be well-prepared, think about situations where you had to put these abilities into action, and make sure they are listed on your interview checklist. Your “stories” about these experiences can provide concrete answers to BI questions.
These are not questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. BI questions are open-ended, so you can take them in a direction that presents you in the best light.
Behavioral interview questions are asked not only to see how well you perform tasks, but also to see the strengths you demonstrated to overcome obstacles, deliver quality results, and interact effectively with people.
Tell your stories to answer these questions. Provide examples of real work situations where you were successful -- where you had a challenge and you overcame that challenge:
If the question asks you to provide an example of a personal failure, give the example, and then follow up with what you learned as a result and how you have avoided making that mistake again.
For candidates who “own the interview,” like I’ve always instructed, this is just another chance to pull from your interview checklist and cite examples of projects you’ve worked on that showcase your fit for the job.
Many of the behavioral questions follow a pattern where each have certain soft skills in mind.
A key to handling these questions is to anticipate which skill sets they will likely ask about and have answers ready.
I have provided some popular skills along with related questions or thoughts for you to consider as you develop your answers:
As I said, many of the questions are looking to understand how you leveraged certain abilities (more than the actual outcome).
Notice these are short and positive --
For another example of a tough behavioral interview question, read: Tell Me About a Time When You Failed.
Don’t feel you must immediately provide an answer.
Think about the question before you answer -- which of the examples of your accomplishments would provide an answer to the question asked?
Ask for a clarification, if that would be helpful.
Or simply say something like,
That’s an interesting question. Let me think about that for a second…
Then, after a short pause while you gather your thoughts, use the strategies described below to answer the questions successfully.
Be sure to give enough details to make it clear that you are describing a genuine experience. When appropriate, use the same example to answer more than one of the BI questions.
Expect follow-up questions asking for clarification or requesting more details about the situation.
Throughout the process of answering these types of questions you will be slipping in the soft skills you leveraged (see my other article on discussing your Soft Skills during the interview).
Don't be intimidated. Think of these questions as opportunities to share how you have succeeded in your work. Prepare by analyzing the job, determining both the hard and soft skills needed for the job, and then noting examples of how you have handled similar situations in the past, demonstrating that you have those soft skills.
Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. Learn more about him through his company site alistsolutions.com. Follow Jeff on LinkedIn and on Twitter (@JLipschultz).