Got an interview coming up? How to confidently answer behavioral interview questions.
Remember that excitement/relief you felt when you got invited to that job interview you spent ages on your application for? Your resume or application got your foot in the door, but the interview itself will swing it open and land you the job, which is why you must be as prepared as possible before the big day. It is best to assume you are up against a bunch of other top-notch candidates and to get yourself into maximum competitive and preparation mode!
The first step is to ask the employer or recruiter about the format of the interview:
– Who will the interview be with? Check that person/people out on Linkedin (what is their specific area of work? Look at their past experience. Consider how this might affect the questions they ask in the interview).
– How many interview rounds will there be? Will there be any presentations or tests?
– What format will the interview take?
What is the difference between traditional and behavioral interview questions?
Most clients that come to me for interview help want support with both ‘traditional’ interview questions (i.e. ‘what are your strengths and weaknesses?’ or ‘why have you applied for this job?’) AND ‘behavioral’ interview questions (i.e. ‘Tell me about a time when you dealt with conflict in your team’). The behavioral questions are more in-depth questions about your past experience which they want to test in relation to specific skills or competencies required for the job (teamwork, communications, dealing with conflict, negotiation skills, leadership skills etc).
The interviewer is looking for details about past relevant experiences. They want to know what the situation/challenge was, what your actions were and what the result was. Your responses will give the interviewer an indication of how you will perform in similar situations in the job you are applying for.
When a client first approaches me for support, I will ask them to send their resume and the job description. It is the job description that is key here – I will go through a detailed review of it and make a note of all the personality traits, skills and experience that are required for the role. I will then formulate likely interview questions, both traditional and behavioral, based on the requirements of the role. For the purpose of this post, I am focusing on behavioral questions – for example, if being able to deal with change is of particular importance to the role, I might ask the following:
“Tell me about a time when you were very much against a change that affected your work. How did it make you feel and how did you deal with it?”
You need to show how you have viewed things in an unbiased manner, how you demonstrated the strength of character to voice your concerns if you think a new practice will have a negative effect on the team or company and articulate your thoughts with well-reasoned arguments.
How do I answer behavioral interview questions?
Practice, practice and more practice!
First you need to get prepared and this is where the homework can really pay off. I suggest using the STAR technique to answer the question, to give both structure to your preparation, but also for the interviewer to easily follow your answers (which trust me will score you extra ‘points’).
SITUATION – Explain when the specific example took place and where (company name, team you were working in, what your job was and your key responsibilities in that role). Set the scene at the start of the answer.
TASK – Give an introduction to the specific ‘story’ in terms of what the challenge or project was, why it was so important to you/the company, what the issues were.
ACTIONS – What specifically were the actions taken by you and what were your responsibilities? Use action words to describe your major achievements, i.e. developed, established, led, supported, managed, engaged etc. Avoid using the term ‘we’.
RESULTS – What were the results and what might you do differently/what did you learn? Describe how you solved the problem or made improvements. Quantify if possible. Here are some examples:
- $8m increase in revenue
- $5m decrease in cost
- 30% reduction in processing time
- Signed up 20 new customers
It is likely that you would be asked what you learnt or what might you do differently if confronted with the issue again, so be prepared!
Sample answer to a behavioral interview question.
Using the STAR approach, I’m going to give you an example of an answer to a behavioral interview question.
‘Describe a time when there was a significant change in your company. What was your response towards it?’
Last year in my role as Sales Team Leader in xx company, we were undergoing a huge restructure having been bought by another company. We had a large number of critical projects happening at the time and it was important that we stayed on track to deliver.
In the face of significant change for my team of 10, where individuals were not sure of their new teams and who they would report into going forward, I needed to keep them motivated to deliver on our goals. Part of this was making sure that they were supported through the restructure that was taking place.
I wanted to make sure that despite the changes, people felt supported and part of a team and had clear goals to deliver on.
I started by inviting my team to a weekly Q&A session where I kept them up to date with all the information I was allowed to share on the restructure so that they felt informed and supported by their team leader whatever the outcome was.
I held 1:1s with each team member to review goals with them throughout the restructure process and worked with them to edit where appropriate, i.e. where we knew that they would be transitioning across to a different team, I worked with the appropriate new team leader. I emphasized importance of focusing on current goals, and not letting speculation or conjecture of future changes distract them from delivery of their day-to-day responsibilities.
I produced a weekly email update to the team informing them of performance in relation to targets and congratulating them on new business successes.
My manager was really impressed with how I supported my team through the restructure, exceeding our sales targets that year by 20%. The annual staff satisfaction survey reflected how the team felt well supported through the process, with the overall score not being materially impacted despite it being a period of uncertainty.
When preparing for these sorts of questions, its important you spend the time thinking of good examples and writing out your thoughts/ideas in detail – not scripted, but plenty of information you can draw upon. Practicing is essential, over and over again so that you can sound relaxed and confident when the time comes to share your proudest achievements and land that dream job!
For more interview support and preparation, please get in touch with me here or my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I offer remote one-to-one coaching sessions focused on helping you with your quest for your dream job/lifestyle along with developing your job search and interview preparation strategy. You will have the opportunity to practice traditional and behavioral interview questions and receive feedback that will enhance your confidence and performance in your interview. See details of the services I offer here.