How to prepare for responses to behavioral interview questions

Preparing for the behavioral interview No two interviews are alike. Some are casual, some intimidating and some completely embarrassing. Though the style of an interview may vary, companies typically opt for a generic template of interview questions. Consequently, interviewees have been challenged to respond with unique answers to best illustrate their professional character. Likewise, employers have discovered difficulty in effectively predicting an applicant’s potential, thus making the entire employment process difficult from both ends.

For this reason, more companies are relying behavioral interviewing techniques to discover which applicant is an ideal fit for the company’s vacancy. In fact, many companies are training their recruiters to utilize these techniques as a best practice. TOA Technologies’ Michael McDonnel, Vice President of Global Talent Acquisition understands the value of behavioral interviewing. We asked him to share his insight.

 How does a behavioral interview differ from a traditional interview?

The goal of behavioral interviewing is to eliminate the "canned" answer - and forces the candidate to give a REAL example. Instead of having the candidate answer a question like “What is your greatest weakness?” and hearing a response he/she has given 100 times, behavioral interviewing requires candidates to respond with specific examples of past experiences. This is all based on the belief that past performance is the most accurate predictor of future performance.

 Why would a company like TOA Industries want to use behavioral interviews?

At TOA, we see a great deal of applicants. Given how quickly we are growing, we cannot afford to make mistakes with candidates that merely interview well.  Behavioral interviewing is the best way to engage the candidate and quickly learn whether a candidate is a good fit or if he/she is just a “good interviewer.”  It is very difficult to "fake it" when you have to provide specific examples to behavioral questions. Basically, we can find great candidates more quickly, and we learn a great deal about our prospects in the process.

What tips do you have for Cleveland's young professionals who may be preparing for a behavioral interview?

Learn to recognize typical behavior-based questions. These questions ask about specific experiences you’ve had and typically begin with, “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of…”Behavioral interview questions require candidates to provide a complete, three-part response in a format known as SAR: situation, action and result. When you are preparing your responses, make sure you cover all three parts.

Also, PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE. Go through a role-playing exercise with a friend, counselor, or teacher. Think about EXAMPLES you could provide, or real life situations. Be ready to answer the questions in detail.

As with any interview, a little preparation goes a long way. Use the following sample questions provided by Michael McDonnell to practice developing answers that best represent you and your capabilities. Recall experiences from  previous jobs and internships then apply them to these questions. Practice them with a friend or mentor and eventually, the answers will come naturally.

Sample Behavioral Interview Questions

  1. Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully persuade someone to see things your way.
  2. Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation and how you handled it.
  3. What adjectives would your boss use to describe you in a performance review, what were your last reviews, do you agree?
  4. Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
  5. Describe your goal setting process and how you meet them.
  6. Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills in front of a group.
  7. Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
  8. Please discuss an important written document you were required to complete.
  9. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond your job requirements in order to get a project done. What did you do and how were you recognized for it?
  10. Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks.
  11. What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
  12. Tell me about a time you were able to successfully deal with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
  13. Tell me about a difficult decision you’ve made in the last year.
  14. Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  15. Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker.
  16. Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
  17. Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
  18. Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
  19. Tell me how you handle making mistakes.
  20. Describe to me how you give and take criticism.
  21. Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
  22. Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
  23. Please tell me about a time you had to fire and/or discipline a co-worker (if applicable).
  24. Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).
  25. What personality characteristics do you get along well with, and why?
  26. Describe your proudest moment in life, and why?
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