Behavioral Interview 101: How to Tackle the Toughest Questions | Sample Answers Included

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Behavioral Interview 101: How to Tackle the Toughest Behavioral Interview Questions | Sample Answers Included

Behavioral Interview 101: How to Tackle the Toughest Behavioral Interview Questions

It’s widely believed and accepted that behavioral interviews are 55% predictive as opposed to traditional interviews, which are only 10% so. Let’s see why that might actually be the case, what’s the power behind behavioral interviews, and how to tackle the toughest questions you can be asked during your next job interview.

What is a behavioral interview?

Behavioral interviewing is yet another method that’s being widely used during job interviews. The technique is mainly used to assess a candidate’s behavior and experience, which might affect their performance during the prospective job. A behavioral interview is believed to check the candidate’s mental toughness: the interviewer structures the conversation in such a way as to address the key skills and behavior desired for the job and asks open-ended questions to find out the candidate’s suitability. There are three major ways the behavioral interview is designed to test prospective employee’s mental capabilities: how well the candidate copes with pressure, if they can function within a team, and if they are capable enough to resolve a potential conflict. The major challenge for an interviewer here is to separate a candidate’s opinion from their actual behavior because the latter is what’s going to matter in the end. Interestingly enough, the description of behaviors tends to be always in the past tense. When a candidate starts avoiding the past tense, it might mean that they either avoid the question entirely or don’t have relevant experience. In this case, an interviewer might ask another question or probe further on.

The behavioral methodology is built around three principles: The highest weighted questions are asked first; the interviewer is tactful and tries to avoid conflicting situations; there is a balance between questions aimed at positive answers and those designed at fetching negative stories.

What are the differences between behavioral and traditional interviews?

Differences between behavioral and traditional interviews

Differences between behavioral and traditional interviews

Now, let’s look at some of the basic differences between traditional and behavioral interviewing. It’s primarily believed that with the traditional interviews, a candidate can easily tweak the answers to give what the interviewer wants to hear. We actually published an article on just that: How to Take Control of Your Interview. So, with a bit of practice, you can ace any traditional interview and manipulate the answers or questions so they work in your favor. With a behavioral interview, it’s practically impossible to twist your responses because the majority of the questions are structured in such a way as to make you honestly answer them or relate a true story.

Behavioral questions are used to evaluate a person’s leadership skills, initiative, customer-orientation, communication, and problem-solving skills, as well as the degree of adaptability and a desire to develop.

How to tackle a behavioral interview

Tackle a behavioral interview

Tackle a behavioral interview

First, you need to do thorough research on your potential employer: find out the company’s mission and vision statements, services, target markets and audience, current vacancies, and competitors. The first and most important step is to create a targeted resume that will actually land you an interview with an employer of your choice. Since the interviewer tends to ask questions from the resume, you should be very aware of the stuff you’ve put on your CV. Make sure you find all the questions specific to the role you’re applying and brainstorm.

The brainstorming session must involve dividing the collected questions into several parts: conflict resolution, teamwork, initiative, flexibility. For each question in the category think of an example from your previous job experience and describe it in detail. Think of at least three stories that would demonstrate your ability in each of these categories. Each and every story must have the premise or the circumstances, the conflict or the conduct (how the action and tension were building up), the falling action and conflict resolution (how you solved the problem). Another pattern for addressing the questions or making up stories is named SHARE. The acronym stands for Situation, Hindrance, Action, Result, and Evaluation. SHARE is basically the same pattern that was described above, only with the added evaluation where you talk about the lessons learned during a specific example and evaluate your actions and the results achieved.

Second, rehearse all your answers in front of a mirror or with a colleague, current co-worker, spouse, or even a child, if they are grown up enough and willing to listen. Prepare at least two to three questions for the interviewer. And during the process, stay calm, answer promptly, and look good. Perhaps, the last one might sound like the most difficult, but don’t worry, nice suit and a smile will do the work.

Sample behavioral interview questions

Sample behavioral interview questions

Sample behavioral interview questions

Now, let’s look at some examples of very broad and general behavioral questions, as well as some specific examples related to a particular competency you can be checked for.

General Behavioral Interview Questions

When working in a team which role you are most willing to play and which role you actually end up playing?

Describe the most difficult situation which you had to deal with at your previous job?

Describe a situation when your decision was wrong. How did you feel about being wrong? Was it easy to accept?

Describe an example where you had different opinions with your manager/boss and how you resolved the conflicting situation.

Have you ever motivated your co-workers? Give examples of motivations that worked. Why do you these particular examples worked as opposed to something that would have not?

Describe a situation when you had to conform to the company’s policies which you didn’t agree with. What were your feelings and why you did or didn’t try to change or address those policies?

Have you ever done something illegal (or of questionable morality) to get the job done?

Describe an example where you persuaded your boss/peers to adopt a strategy they were reluctant to accept at first.

Specific skills/competencies behavioral questions

Teamwork

Where do you think you’re the most effective: as a leader of a group or as a contributor?

Are you a team player or an individual maker? Why do you describe yourself as such?

Client/customer relations

Have you ever had an experience with a problematic client?

How do you handle problems with clients?

Have you ever done something that improved or worsened your relationship with your clients?

Analytical skills

Have you ever recognized a problem before anyone else on your team?

Have you ever found an opportunity that others were not even remotely aware of?

What opportunities have you recognized at your previous job and how you’ve delivered them to your boss or acted upon them?

Do you think you played a part in your company’s performance?

How did you increase your team’s performance at your last job?

Decision making

Have you ever had to make a decision that changed your life?

Have you ever made a decision that changed the course of your business?

How are you usually going about making important decisions?

Does it take long for you to come up with a decision? What are the core contributing factors that prolong the time for you to come up with a viable decision?

Evaluation skills

How do you treat information delivered to you by various people or from various sources?

How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your peers/co-workers/subordinates?

Control

How do you treat your subordinates? And how do you control their work?

How do you follow-up on your subordinates’ work?

Change

Have you ever introduced a changing policy? Have you ever met resistance when executing a new policy or decision? How have you dealt with it?

Judgment

How do you make technical decisions?

How do you make judgments in spheres that are outside your competence?

Have ever made a wrong judgment at work? What were the consequences?

Have you met someone who made a wrong judgment? How did you help them cope with it/fix it/address it?

Listening

Describe a situation which could have been different if only you listened more attentively.

Motivation

How do you motivate others?

What do you think motivates people most? Have you ever used those types of motivations that you deem the most effective?

Have you ever faced coworkers whose work was below the par? Did you try to motivate them or help them perform better?

Problem-solving

Describe the daily challenges you faced at your previous job.

Have you ever faced problems between the team members/departments/managers? How did you deal with it?

Have you ever faced a problem which you have not spotted before when it was already too late? How did you address it?

Imagine you’re at the meeting and the boss asks you something not covered by the plan. What’s your reaction? Has something like this ever happened to you?

Negotiations

Have you ever sold anything? What are the best selling strategies you have ever used?

Have you ever negotiated a cut in the price? If yes, how did you do that?

How do you feel about bargaining? Describe a situation when you bargained with someone successfully or unsuccessfully and why you think it worked or didn’t.

Leadership

Have you ever led your peers/team/co-workers?

Have you ever been a project leader?

What was the most challenging experience for you while leading a team?

STAR approach to open-ended behavioral questions

STAR approach to open-ended behavioral questions

STAR approach to open-ended behavioral questions

There’s this approach called the STAR interview (or format), which is based on addressing questions step-by-step or in chunks. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. It might be very similar to the SHARE approach we have mentioned earlier, and yet it seems rather more popular and maybe a little more general.

In Situation, you describe the question as you understand it and focus on the situation you have to address. Describe a specific event, surrounding details, and minute circumstances which may aid the interviewer to understand the subject matter more deeply. In Task, describe your goal, what you were trying to achieve by making specific actions. In Actions, you, of course, elucidate the steps you took to resolve the situation in question. Provide the generous amount of detail that will draw the focus on you, your leadership or problem-solving or decision making skills. In Result, describe a clear and specific outcome and if it corresponded with your expectations. If the outcome was not favorable, explain what you learned from the experience.

Strategy for answering negative behavioral questions

Strategy for answering negative behavioral questions

Strategy for answering negative behavioral questions

The reason it’s tough to answer negative questions is that you might want to jump into a less successful strategy of appearing as a “wannabe.” What it means is that instead of trying to answer the question, you’ll avoid it and speak of a hypothetical situation of addressing the problem in the speculative future. Conversely, you need to be honest and supply negative examples with enough details to make you look good in the end. To do exactly that, you need to provide enough background information, briefly mention your mistake while minimizing the effect or consequences, and ensuring the interviewer it won’t happen again.

Let’s look at some of the tough situations that can occur during the behavioral interview. First, it’s the silence, when you think of an example to give. To avoid thinking too much, prepare extensively for the interview and walk into an interview room with at least three stories in mind. But, if there’s no particular story for the question in your arsenal, then allow yourself to think a little, preferably no more than 15 seconds. Now, I want you to count till 15 and see how long it can seem. Thus, it’s best to think of the best possible example in the shortest time possible. If stuck, ask the interviewer to rephrase the question or clarify the details. Second, don’t try to bluff, and say that you can’t remember a specific example. Instead, what you can try to do is phrase your answer with “the best example I can think of at the moment is…” It’s best to never mention that you can’t remember anything. Third, stay away from giving generic or opinionated examples, instead, steer into specificity and give an example from your real experience. Fourth, try to stay away from telling an unrelated story which would be completely irrelevant to the question. And finally, never tell a story that would make you look like completely incompetent for a position.

Sample answers to tough behavioral questions

Sample answers to tough behavioral questions

Sample answers to tough behavioral questions

How quickly and effectively can you complete assigned projects or tasks?

From my previous experience, I have learned that it is important to try your best and complete your work effectively within the allocated period of time. I have always tried to stick to the planned time frames. If anything happens though, I would always inform my boss about the change in time and will try my best in coordinating coworkers so we stick to the shortest timeframe possible. {provide an example}

How quickly and effectively do you adapt to the changing environment?

Based on my previous job, which was completely new to me in terms of industry and responsibilities I had to undertake, I’m very confident that I’m pretty adaptive and I can change to keep up with the pace of the modern technology and the industry of my choice.

What are your strategies for understanding the business?

First, you really have to know what the organization is doing, its mission, goals, aspirations, customers, markets, etc. So I spend at least a week knowing the basics to keep me going. Then I’ll observe what and how everyone in the company does, what roles people have, how they deal with challenges and day-to-day responsibilities. {provide an example}

Have you ever initiated valuable improvements? Describe how you integrated important changes into the company’s policies.

When it comes to improvements or changes that will benefit the company, I always make sure I’m on the front run; I become instrumental in bringing and adopting changes and make others motivated so they accept them faster and more encouragingly. {provide an example}

How can you describe business concepts while still being clear, complete, competent, and attentive?

Before I speak publicly, I always research the subject first and then practice before I really know what I am talking about and if I’m speaking coherently. Moreover, if a message can be communicated as a story to keep people’s attention, then I try to do my best to think of creative ways of delivering that same message to the audience in a more comprehensible way. {provide an example}

Conclusion

To sum it all up, let’s briefly describe common factors that might contribute to the rejection of your candidacy: you can’t express yourself clearly, you’re lacking confidence or passion for the job, you don’t know what’s going to happen with your career in five or three years, you don’t have any career plans or goals, you’re unwilling to start at the very beginning up, you’re intolerant, racist, have strong prejudices, inflexible, or don’t have enough experience. You might just as well ignore asking questions, but trust us, sometimes, it’s a factor in a behavioral interview, so think of some questions way before you step into that interview room. Our final advice is to be confident, prepare, know what you’re saying, and be honest. Good luck!


Also published on Medium.

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