Behavioral Interviewing: When to Expect It

Behavioral InterviewBehavioral interviewing helps the hiring company predict what you will do in the future by evaluating your past actions. The interviewer asks you to describe past situations relevant to the work they expect you will need to address in your next job.

Behavioral interviews usually start with: "Tell me about a time when you..." or "Describe a situation where you..." In essence, the interviewer is asking you to tell stories about your past.

Much like a resume, these questions ask you to describe past accomplishments. Unlike a resume, however, the behavioral interview allows the hiring company to understand all of the specific actions you took and how you think. It's not uncommon for an interviewer to interrupt your story and ask, "And what were you thinking at that point?"

The easiest way for a company to test your technical skill in an area is to ask you a technical question. For instance, in a medical interview, you may be asked to diagnose a hypothetical patient, or in a finance interview, you may be tasked with performing specific actions in an Excel spreadsheet.

However, there are a lot of skills that are more difficult to test in an interview setting, such as leadership or the ability to perform under pressure. This is where the behavioral interview comes in. It offers at least one approach for the interviewer to assess past performance.

Unfortunately, behavioral interviewing has a big flaw. It depends on the job candidate being able to articulate his past experiences in his answers, which is easier said than done. If the job applicant isn't prepared, it is very difficult to provide a coherent response to the question, "What were you thinking at that point in the project which you worked on two years ago?" As a result, many hiring companies will tell you ahead of time when they plan on conducting behavioral interviews.

If you have an upcoming behavioral interview, it's important to identify the stories that you will use and to rehearse the telling of these stories. Think about how you can tell this story step-by-step, and be prepared to describe who, what, where, when, why, and how.

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