How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral Based Job Interview Questions and AnswersI've found out recently from a few individuals interviewing with the government that some government agencies are using the behavioral interview method of interviewing. What is the behavioral interview, and how do you build answers to behavioral interview questions?

Job interview questions come in a few different varieties. These broadly include traditional, technical, and behavioral questions. Traditional questions are like: "Tell me about yourself," or "What's your biggest weakness?" While helpful to some extent, traditional questions cannot assess the competency of a potential hire in relevant areas. That's why interviewers sometimes use the other two varieties of interview questions to get at these points.

With technical questions, an interviewer is testing your knowledge and mental capacity on the spot. A doctor could be asked to diagnose a patient with a set of symptoms; a computer programmer could be asked to solve a logic problem; a management consultant could be asked to come up with solutions to a "case."

With behavioral questions (also sometimes called situational questions), an interviewer wants you to demonstrate how you perform through your past track record. Your answers to behavioral job interview questions will be stories of your past experiences and how you were successful.

How to answer behavioral interview questions well

To effectively communicate these stories, a number of pretty similar frameworks have been developed. These frameworks are known by various acronyms, including SOAR, TAR, PAR, and of course STAR. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Following through these four steps in sequence will give your answer a clearly understood logical flow. Below is an example of the STAR method to answering behavioral job interview questions, put into action.

One frequently asked behavioral question is, "Tell me about a time you made a mistake."

You respond to the question by working through the STAR sequence. Answers become much stronger when specific details and numbers paint a picture for the interviewer.

Situation: Give the general background.
"From 2004 to 2008, I worked for a big Indiana construction company. I was the
assistant to the materials procurement manager. We were responsible for purchasing
 $3 million of construction materials per year."

Task: Describe the specific situation and context of the story
"While the construction manager was away, I put in a rush order for lumber, but I found out that I incorrectly typed in the order, and as a result, we were getting 20% less material than expected."

Actions: Describe the series of actions you took to resolve the problem. This step is the hardest part for many interviewees, since they may not have intentionally thought about all of the steps they undertook in sequence.

"As soon as I found the error, I contacted our supplier, who informed me that the supplies I needed could not arrive for an additional two days. Then I contacted my manager, who was away on vacation, and informed him of the situation. My manager provided the names of several other construction managers in the city who could potentially loan us the supplies. Unfortunately, when I contacted these six managers, none of them had the materials I needed. Having no other option, I contacted the site construction site manager and informed him of the situation."

Results: Discuss the outcomes of your actions.
Fortunately, the site manager informed me that because I had contacted him a few days ahead of time, they could reprioritize their work so that the delay in materials wouldn't hold up construction. I bought the site manager lunch to thank him, and we had a closer working relationship thereafter. I've also learned to thoroughly check my numbers so that such an error wouldn't happen again, and since then actually caught two errors made by the manager.

Despite the longer responses required of STAR/behavioral interview questions, be mindful of your overall length. Try to keep your answers within the two-minute range. Since spoken English should keep in the range of 150 words per minute, if you write out answers ahead of time, try to keep these responses under 300 words.

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