How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

Woman at job interview
Compassionate Eye Foundation / Dan Kenyon / Digital Vision

Most hiring managers integrate at least a few behavioral questions into each interview. Behavioral questions typically revolve around requests by the interviewer for specific examples of how candidates have exhibited certain key traits or skills.

Employers who employ this approach are looking for concrete evidence that applicants possess the qualities which they believe will lead to success in the target job.

How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

Interviewers will pose questions like: "Can you give me an example of how you motivated an underperforming subordinate to increase her productivity?" or "Describe a time when you implemented a new program which was successful." They are looking for a detailed explanation of how you accomplished results in your answer.

What You Will Be Asked

It's impossible for candidates to anticipate all possible behavioral questions prior to an interview. However, a careful analysis of the requirements of your target jobs and preparation of personal success stories will help position you to excel when confronted with these types of questions. Before going into any interview, you should take the time identify the likely characteristics of the ideal candidate for that position.

In addition to looking for any cues within the job advertisement, if time permits, it will be helpful to conduct informational interviews with college alumni and professional contacts in the field to get input regarding the preferred skills, knowledge assets and personal qualities of successful employees in that type of job.

Review Your Work History

The next step will be to review your past productive roles as an employee, student, volunteer, campus leader or intern to identify examples of how you might have tapped those assets. Create a list of 7 - 10 key assets which make you a strong candidate for your target job. For each asset, think of an anecdote or story of how you have utilized that strength to add value in some situation.

How to Get Ready for a Behavioral Interview

When preparing these stories or experience episodes it can be helpful to follow these three steps:

  • Describe a situation or a problem you were confronted with.
  • Relate the action which you took to intervene in that situation or solve that problem. This should introduce the key asset you would like to illustrate.
  • Describe the results which were generated by your action.

For example, if you anticipate the need to document your organization skills you might say:

When I took on the job as an assistant at Marketing Solutions I soon learned that there was no easily accessible system for retrieving information on past campaigns. Each of the five consultants had their own computer files. I suggested to the director that we set up a shared online filing system with past campaign materials which would be accessed by all staff. I interviewed each of the staff to get input about how to categorize the files and proposed a system which was implemented. My supervisor mentioned this accomplishment as one of the reasons for my raise at my recent performance review.

Provide Details

Any candidate can make general statements about their qualifications for a position, but being ready to provide the specifics to back up your assertions is what it usually takes to convince interviewers that you have the right stuff to succeed in the job for which you are being considered.

Here's more on how to prepare for a behavioral interview, as well as sample questions and additional tips on how to respond.