How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview

Behavioral interviewing is a technique employed by interviewers to evaluate your past behavior in order to predict your future behavior in a particular position. Answering behavioral questions can be challenging, however thorough preparation will assist you in answering them successfully. Utilizing the S.T.A.R. Model will help you construct an organized, specific, thoughtful, and concise answer.

How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview
  1. Analyze the position you are being interviewed for; determine the skills required.
  2. Evaluate and reflect upon your background to identify your skills and experiences related to the position.
  3. Develop brief scenarios or "STAR stories" prior to your interview that demonstrate your leadership, teamwork, communication, initiative, etc. Each "story" should explain the situation, task, action and result (STAR).
  4. Be specific in your stories. Giving generalizations will not help the employer understand and evaluate your behavior and skills. Employers want to know what you did do rather than what you would do in a given situation.
  5. Be prepared to provide examples of occasions when results were different than expected. Your skill in handling failure as well as success will be probed.
  6. Be prepared for questions asking for more detail than you've already given.
  7. Identify three to five top selling points - attributes that set you apart from other candidates - and be sure to make the opportunity to point them out during the interview.
  8. Your task is to identify qualities relevant to the position and identify/prepare relevant and effective behavioral stories.
Situation and
Task
Describe the situation that you were in and the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific project or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from your current position, a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
Action you took Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did—not the efforts of the team. Don't tell what you might do, tell what you did.
Results you Achieved What happened? How did the project end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?

Review a STAR Story example.

Behavioral Interview Questions
Communication
  • Tell me about a time when the ability to communicate effectively was critical to the success of a task or project. How did you handle it?
  • Describe a situation you observed or were a part of where you feel communication was handled particularly well by someone else. What did they do? Why do you think it was effective?

Interviewer will evaluate your bias for written or oral communication and match this to the needs of the position.

Initiative
  • Describe a situation where initiative on the part of you or someone else was critical. Why was it important? How was it handled?
  • Tell me about a situation where your own initiative made a difference in the outcome.

Interviewer will assess judgment in the selection of the situation calling for initiative, and the activities used to respond to it; the willingness to go beyond a given parameter if that is what is required to do the job

Behavioral Flexibility
  • Describe an example of a time when you had to approach several people for support or cooperation, which you considered quite different from one another. What did you have to do differently with each person? How did you know what to do differently?
  • Describe a situation in which your first attempt to sell an idea failed. How did you react to this? What other approaches did you try?

Interviewer will assess your ability to cooperate and negotiate with different personalities.

Leadership/Influence
  • Tell me about one of the toughest groups you have had to get cooperation from. Did you have formal authority? What did you do?
  • Of the people you have encountered or know about in public positions of leadership, who do you look to as a model and why?

Interviewer will assess your ability and willingness to influence and be influenced by others.
Interviewer will determine to what degree you model the behaviors expected from others.

Planning/Organizing
  • Describe a task or project you were in charge of, and tell me how you set it up and followed it through.
  • Tell me about a situation you observed or were a part of where there were time and/or resource constraints. What happened? Why?
  • Describe a situation that required things to be done at the same time. How did you handle the situation? What was the result?

Interviewer will assess your recognition of the need to plan. Interviewer will assess your willingness and ability to prioritize. Interviewer will assess the candidate's effective use of time and resources.

Problem Solving/Decision Making
  • Describe a situation where a prompt and accurate decision on your part was critical. What did you consider in reaching your decision?
  • Describe two examples of good decisions you have made in the last six months. What were the alternatives? Why were they good decisions?
  • Tell me about a decision you made in the past that later proved to be a wrong decision. Why was it wrong? What would you do differently now, if anything, in making that decision?

Interviewer will assess your willingness and ability to gather and analyze information. Interviewer will assess your judgment and logical assumptions in light of what was known prior to the decision

Sales Ability/Persuasiveness
  • What are some of the best ideas you have sold to others? What was your approach?
  • Describe a selling experience you have had. Give me a specific example of a successful or unsuccessful sale. Why was it successful or unsuccessful?

Interviewer will assess the candidate's ability to select the appropriate style for the situation

Sensitivity/Team Effectiveness
  • When dealing with individuals or groups, how do you determine when you are pushing too hard?
  • Tell me about a team where you were the leader. How did you promote the effectiveness of your team? What were the results?
  • Describe some situations where you wished you had acted differently with someone at work/school. What did you do? What happened?

Interviewer will assess your consideration of decisions on other team members.

Work Standards
  • Is there a particular experience that stands out as one you never want to repeat because you did not meet your normal standards of performance? What, and why?
  • What is the best job you have ever done on an assignment, the standard of your own performance that you used as a benchmark? (The candidate should be specific about the task; the interviewer will not settle for a general discussion of what is good.)

Interviewer will determine the degree to which poor performance is unacceptable and will determine your motivation to do a good job consistently. Interviewer will assess the effectiveness of the candidate's critique of his/her own performance as the means of self-improvement.