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Preparing for a Behavioral Interview

Lesson 17 Module 6

What is Behavioral Interviewing?

Before defining behavioral interviewing, it’s important to note that interview tactics have changed. If you're not ready for these changes, your chances for a job offer will be dramatically reduced! This is especially true when interviewing with employers of choice! These employers are much more likely to have rigorous selections methods and processes in place.

Behavioral interviews by their nature involve deep probing questions and are based on the concept of “predictable future behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.”

In other words, what you have done in the past is highly predictive of what you will do in the future. Another similar concept is based on "past performance."

Here's what a recruiter for a very large employer said to me about candidates preparation for interviews.

"I am constantly amazed that candidates have not prepared for their interviews. We tell them we are going to do a behavioral interview and ask them to have specific examples ready for discussion. Yet, in a large number of instances they don't prepared adequately. They just don't have good examples ready. I feel they often have good work examples, they just don't have them in the front of their mind. When they give poor examples, I have no choice but to disqualify them from further consideration."

There are three main reasons that cause candidates to fail their behavioral interview.

  1. Trying to 'wing it' during the interview. Lack of practice and thinking through how you will answer behavioral interview questions is a recipe for disaster.
  2. Giving dishonest answers. Your response will not hold up through the onslaught of deep probing questions asked by a skilled interviewer.
  3. Giving shallow or rambling answers. Be sure and review the 'clock watcher' vs. 'clock builder' explanation in the STAR Interview answers lesson. Tips in that lesson will help you give a 'Goldilocks' answer, i.e. just right.

Examples of Common Behavioral Interview Competencies

Employers using a 'pure' behavioral interview style assign key competencies to the job. These are behavioral characteristics they believe are necessary for perform well. Click on the blue bar below for examples of some of the most common ones. Take the time to think through how these play a part in your job and how you would provide examples of when you use them in your job.

Click for Common Job Competencies

Analytical Ability
Attention to Detail
Being a self-starter
Control Style
Critical thinking
Cultural Fit
Decision Making
Development of Subordinates
Energy Level


Equipment Operation


Interpersonal Skills

Fact Finding-Oral

Financial Analytical


Impact on Others










Negotiation Ability

Organizational Ability

Participative Style

Management Beliefs/Style

Planning and Organizing

Practical Learning

Presentation Skills/Style

Process Operation


Rapport Building

Resilience - Bounce Back

Risk Taking

Safety Awareness

Sales Ability- Persuasiveness




Strategic Analysis


Technical/Professional Knowledge

Technical/Professional Proficiency


Training/Ability to Learn

Willingness to learn

Work Standards

Types of Behavioral Interview Questions

Questions may not even be questions at all, but could be something like:

  • "Tell about a time..." or 
  • "Tell me how you..." or
  • "Describe a time...." or
  • "Describe a situation..."
  • "Describe a decision you..." or
  • "Give me an example of how you..." or
  • "How did/do you handle..." or
  • "Share an example of..."

For example, using the first competency in the above list – adaptability – you might get a question like:

  1. Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a different project plan from the original.
  2. Describe a situation where you demonstrated your ability to adapt in order to get your job done.

As you can see, if you haven’t thought through your past, you may not be able to quickly think of an excellent example.  That is one key reason that you need to prepare thoroughly for your interview. This where the STAR question answer method becomes critical to giving a great answer!

Examples of Behavioral Interview Questions With Explanation

Here are some common behavioral interview questions along with an example answer. Use each question and decide how you would answer it. Practice doing that for the key competencies listed above.

Tell me how you get your work done when you're under pressure.

What the employer is looking for

The job you're interviewing for is considered high-stress and they want to know how well you work under pressure. You want to have a specific example you can use in the form of a story structured in a STAR format.

Example Answer

I was leading a key project that was scheduled to deliver in 90 days and the customer made changes at the 30 day mark that required critical adjustments. The customer still insisted on delivery in 90 days. Although this was a bit unreasonable on the part of the customer I made key project assignment changes, implemented a rapid change order system combined with a daily SCRUM meeting and we were able to finish the project on time and within budget. I had a great team, but the changes I made on the fly was the key to a successful project.

Describe a unpopular decision you made and explain how you implemented it.

What the employer is looking for

As a leader you sometimes must make difficult decisions what are difficult for employees to accept.The employer wants to know your process for implementing change even when it may be unpopular.

Example Answer

I was in charge of moving company HQ to a new campus. This included all arrangements for movers, and schedules for each department to move. Initially there was some confusion on what was needed to prepare each group for the move. A number of employees were upset about the move anyway and this became an issue that called for a solution.

We had 6 weeks to prepare, after the initial announcement. 

So, I used an in-house graphic artist to create a comic book illustrating how the move would be accomplished and what each person needed to do in order to ensure a smooth move. That instantly created a mood of understanding and everyone truly enjoyed the comic book approach to a disruptive process. The move was accomplished over a two week period without incidence, meeting critical time constraints and 9% under budget.

Tell me about a time you had a major disagreement with someone at work.

What the employer is looking for

The employer is looking for whether you are a 'hot head', someone who can seek a compromise, know how to listen and correctly ascertain what the issue is. This gets at problem solving, people and team relationship skills.

Example Answer

I was in charge of ensuring fairness and equity in compensation across the company. The VP of Engineering wanted to make a job offer that was clearly above the pay range for the job he was hiring for. I explained that we either needed to elevate the job to a more senior level or keep our salary within competitive ranges, while maintaining internal equity. I presented a recent engineering salary survey for our region which supported my hesitancy.

We compromised and decided to elevate the job to a higher salary grade which required adding some senior responsibilities to the role. The candidate would clearly be able to stretch into this more senior role. We maintained our internal salary equity and remained inside of the competitive job market compensation.

Tell me about a time you realized you needed to improve your knowledge in a given area.

What the employer is looking for

The employer is looking to see how self-aware you are. If you spend time reflecting on your career, and what you need to do in order to be purposeful in your career development.

This includes how you view your strengths and weaknesses.

Example Answer

I was moving into larger and more complex project leadership roles where the teams and budgets were bigger. After thinking about this for a few months, I went to my boss and explained my thoughts and sought her advice on what she thought I should do to be sure I was ready for larger roles.

At the same time, I talked to a former boss with whom I maintained a great professional relationship. I explained to him what I was thinking.

I used input from these two people to formulate a one year plan that included completing my Project Manager certification and attending two advance project leadership workshops.

This new knowledge allowed me to be named the leader for our largest project and at the completion of that project I was received our President's Leadership award for excellence.

As a candidate, you should be equipped to answer the interview questions thoroughly using the STAR structure. Obviously, you can prepare better for a behavioral type of interview if you know which skills that the employer has predetermined to be necessary for the job you seek.

Researching the company and talking to people who work there will enable you to zero in on the kinds of behaviors the company wants. A good way to do that is to use the job ad and any job description document that you can find. Take clues from these documents.

For example, if the job requires that you supervise others, be prepared to talk about leadership, management style, etc. If the job requires you to manage projects, then project management ability, working with cross-functional teams, matrix organizations and/or organizational ability will likely be some of the key elements.

Think through this process carefully as you prepare to interview. Compare the job requirements to the list of competencies above and you will be able to at least determine the most obvious competencies that the employer is probably looking for.

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