Career Services

Tips for Behavioral Interviews

Because an increasing number of employees use behavior-based interviewing strategies to screen employees, understanding how to excel in this interview style is becoming a crucial job search skill.  Behavioral interviewing is based on the premise that your past behavior and performance is a key indicator of your future behavior and performance. According to Quintessential Careers, research has found behavioral interviewing to be "55% predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is only 10% predictive."
Typically, in behavioral interviewing, the interviewer identifies job-related experiences, behaviors, skills, values, and abilities that are desirable for a particular position in a particular organization. Some characteristics that might be sought are problem solving skills, communication skills, integrity, critical thinking, team work, and initiative. The employer then structures very pointed questions to elicit detailed responses aimed at determining if the candidate possesses the desired characteristics. Questions, often not even framed as a question, typically start out: "Tell about a time..." or "Describe a situation..." Interviewers are expected to relate details about specific past instances where they demonstrated this trait or skill.

The following are some tips for responding to behaviorally-based questions in an employment interview:

  •  As a candidate, you should be equipped to answer the questions thoroughly. Reflect on past experiences in classes, jobs, internships, or clinicals to identify several potential specific scenarios you might share in your responses.
  • Have five or six scenarios in mind before the interview; many scenarios are applicable to a variety of questions that might be asked. For instance, a scenario that depicts problem solving skills might also be used to answer inquiries about conflict resolution, communication skills, creativity, or group work.  Even if the interviewer doesn't use behavioral questions, use these stories to support your answers to more general questions.  Statements are forgotten long before stories.   
  • Avoid overly personal scenarios in answering the questions. Try to glean examples from the world of work, classes, volunteerism, or co-curricular activities.
  •  While interviewing, you are marketing yourself; most of the scenarios you choose should be scenarios that portray you positively. Include positive results in your response, even if those results are simply that you learned from the situation and did not repeat the same mistake again.
  • Your responses to behavioral interview questions need to be specific and detailed. If asked to describe a time you demonstrated effective communication skills, an appropriate response is not, "Usually, I communicate well with all co-workers." Instead, your response should be more in the order of, "Last Tuesday, I overheard the administrative assistant being rude to a customer on the telephone so I…"
  • Ideally, you should briefly describe the situation, what specific action you took to have an effect on the situation, and the positive result or outcome. This three-step response is often represented by the acronyms STAR or PAR.  

         ST (situation/task)                    P (problem)
         A (action you took)                   A (action you took)
         R (positive results)*                  R (positive results)*
        *Include what you learned from the situation in the results section.

Quintessential Careers provides the following example of a good response for a behavioral-based interview question asking about a situation when the candidate demonstrated good problem solving skills:  

  • Situation/task (ST):  I was selected as editor of the campus newspaper and large numbers of long-term advertisers were not renewing contracts. The challenge was to increase the revenue.
  • Action (A): I designed a new promotional packet to go with the rate sheet and compared the benefits of the campus paper circulation with other ad media in the area. I also set-up a special training session for the account executives with a School of Business Administration professor who discussed competitive selling strategies.
  • Result (R): We signed contracts with 15 former advertisers for daily ads and five for special supplements. We increased our new advertisers by 20 percent over the same period last year.  

Sample Questions

There is no predicting what specific questions will be asked in an interview, but the following are some examples of behavioral based interview questions to think about and practice answering.   

  •  Describe a time you worked well under pressure.
  • Tell us about a time you utilized good communication skills.
  • Tell us about a time you went above and beyond the call of duty.
  •  Describe a time that someone annoyed you and how you dealt with the situation.
  • Describe a time you utilized good organizational skills in completing a project or work task.
  • Give me an example of a time you demonstrated responsibility.
  • Tell us about a problem you encountered and resolved.
  •  Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  • Describe a situation when you worked as part of a group and the group didn't work very well together.
  • Tell us about a time you made a mistake.
  • Tell me about a school or work situation that demonstrates your work ethic.
  •  Describe a time you learned something the hard way.
  • Tell us about a time you experienced a conflict with a peer and how you dealt with the situation.
  • Give us an example of a situation where you demonstrated the ability to work well with a team of individuals.
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
  • Tell us about a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
  • Tell me about a difficult decision you've made.
  • Tell me about a time you performed a random act of kindness.
  • Describe a time you received negative feedback.