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Preparing for a Behavioral Style Job Interview

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 2/4/2011

The growing popularity of the behavioral approach to management, and the increasing need for employees to "fit" in an organization, has led to behavioral style job interviews gaining popularity and becoming a critical part of the selection process. Read on for how to prepare for this interview type.

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    What is a Behavioral Interview?

    Behavioral Style Job Interview The behavioral style job interview tries to assess the candidate's core competencies and basic skills relevant to the job profile, by probing experiences. Some of the common traits assessed include: problem-solving skills, decision-making ability, conflict resolution skills, leadership skills, and negotiation skills.

    The behavioral interview technique aims to ascertain whether the candidate is employable, and has the necessary characteristics and traits suitable for the position, apart from the technical expertise. It bases itself on the premise that past performance is the best predictor of future performance, the situation remaining the same.

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    Common Questions

    Behavioral style interviews take place with the interviewer asking the candidate, how they would react to a certain situation, or how they had reacted to a situation in the past.

    The basic questions relate to asking candidates to list their accomplishments, the challenges overcome, situations of going beyond what was required, perseverance, leadership experiences, and more. Other common questions may include asking the candidate to narrate the last time they demonstrated initiative, a situation where they motivated themselves to complete a boring or difficult assignment, the approach to complete a complex assignment, a situation where the candidate took an instant decision, a risky decision, or how the candidate approached undertaking a totally unfamiliar task.

    The questions can also extend to probing how the candidate approached a difficult boss or coworker, the candidate’s interactions and role in teamwork, how a candidate persuaded a coworker to do something difficult, out of the way, or an undeserved favor, instances of some conflict with a coworker or boss, and the like.

    Other possible questions include asking the candidate to reveal a bad experience or a bad decision, and the lessons learned from such episodes, a time when the candidate missed an obvious solution to the problem, the candidate’s biggest failure, or regret, some unpopular decisions made by the candidate, how the candidate resolved any ethical dilemma, and other negative questions.

    One good way to determine likely questions, is looking at the job description to understand key skills and traits required for the position. For instance, if the position involves teamwork, likely questions would relate to probing the candidates ability to work in a team, or lead a team.

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    Answering Approach

    Behavioral questions are open ended, with no right or wrong answer. The answer should shed light on the candidate’s personality and orientation, and whether the answer is right or wrong, depends on the context, and the extent to which the behavior is desired or undesired in the job. For instance, a person whose answer displays an aggressive temperament might score points in a marketing position, but might loose out on a human resources role.

    The basic approach to prepare for a behavioral style job interview ,is to recollect achievements and accomplishments. Make a story out of them, and try to arrange documents or materials to substantiate such stories.

    Ensure clarity, leaving no scope for the interviewer to make interpretations, owing to ambiguity in the candidate’s story.

    In a normal interview, the interviewers may remain satisfied with a description of what the candidate achieved. In a behavioral interview, the interviewer looks at how the candidate approaches and deals with the situation, rather than the actual achievement.

    Far more important than the actual answer is the honesty, sincerity, and candidness demonstrated by the candidate. The open-ended questions notwithstanding, interviewers can easily cross-check claims by probing the résumé or asking for substantiating documents. For instance, a candidate who claims ability to lead a team successfully, and makes up a story of leading a team in a crisis situation, but has no proof of having led a team anywhere, would be met with skepticism.

    Another important behavioral interview tip is to provide honest answers. Interviewers look for progress and growth rather than perfection. They realize the limitations of actual work settings, and interpret the candidate trying to present a perfect picture of never making mistakes, or the master of everything as a sure sign of lying. The correct approach is to drive home the point of having learned from mistakes.

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    A Behavioral style job interview allows employers to select candidates with the right attitude, aptitude, and temperament. With the barriers of knowledge and technology broken down and human resources becoming key sources of competitive advantage for companies, hiring employees with such traits becomes vital for companies to maintain their competitive advantage. As such, companies attach a great importance to behavioral style interviews.