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Understanding the Behavior-Based Job Interview

A behavior-based interview relies on storytelling — examples of what you’ve done in previous jobs that support your claims. In behavior-based interviewing techniques, candidates are asked how they have handled specific situations — what kinds of behaviors they used to solve problems.

The presumption is that if you were a good problem solver in the past, you’ll be a good problem solver in the future. Behavior-based interviewing emphasizes “What did you do when,” not “What would you do if?”

Interview questions are designed to draw out clues to a candidate’s workplace DNA. All candidates are asked virtually the same questions. The tip-off that you’ve just been handed a behavior-based question, which should be answered with a demonstrated skill or trait, is when the question begins with such words as these:

  • Tell me about a time when . . .

  • Give me an example of your skills in . . .

  • Describe a time when you . . .

  • Why did you . . .

Companies using behavior-based interviewing first must identify the behaviors important to the job. If leadership, for instance, is one of the valued behaviors, questions asking for stories of demonstrated leadership will be asked, such as:

Tell me about the last time you had to take charge of a project but were lacking in clear direction. How did you carry forward the project?

Because the behavioral style of interviewing attempts to measure predictable behavior rather than pure paid work experience, it can help level the playing field for rookies competing against seasoned candidates.

In mining your past for anecdotes, you can draw from virtually any part of your past behavior — education, school projects, paid work experience, volunteer work, activities, hobbies, family life.

As you sift through your memories, be on the lookout for a theme, the motif that runs through your choices of education, jobs, and activities. Put at least half a dozen anecdotes that illustrate your theme in your pocket and pull them out when you need them. Examples of themes are:

  • Leadership

  • Problem solving

  • Negotiating

  • Initiative

  • Overcoming adversity

  • Succeeding

  • Dealing with stress

  • Sacrificing to achieve an important work goal

  • Dealing with someone who disagrees with you

  • Commitment

  • Work ethic

  • Task orientation

  • Communications skills

The interviewer is more interested in the process than in the details of your success stories. What was the reasoning behind your actions? Why did you behave the way you did? What skills did you use?

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