Behavioral Interviews

The “behavioral” interview technique is used by many employers to evaluate an applicant’s experiences and behaviors and determine their potential for success.

The interviewer identifies the skills and behaviors required for the job being advertised, then structures open-ended questions to elicit detailed responses from an applicant regarding those skills and behaviors. A rating system is developed and selected criteria are evaluated during the interview.

When you apply for a job, you must be prepared to answer behavioral questions. First, identify the skills and experience required for the job, then create some possible behavioral interview questions regarding those skills. Practice your responses to those questions. A helpful formula that job applicants often use to structure their responses to behavioral interview questions is: Situation ? Action ? Result (also known as Problem ? Action ? Result).

Possible Areas for Evaluation

Listed below are some key skills and behaviors on which you could be evaluated in a behavioral interview:

  • Adaptability
  • Analysis
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication – Oral
  • Communication – Written
  • Control
  • Decisiveness
  • Delegation
  • Development of subordinates
  • Energy
  • Entrepreneurial insight
  • Equipment operation
  • Financial analysis
  • Flexibility
  • Impact
  • Independence
  • Initiative
  • Innovation
  • Interviewing
  • Integrity
  • Judgment
  • Leadership / influence
  • Listening
  • Motivation
  • Negotiation
  • Organizational sensitivity
  • Participative management
  • Planning and organizing
  • Practical learning
  • Presentation skills
  • Process operation
  • Rapport building
  • Resilience
  • Risk taking
  • Safety awareness
  • Sales ability / persuasiveness
  • Sensitivity
  • Strategic analysis
  • Stress
  • Teamwork
  • Technical / professional knowledge
  • Technical / professional proficiency
  • Tenacity
  • Training
  • Work standards

Possible Interview Questions

Here follow some examples of questions that may be used in a behavioral interview.

Regarding your focus and dedication to the professional field or industry:

  1. Why did you choose your major and career?
  2. At what point did you make this decision?
  3. Specifically, what attracts you to this industry as a career?

Regarding your technical and professional knowledge:
(Your level of understanding of technical and professional information and your ability to apply technical and professional skills.)

  1. Sometimes it’s easy to get in “over your head.” Describe a situation where you had to request help or assistance on a project or assignment. (Situation?Action?Result)
  2. Give an example of how you applied knowledge from previous coursework to a project in another class. (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your teamwork skills:
(Working effectively with others in the organization and outside the formal lines of authority — i.e., peers, other units, senior management, and the like — to accomplish organizational goals and to identify and resolve problems. Considering the impact of your decisions on others.)

  1. Describe a situation where others you were working with on a project disagreed with your ideas. What did you do? (Situation?Action?Result)
  2. Describe a situation in which you found that your results were not up to your professor’s or supervisor’s expectations. What happened? What action did you take? (Situation?Action?Result)
  3. Tell of a time when you worked with a colleague who was not completing their share of the work. Who, if anyone, did you tell or talk to about it? Did the manager take any steps to correct your colleague? Did you agree or disagree with the manager’s actions? (Situation?Action?Result)
  4. Describe a situation in which you had to arrive at a compromise or guide others to a compromise. (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your analytical skills:
(Relating and comparing data from different sources, identifying issues, securing relevant information, and identifying relationships.)

  1. What steps do you follow to study a problem before making a decision? We can sometimes identify a small problem and fix it before it becomes a major problem. Give an example(s) of how you have done this. (Situation?Action?Result)
  2. Describe a situation in which you had to collect information by asking many questions of several people. (Situation?Action?Result)
  3. In a supervisory or group leader role, have you ever had to discipline or counsel an employee or group member? What was the nature of the discipline? What steps did you take? How did that make you feel? How did you prepare yourself? (Situation?Action?Result)
  4. Recall a time from your work experience when your manager or supervisor was unavailable and a problem arose. What was the nature of the problem? How did you handle that situation? How did that make you feel? (Situation?Action?Result)
  5. Recall a time when you were assigned what you considered to be a complex project. Specifically, what steps did you take to prepare for and finish the project? Were you happy with the outcome? What one step would you have done differently if given the chance? (Situation?Action?Result)
  6. What was the most complex assignment you have had? What was your role? (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your adaptability:
(Maintaining effectiveness in varying environments, tasks and responsibilities, or with various types of people.)

  1. How was your transition from high school to college? Did you face any particular problems? (Situation?Action?Result)
  2. Tell of some situations in which you have had to adjust quickly to changes over which you had no control. What was the impact of the change on you? (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your work standards:
(Setting high goals or standards of performance for self, subordinates, others and the organization. Experiencing dissatisfaction with average performance.)

  1. Compare and contrast the times when you did work which was above the standard with times your work was below the standard.
  2. Describe some times when you were not very satisfied or pleased with your performance. What did you do about it? (Situation?Action?Result)
  3. What are your standards of success in school? What have you done to meet these standards? (Situation?Action?Result)
  4. How have you differed from your professors in evaluating your performance? How did you handle the situation? (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your job motivation:
(The extent to which activities and responsibilities available in the job overlap with activities and responsibilities that result in personal satisfaction.)

  1. Give examples of your experiences at school or in a job that were satisfying. Give examples of your experiences that were dissatisfying. (Situation – Why Satisfying – Why Dissatisfying)
  2. What kind of supervisor do you work best for? Provide examples. Why this Preference?

Regarding your initiative:
(Making active attempts to influence events to achieve goals. Self-starting rather than passively accepting. Taking action to achieve goals beyond what is necessarily called for, originating action.)

  1. Describe some projects or ideas (not necessarily your own) that were implemented, or carried out successfully primarily because of your efforts. (Idea – Role in Implementation / Outcome)
  2. Describe a situation that required a number of things to be done at the same time. How did you handle it? What was the result? (Situation?Action?Result)
  3. Have you found any ways to make school or a job easier or more rewarding? (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your ability to learn:
(Assimilating and applying new job-related information promptly.)

  1. What tricks or techniques have you learned to make school or a job easier, or to make yourself more effective? How did you learn that? (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your planning and organizational skills:
(Establishing a course of action for yourself (and/or others) to accomplish specific goals. Planning proper assignments for personnel and appropriately allocating resources.)

  1. How do you determine priorities in scheduling your time? Give examples. (Priority – How Determined - Result)
  2. Describe a time in school when you had many projects or assignments due at the same time. What steps did you take to get them all done? (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your communication skills:
(Clearly expressing ideas in writing — including grammar, organization, and structure.)

  1. Tell of a time when your active listening skills really paid off for you-maybe a time when other people missed the key idea being expressed. (Situation?Action?Result)
  2. What has been your experience in giving presentations to small or large groups? What has been your most successful experience in speech making? (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your customer service orientation and skills:
(Making efforts to listen to and understand the customer (both internal and external), anticipating customer needs and giving high priority to customer satisfaction.)

  1. Tell of the most difficult customer service experience that you have ever had to handle-perhaps an angry or irate customer. Be specific and tell what you did and what was the outcome. (Situation?Action?Result)

Regarding your courtesy, professionalism, and sensitivity:
(Acting out of consideration for the feelings and needs of others.)

  1. Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. Why was this person difficult? How did you handle that person? (Situation?Action?Result)
  2. Describe a situation where you found yourself dealing with someone who didn’t like you. How did you handle it? (Situation?Action?Result)

Possible Evaluation Systems

Rating systems used to evaluate applicants in behavioral interviews run the gamut from very sophisticated with multiple grading and evaluation components to fairly simple like the one that follows:

5. Much more than acceptable:
Significantly above criteria required for successful job performance
4. More than acceptable:
Generally exceeds criteria relative to quality and quantity of behavior required.
3. Acceptable:
Meets criteria relative to quality and quantity of behavior required.
2. Less than acceptable:
Generally does not meet criteria relative to quality and quantity of behavior required.
1. Much less than acceptable:
Significantly below criteria required for successful job performance.

Resources for more information on behavioral interviews:

Hansen, Katharine
Behavioral Interviewing Strategies for Job-Seekers
Quintessential Careers website

Harrison, Craig
Once Upon A Job: “Success Stories” Steer Seekers Toward Employment
The California Job Journal Magazine, September 10-16, 2000 edition

Prepare for the Behavioral Interview website

Career Storytelling Tools for Job-Seekers
Quintessential Careers website