How to answer ‘behavioral’ questions in job interviews

How to answer 'behavioral' questions in job interviews

Question from Reader:

I’m hearing about these new kinds of interviews called “behavioral interviews” where an interviewer asks for stories or examples of what I have done. What is the best way to prepare for the interview and share my stories? I feel that I will either babble on or not share enough. Can you help?

Answer from Dana:

Behavioral-based interviewing is used to discover how the interviewee acted in specific employment-related situations. Logic assumes that the way you behaved in the past will predict how you will behave in the future.

You are correct — behavioral interviews are increasing in popularity for a number of reasons.

First, the interviewer can sense if the candidate has prepared for the interview. Most importantly, the interviewer can probe deeper into your experience after hearing your anecdote. You may state an example, then the interviewer will say, “Tell me more about what you did,” or “Tell me more about how you did that,” or “What was your role?”

It’s really quite simple and effective. An employer has decided what skills are needed (they’re listed in the job description) and will ask questions to find out if the candidate has those skills.

While you can prepare some effective examples in advance of the interview, I would like to give you a formula for creating an example on the fly, if necessary.

Formula for answering behavioral questions

1. Sentence One: The Situation

  • Briefly describe the “what.”
  • Example: “During my role as manager at Exxon, the competition was raising its prices, so we had to respond.”

2. Sentence Two: Your Action

  • Briefly describe what you did during this situation.
  • You are invited to brag and talk about your role in the situation.
  • Use power verbs, showing confidence and strength.
  • Avoid using “we” or “the team.” The interviewer needs to learn about you.
  • Example: “I led a complex set of analyses, summarized the results, and made key recommendations to the leadership team.”

3. Sentence Three: The Result

  • Tell how the situation ended — hopefully positively.
  • Use metrics or numbers, if they are not proprietary. Numbers show the size of the scope or impact.
  • Example: “As a result, the management team chose to implement one of the recommendations and we increased market share the following year.”

Now you should prepare your top stories. List out the skills and experiences mentioned in the job description on the left side of a table. On the right, put three bullet points for each row – use short bullets that you will remember.

If the interviewer asks, “Tell me a time when you had to solve a complex pricing problem,” your notes might read:

  • Exxon competitive price increases
  • Led analysis, summarized, recommended
  • Implementation and share percent increased


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