How to Prepare For & Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

how to prepare for behavioral interview questionsWhen preparing for an interview, it is important to anticipate what types of questions the interviewer will ask you. There are the ‘traditional’ interview questions; “what is your greatest strength or weakness?” or “What interested you about this position?” But there is another type of common interview question that may require a bit more preparation than a stock answer. These are known as behavioral interview questions.

Behavioral interview questions are more directed at how you have acted in past employment experiences, rather than how you would act in certain situations. The logic behind these questions is simple: how you have acted in the past will likely predict how you will act in the future.

The Questions

When preparing for a behavioral interview, it is important to reflect on your past experience and be adequately prepared to answer to the common behavioral questions. While the following questions require more critical thinking, they will give you a greater opportunity to showcase your talents, skills, and personality. Below are some common behavioral questions:

  • How do you handle a challenge? Give an example.
  • Have you ever made a mistake? What was it and how did you handle it?
  • Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
  • What is an example of a challenge you faced at work? How did you handle it and what was the outcome?
  • Give an example of how you worked on team.
  • What do you do if you disagree with someone at work?
  • Share an example of how you were able to motivate employees or coworkers.

Follow-up questions are common and may be detailed. You may be asked what you said, how you reacted, what you did, or even, how you felt. Do not take these follow-up questions as a sign that the interview is going poorly. Instead take them as a sign of the interviewer’s interest in you, and use these questions to your advantage, proving you’re experiences have made you the perfect candidate for a particular role.

Preparation

When preparing answers for behavioral questions, think of concrete examples of projects that you’ve collaborated on, initiatives that you started, or challenges you have encountered. These examples can be big or small. The size or scope of the project won’t make or break your candidacy. What matters most is how you reflect, draw on, and present your experiences to your interviewer.

As a first step, go through the job description line by line, and picture yourself doing the job. What responsibilities will this person hold? What are the likely challenges they will face?

Next, for each responsibility and challenge, think about strong examples of why you would excel at the job and write them down. Remember, these examples don’t need to be exact matches. It is more important that you are able to draw parallels between your past experience and the task you will be responsible for in the position.

For example, if you are applying for a management position, without having formally managed anyone, think of examples where you have displayed leadership or when you were a diplomatic problem-solver. If you don’t have a lot of professional work experience, draw on examples from your academic background or extracurricular activities.

Once you’ve gathered a number of examples, turn them into answers that follow this sequence: problem-response-outcome. This structure will demonstrate your ability to recognize problems, respond accordingly, and ultimately produce positive outcomes.

The final, and most crucial, step for interview preparation is actually practicing your answers out loud. This step will help you refine your answers and make them more easily retrievable for when you are actually sitting in the interview chair.

During the Interview

While you won’t know the exact questions the interviewer will ask you until the moment of the interview, the answers you have already prepared will help you ace your interview.

You can use the examples you have prepared even when the interviewer follows a more ‘traditional’ interview approach. If you are asked a traditional question, use one of your prepared answers, and preface it with, “I can give you an example of a time when I used that skill or had a similar experience at a previous job”.

Remember, these questions are targeted at your past job behavior, education, your interpersonal skills, and your motivations for seeking out the position. The questions are not designed for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, but are open-ended to give you and your interviewer a better opportunity to reveal more about yourself and why you are the best applicant.

About the author: Rebecca Lindegren is the Community Relations Manager for International Relations Online, a full international relations degree graduate program offered by American University wholly online. She is also the news editor for The Word is Bond, a hip hop blog that shares great new music daily. In addition to higher ed and music, she is passionate about cycling, skiing and sustainable development. 

About

Rebecca Lindegren currently works in community relations for American University’s Online Masters in International Relations at the School of International Service. In addition to higher education, she is also passionate about cooking, cycling and sustainable development.