June 18, 2018

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How to Ace the Behavioral Interview

Part 1

Whether it is called the behavioral interview, the behavior-based interview, or the personal experience interview, the behavioral interview is being used by more and more employers to assess candidates. Let us help you to gain the skills you will need to beat your competitors at this type of interview!

In Part 1 of this series of two articles, we'll cover the reasons you need to practice the behavioral interview, and also what the interviewer is looking for.

In Part 2, we'll cover some behavioral interview questions and how best to prepare for them. By the way, the Careerfriend website holds a full list of questions on its behavioral interview questions page!

What is the behavioral interview anyway?

Perhaps it is better to answer this question by thinking about what the ‘traditional’ interview might entail.

Traditional interview questions might include “Why are you applying for this position?” or “What do you know about our company?”

In fact, I’m sure that you have a whole list of these types of interview questions against each of which you have written, rehearsed and memorized your answer. If you haven’t, then you should!

It is reasonably easy though for you to know (or at least take an educated guess at) what the interviewer wants to hear when they ask each of these questions. Therefore it is also reasonably easy to come up with the ‘right’ interview answer. And because of this, interviewers find it very difficult to differentiate candidates based on their responses to this type of interview question alone.

This is where the behavioral interview comes in!

The behavioral interview is based on the premise that the best guide to your future performance is your past performance. Each interview will draw upon one or a small number of ‘experiences’ – times in your life when you found yourself in a situation or problem where you needed to take a set of actions to resolve the situation or problem. The behavioral interview is designed to allow you to tell the interviewer about what actions you took.

This certainly appears to make sense. If, for example, I was interviewing you for a role which required well-developed negotiation skills, I would much rather hear about a time when you used your skills in a tough negotiation than hear about what you know about my company! Therefore, behavioral interviews are a much better predictor of future performance.

Another key attribute about good behavior-based interviews, in my view, is that they should be more ‘input-based’ than ‘output-based’. What do I mean by that? I mean that I want to know what you did, what you said, how you felt, and what you thought (in other words, your ‘behaviors’) during your tough negotiation more than whether it was successful or not. The reason for this is that even if you had achieved your desired outcome in the negotiation, I have no idea in the confines of our interview room whether the person you were negotiating with was a push-over, or the hardest negotiator that walked the earth! I will be able to get a much better view of that by finding out how you ran the negotiation process, what you did and said at each stage, and how you planned for the next stage of negotiation – this is what I mean by the ‘input’.

So who uses behavioral interviewing techniques?

The truth is that most top-grade employers use behavioral interviews. They have found it to be a much better way of assessing whether a candidate is suitable for the job than other ‘traditional’ methods of interviewing.

It is also true that some less-trained interviewers may ask behavioral interview questions, without realising that they are doing so! You can use this to your advantage, since if you use the techniques in this report your answer will be far more compelling than those from unprepared candidates. Let me illustrate with an example:

A less-trained interviewer may ask “What positions of responsibility have you held?”

This information should be on your resume, so the interviewer is asking the question either because they haven’t seen or read your resume (which is possible) or because they are hinting that they would like some more detail behind the facts on your resume.

Either way, here is your chance to shine. Keep reading, and I’ll show you how you can really impress your interviewer by providing a behavioral interview styled answer!

What is the interviewer looking for at the behavioral interview?

As mentioned above, the interviewer is looking for a set of behaviors which the employer has decided are key for success in the position. They could include taking initiative, taking risks, persuading, manipulating complex data, making decisions under pressure, facilitating meetings, working within teams, leading teams etc.

It is important for you to have a clear idea of what behaviors the interviewer will be looking for.

Sometimes you will find this on the company website under their ‘careers’ section. Sometimes you will find hints towards what they think are important traits in their people in the ‘about our people’ or ‘about us’ sections. Remember to check the websites of other companies who operate in the same sector – they are likely to want the same things as your prospective employer!

Alternatively, use your network to reach out to people who work at the company, used to work at the company, or are otherwise involved with the company to find out what kind of behaviors they value in their people. And again, don’t just stop at your prospective employer, but also other companies in the sector.

So that's it for this week - come back next week to learn more about preparing for the behavioral interview!

- Jonathan Lewis

Jonathan Lewis is the founder and CEO of the Careerfriend website (, committed to helping people succeed in their dream careers. The site provides a wealth of free articles and resources covering career and employer selection, through resume and cover letter writing, to interviewing, salary negotiation and ongoing career development. Jonathan's extensive experience of attracting, recruiting, retaining and developing exceptional people in management consulting and investment banking allows him to offer clear, actionable advice which has a great impact on people either looking for new jobs or looking to succeed further in their existing jobs.

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