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Preparing for the Behavioral Interview

Apr 29, 2008
Over the years, all sorts of techniques have been used in the quest to find the perfect employee. Of all of these, "behavioral interviewing" techniques have stood the test of time, and are now considered the best way to weed-out the merely qualified candidates and find the perfect candidate.

But the question remains: what exactly is Behavioral Interviewing?

Behavioral Interviewing is a technique in which employers ask questions about your past behavior in order to determine if you are a good fit for the job they are trying to fill.

When being interviewed, anybody can say they are a "great problem solver," or a "hard worker." But when the person is asked for an example showing how he or she solved a problem or worked hard in past jobs, then the interviewer wants proof that they have done what they say they can do.

An interviewer might ask a behavioral question along the lines of, "Give me an example of a time when working hard or going above and beyond the call of duty led to a success."

Is this a new technique?

Not at all. Behavioral Interviewing techniques started to be used in the 70's by industrial psychologists as a way of predicting if a person would succeed in a job. They concluded that if candidates were asked questions that demanded specific examples of past behavior it could be a clear indicator of future behavior - whether good or bad.

You may ask what the difference is between behavioral questions and other ones. The defining characteristic of a behavioral question is its specificity. For example, if asked to "Tell about a time when you solved a problem," the key words are "a time." This calls for a specific example.

When traditional or "what if" questions are asked you can use your imagination to come up with an answer. For example, "What would you do if you had a problem to solve?" The word "if," is the clue word that the interviewer wants to hear your thought process - how you think through a problem. This question does not require a past experience example.

How can I prepare for a behavioral interview?

Yes. Good preparation is key for the behavioral interview. Spend some time before your interview coming up with examples from your past work that you can use to back up the skills or experiences you claim on your resume or that may arise in the interview.

An example would be if you claimed you were "very organized" on your resume or in your "Tell me about yourself" statement, the interviewer might ask you, "Tell me about a time when you organized a project." It is now your task to let the interviewer know that you are a very organized person and have had success when organizing a project or event.

Behavioral Interviewing Technique

Various methods work well for story telling, but the main point to remember is that any story has three main parts:

A beginning - "There was a time." A middle - "The action steps I took were" An Ending - "The problem was solved and.."

On way to think about story telling is to thinking about going to a movie.

If you miss the first 10 minutes you often spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out what's going on. Why? Because this is beginning of the story, it's about 10-20% of the whole, and it's where the situation that will play out for the rest of the film is set up. In the interview, if you do not "frame" or "set up" your story the interviewer may be confused from the outset.

The middle of the movie should be a good 60-70% of the story. It's where our hero, you, overcomes the challenge that was set up in the beginning. Don't be shy here. You're the star of this movie. Be careful of using words like "we" and "us" too much. That just makes it difficult to see the star. Keeping the story focused on you by using "I" statements. If you must use the word "we" in the story, make sure your listener, is aware of who "we" is. For example, "My partner and I," or "I worked with a team of four people."

Now, if you were to leave 10 minutes before the movie was over, you would never know what happened in the end, and would probably be pretty unsatisfied. A strong ending is vital to your story. If you leave it out, the interviewer may ask, "So what was the result?" That's a clue you have left off the ending.

Remember, every successful story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

How can you become a good storyteller?

Stories should be interesting and full of action. This is the pitfall for most people - the story lacks detail. Give the interviewer something to remember about you. A savvy interviewer will be able to hear skills from the stories and judge your behavior from your past actions, but you must let them hear the steps you took to solve the problem. The more details and skills you can work into your story, the more convincing your story will be. The biggest fault are examples/stories where there is no "action" or detail.

Preparing your stories before the interview will take time and preparation, but it will take the mystique out of behavioral interviewing. It will also allow you to tell the success stories you want your interviewer to hear. Through your examples the interviewer will begin to get a clear picture of who you are and whether you have done what you claim to have done. Whether you are the right person for the job!
About the Author
Carole Martin is America's top interview coach as well as a renowned author,mentor,and frequent contributor to Monster.com. Carole provides interviewing tips and strategies like no one else. Get a copy of her FREE 9-part "Interview Success Tips" by visiting Carole on the web at The Interview Coach (http://www.interviewcoach.com)
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