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Your Job Search: Crushing Your Behavioral Interview

Your Job Search: Crushing Your Behavioral Interview

3 Fundamental Questions Every Company Will Ask You 

Every interview is set up so that the employers can evaluate how you can apply your abilities, competencies, and aptitude on the open job, and how well you will work with others. Every interview is set up to seek answers to the following three questions: 

  • Can you do the job?
  • Will you do the job?
  • Are you a fit? (for the company and team)

While this may seem somewhat simplistic, is helpful to be able to take a high-level approach to your preparation. Doing so also ensures that you focus on the three basic areas on which each company will evaluate its candidates. 

The question, “Can you do the job?” represents all questions related to your ability to successfully meet the employers expectations of job performance. Do you have the skills, competencies, aptitude, and experience to actually perform the prescribed job duties. If you are doing a technical interview for the first time, the questions and assessments you will receive in this part of the interview will look and feel very different than your previous interviews. 

“Will you do the job?” Just because you can do the job doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to do the job. Your motivation to do the offered job is a critical part of each employer’s evaluation. Employers want to know that you really want to do this job, for this company, in this industry. Developing your career narrative to explain your intentional career steps, and subsequent decisions, will help you show that your career decisions are thoughtful and intentional. 

“Are you a fit?” is essentially asking about cultural fit. Will you get along with members of the team? How does your personal mission statement and general purpose align with that of the company? How do you handle adversity and disagreements? How do you resolve problems? Answers to these questions may give employers a sense of your ability to not only get along with other employees, but to navigate potentially complex work relationships. There is a lot of subjectivity in this part of the evaluation, which can make candidates uneasy not knowing what the exact target is. Overall, it is important to show empathy, high EQ, ability to resolve conflicts, and general likability. 

Boiled down to its most basic form, each hiring manager is asking themself, “Can I envision myself working with this person?”

The Behavioral Interview 

Behavioral interviewing is designed to give the employer insight into how you have handled prior situations, or would react and respond to potential work situations. All the soft skills/behavioral questions employers ask can generally be put into one of the following four categories:

  • Communication (written and verbal): Your ability to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively with other members of the team.
  • Collaboration: Your ability to get along and work well with others. How do you increase productivity and satisfaction?
  • Innovation: How do you show creativity, ideate, and brainstorm new ideas and transfer them to concepts that others can visualize and add to.
  • Execution: How do you carry out your tasks and responsibilities of the job

Furthermore, these situations can usually be grouped into themes that will test your soft and interpersonal skills in each of the four areas. Examples of themes include: 

  • Questions that challenge your moral compass
  • How you respond and react to workplace conflict
  • Success and failure
  • Passion & motivation 
  • Leadership 
  • Communication
  • Ability to learn and grow
  • Perseverance
  • Organization and ability to work under pressure
  • Confidence in problem solving
  • Self awareness. 

“Tell me about a time when…” is a telltale sign that you are being asked a behavioral interview question. The interviewer is asking you to recall a specific instance that exemplifies the theme or intent of the question. Each question asked by the interviewer serves its purpose to help them evaluate you as a candidate for the position. And while the evaluation of your answers are subjective, it is imperative that you answer the specific question and provide a relevant example to give your answer credibility. Your example should demonstrate your competency related to the interview question. 

Behavioral Interview Strategy and Preparation 

Answering a behavioral interview question effectively requires you to do a couple of things well during the interview.

Choose the right example or story: 

Recall a specific example or story that best illustrates your positive value relevant to the question’s intent. If the interview asks you what about a time that you failed, choose an example where you failed. In telling your story, you will have the opportunity to recall the story itself, how you failed, and what you learned upon retrospect. Do not choose a story where you don’t really fail, or blame the failure on someone else. If the interviewer asks you for a specific example, your story must address or answer the question. Your story should also be a real story, rather than a description of what you would hypothetically do in that given situation. Real stories reflect truth and credibility, rather than the hypothetical. 

You may not be able to predict the exact questions, your interviewer will ask, but you can predict that they will cover some of the above mentioned themes in their behavioral questions. Knowing this, you can document examples for each theme ahead of your interview, so that you can recall them easily during the interview

Use the C-A-R formula to organize and recall your story. Using this formula will help you provide an effective and precise answer for your interview. Your answer will cover important information, and prevent you from rambling or needing to circle back to a forgotten point. It will also provide a sense of chronology and context, which is an important part of your story. 

Challenge: 

This is your opportunity to state the challenge, or the problem that needs to be solved. Employers seek to hire problem solvers, so it is important to tell your stories in terms of how you solve problems. Stating the challenge will also provide the context for the story, which may include size and scope of the problem. 

Action: 

After the problem is identified, describe the steps have you identified to resolve the problem. How did you come up with the solution, and what factored into your decision? What was your thought process? How did you actually solve the problem? The “action” part of your answer provides insight into your thought process. Your description will also demonstrate hard and soft skills that should be relevant to the offered job. 

Result: 

What was the outcome of your hard work? Employers hire employees that produce results, so you have an opportunity at the end of each of these questions to showcase your ability to produce results. Quantify your outcomes, when possible, otherwise make a deliberate connection to a qualitative outcome. Discussing the results of your stories also provides an opportunity for you to reflect on your efforts -- your retrospection will demonstrate your ability to self-asses and desire to improve (even if the outcome is acceptable). Your chances of success increase with your ability to consistently showcase your ability to solve problems and produce measurable results. 

In Review 

Intent: 

In review, when preparing for the soft skills part of the interview, it is important to understand the intent of the question -- why is the interviewer asking this question? How does this question fit into their overall assessment of my candidacy for the position? What do employers generally want to assess in each of their potential new hires?

Choose Your Stories Wisely:

Demonstrating that your abilities that are rooted in relevant, specific examples are impactful. Your stories demonstrate the depth of your knowledge and ability, and add a layer of truth and credibility that a more general or hypothetical answer cannot.

Use the C-A-R Formula 

Use C-A-R to give structure to the stories included in your responses. Structure will ensure that you talk (and market yourself) on your ability to identify and solve problems, your thought processes, your achievements, and your ability to self-assess.