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The behavioral interview: how to prepare, general topics & sample questions

What is the purpose of behavioral interviewing?

Companies that utilize behavioral interviewing have predetermined the skill sets they require for a particular position. These skill sets could include: decision making and problem solving, leadership, motivation, communication, interpersonal skills, planning and organization, critical thinking skills, team building and the ability to influence others. Below is advice on how to prepare and sample questions to practice.  When you're done, check out our general tips on effective interview preparation and how to prepare for a phone interview

How to Prepare 

  • Think of 4-5 significant projects or complex situations from your past experience where you demonstrated significant achievement. Think in terms of examples that will exploit your top selling points.
  • Try and use a mix of examples that are completely positive as well as others that may have started negatively (but ended positively or taught you valuable lessons).
  • Start with your resume – read it over the night before – that should help you think of the examples that are most applicable.

Sample Questions to Ask:

  • What are the necessary skills to do this job?
  • What makes a successful candidate?
  • What would make an unsuccessful candidate?
  • Why have people left this position previously?
  • What is the most difficult part of this job?

General Tips

  • Limit rambling and tangents. While you can't control what is asked, you can control what you say.
  • Listen carefully to each question. If you are unsure, rephrase the question and ask for clarification. When you respond, be sure to recall your past accomplishments in detail.
  • Practice your behavioral stories using real-life examples. It is very difficult to make up behavioral stories, which is why behavioral interviewing is becoming more popular. By practicing, you will be able to recall with confidence your past accomplishments.

General Topics & Sample Questions

Communication

  • Give me a specific example of a time when a co-worker criticized your work in front of others. How did you respond? How has that event shaped the way you communicate with others?
  • How do you ensure that someone understands what you are saying?
  • Tell me about a time in which you had to use your written communication skills in order to get across an important point.

Decision Making

  • Give me an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision.
  • Describe a specific problem you solved for your employer. How did you approach the problem? What role did others play? What was the outcome?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to be quick in coming to a decision.
  • Give me an example of when taking your time to make a decision paid off.

Initiative

  • Give me an example of a situation where you assisted another team or department accomplish their goals.
  • Give me an example of a situation that could not have happened successfully without you being there.

Planning & Organization

  • Describe a situation when you had many projects due at the same time. What steps did you take to get them all done?
  • How do you determine priorities in scheduling your time? Give me an example.

Flexibility

  • Describe a time when you put your needs aside to help a co-worker understand a task. How did you assist them? What was the result?

Leadership

  • Give me an example of when you involved others in making a decision.
  • Have you ever had trouble getting others to agree with your ideas? How did you deal with the situation, and were you successful?
  • Describe the most challenging group from which you've had to gain cooperation.
  • Give me an example of a situation in which you positively influenced the actions of others.

Time Management

  • Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a deadline. What things did you fail to do? What were the repercussions?
  • Tell me about a time when you were particularly effective on prioritizing tasks and completing a project on schedule.

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