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How to Prepare for Behavioral Interviews

In addition to traditional interviews, during which the hiring manager typically asks a series of straightforward questions about your credentials and experiences, employers often use behavioral interviews to uncover how potential new hires would handle different on-the-job scenarios.

That means you, as a job seeker, should understand what these interviews entail, how they differ from traditional interviews and how to properly prepare for them. Here are the top five points you should understand about behavioral interviewing:

Be ready for probing questions

During a behavioral interview, the interviewer will ask probing questions about your role in handling difficult transitions or personnel interactions; challenges while implementing new programs, systems or processes; as well as the results you achieved in those cases. You will need to explain clearly how you handled specific situations. These questions are designed to assess how well potential employees will handle issues that may come up on the job. For example, if a company wants to bring you on as a member of a team tasked with tight deadlines and quick project turnarounds, the interviewer might ask you to describe the toughest project you had to manage and your role in its outcome.

Prepare for behavioral interviews as well as traditional styles

Employers today often use behavioral interviews as well as traditional interviews, during which the hiring manager typically asks a series of straightforward questions about your credentials and experiences, such as “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” or “Why do you feel you are a great match for this position?” or “What technologies did you use to analyze data during the last clinical trial you worked on?” In fact, many companies have different interviewers trained in different techniques. Therefore, you might meet with one hiring manager for a traditional interview and then another for a behavioral interview. You might also encounter elements of both in a single interview with the same person. Either way, you need to be ready for both a behavioral interview as well as a traditional one.

Consider in advance the questions you’ll be asked

To be primed for a behavioral interview, consider what questions you might face during the meeting. You won’t get a list in advance, but you can gain insight into possible questions by researching the company, reviewing the job description and talking to your recruiter. For instance, if you know the company wants someone to revamp a troubled process, chances are high you’ll be asked how you approached a task like that in the past. There also are questions that are commonly asked. Here are some examples:

  • Describe a challenge you faced and how you handled it.
  • Discuss how you handled a mistake you made.
  • How did you implement an unpopular decision you had to make?
  • What’s a goal you set for yourself, and how did you achieve it?
  • Explain a disagreement you’ve had with a colleague and how you worked through it.
  • Describe your process and approach for your first 90 days in the role.

Formulate a response for each possible question

You want to have strong examples of what you’ve accomplished in your past roles that fit those different possible queries. Think of times you found yourself in similar situations, how you handled them and what you learned from those experiences. What achievements or quantifiable results can you share? The hiring manager is looking for how you produced results, so make sure you highlight your contributions in those cases, too. Be able to describe your accomplishments, your role and the results.

Practice your delivery

You want to sound studied, articulate and clear but not rehearsed or like you’re reciting a memorized statement. Be enthusiastic and passionate, but not boastful. You also want to be succinct; don’t drag out your responses. Start with a high-level explanation of your past tasks, outline how you tackled a few of the tasks and list the results. And, remember, even when describing a challenging or less-than-perfect past experience, project a positive attitude. Companies want to hire people who love what they do and will complement or improve the team environment with strong energy and enthusiasm.

Given the growing use of behavioral interviewing, you’ll likely encounter it during your job search. Follow the steps above and embrace these interviews as an opportunity to showcase your skills and expertise in a new light.

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