Advice for Acing Behavioral Interviews

Behavioral interviewing is a popular technique in wide use today, one that conceptually states that past performance is an accurate arbiter of future performance. Though it sounds simple enough, if you have never experienced a behavioral interview, it can present some challenges.

Being prepared for what you are likely to encounter will give you a good chance of getting through it with ease.

Acing Behavioral Interviews - three women at interview


In a behavioral interview, questions are answered anecdotally. Essentially, this means you will be telling stories about how you would handle certain situations and challenges as they relate to the position and its required skill sets.

These questions may begin with statements such as:

  • Describe how you reacted when …
  • Give me an example of …
  • Tell me about a situation in which you …

While your skills and experience may technically qualify you for the position, if you can’t back them up with examples of how you put them into practice, they are words without substance.

How to prepare for a behavioral interview

To prepare for a behavioral interview, try to anticipate the challenges inherent in the job itself. Try to identify a few likely scenarios and imagine what your potential employer might like to hear. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes as much as you can.

Go over the job description in great detail. Do a bit of digging into the company and its culture. Look for clues that illustrate what qualities and skills are valued within the organization. Try to think of what questions might be asked that would elicit a response illustrative of these qualities or skills.

What follows are some examples of some situations, along with questions that might be asked in an attempt to bring them to light:

Behavioral skill #1: problem-solving

Problem-solving is a skill indicated in most positions but especially so for management or higher.

You may be asked to talk about an occasion where you used your own judgment to solve a problem or had to make a decision on the fly.

Behavioral skill #2: Leadership

Convincing your team to agree with a new idea or methodology is often a challenge. You might be asked about how you have dealt or would deal with such a situation and whether or not you were successful.

Think about challenges you have had in bringing this type of action to a successful conclusion and what you did to make it work.

Behavioral skill #3: Motivation

Your ability to go above and beyond is a strong indicator that you are invested in the success of the organization as well as the rest of your team.

You may be asked to talk about a time when your actions were well beyond the scope of your job description and how it impacted those around you.

Behavioral skill #4: Communication

Communication is essential, but not all people are easy to communicate with for various reasons. Even when another person is being difficult, you need to be able to make your case clearly.

You will likely be asked to describe an occasion when you had to leverage your verbal or written communication skills to get your point or idea across to such an individual or group.

Behavioral skill #5: Interpersonal skills (aka teamwork)

To demonstrate teamwork, you might be asked to provide an example of how you have encouraged and supported others with whom you work.

You may also be asked to describe a widely unpopular judgment you have made, the end result, and how you handled it. Whether it was successful or not, having insight into how it could have been handled better is always good to mention.

Behavioral skill #6: Planning and Organization

Time management, prioritization, and all the challenges inherent in such activities can wreak havoc on your productivity. In a behavioral interview, you may be asked to describe how you prioritize such tasks and how you handle interruptions to your own workflow.

Acing Behavioral Interviews - Word Cloud


Developing your story

Now that you have a general idea of what questions you might be asked during a behavioral interview, think about some experiences you have had that are relevant to each issue and develop stories around them.

Keep them simple and to the point while providing as much detail as you can. Each anecdote should include the following:

  • Very specific examples of real situations you have experienced
  • Detailed descriptions of how you were able to rise above the challenge
  • A quantified rundown of the results

Here is an example of an answer that covers all these points:


Tell me about a challenging objective you achieved and how you were successful.


Faced with cuts to our overall program funding, we were faced with losing a significant portion of our marketing budget but could not afford to reduce our outreach as it would have negatively impacted enrollment. As the director of the program, I reviewed our promotional spending and sourced new suppliers who could provide us with the same or better-quality collateral at a much-reduced cost. As a result, we were able to reduce our marketing expense by more than 40 percent. Additionally, our new media partners had a lot more to offer in terms of digital alternatives, so we were able to broaden our reach and improve enrollment by 15 percent while optimizing our budget in the process.

Once you are familiar with the behavioral interview process, you should be able to prepare much more effectively and make sure you won’t be caught off-guard when you are asked such questions.

More from Stewart Cooper & Coon:  Five Initial Signs That Your Job Interview Went Well 

Fred Coon, CEO

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