Potential employers, interviewers and screeners are increasingly interested in how you used your skills in the past. According to Katharine Hansen and her research at Quintessential Careers, the situational question is only 10% predictive of future on-the- job behavior, while behavior-based questions are 55% predictive. As a result, employers are using behavior-based questions during interviews to learn more about you. Situational questions, which typically ask you to imagine what you would do in a hypothetical situation, are moving to the background, while behavioral questions, which ask you to reflect on a situation you have been in or a skill you have used in the past, are taking over. Questions like, “How would you help a struggling teammate whose work affects you?” are being replaced with, “Tell me about a time when you helped a struggling co- worker whose work affected yours?” Employers want to know how you have already reacted in similar situations, rather than how you think you might react in situations.
What to Expect
In behavior-based interviews, you will be asked to describe a situation and then reflect on the impact of the situation. Questions generally center on experiences, behaviors, skills, and abilities related to a job to be filled. The questions are generally asked in past tense and start something like the following:
- Tell me about a time when you...
- Think back on a situation when you...
- Can you remember a time when you...
- Describe a situation where you...
- How did you...
- What steps did you take to...
- What was an important...
How to Prepare
1. Identify your top skills related to the job.
Although you probably have numerous skills, identify the top three to five that you want to promote as you prepare for your interview. Your responses should demonstrate how you used or developed your skills to react to specific situations. The skills you promote for any given interview might be a result of examining the job posting, reviewing the company website, or conducting an informational interview within the company.
2. Select specific accomplishments.
Prepare a list of accomplishments that highlight the top skills you want to promote. Be sure to have at least four to six accomplishments to rely upon. In most cases you will be able to use some part of those accomplishments to answer every behavioral question you are asked.
3. Practice sharing complete, but concise stories.
You can best respond to behavior-based interview questions with complete stories– those that have a beginning, middle, and end. Use the SAR acronym to ensure that you provide complete, concise answers.
Situation Who was there, what was happening, what was the context?
Action What specifically did you do, what was your role (not, what did others or the team do)?
Result What happened (good or bad)?
4. Identify the impact of your experiences.
Sharing stories of how you used or developed your skills is not enough. Interviewers also want to know how using your skills impacted both you and the company in which you worked. This is good. It allows you to talk about situations that might not have gone as planned. What you learned from those situations and how you changed future behavior is often more important to an employer than having a perfect outcome. As a result, it is important to be prepared to share what you learned, gained, or did differently as a result of each situation or accomplishment.
How to Respond
Be clear and concise. A long story with twists and turns and no recognizable beginning or end will not help your interview. If you notice the interviewer’s lack of attention or eyes fluttering, your story is getting too long and may be confusing.
Be current. It’s important to illustrate the exact skills being discussed, but not from so long ago that an interviewer has to guess whether you even remember the skill. If you have to reach back past six to seven years to illustrate a skill, the story is too old.
Be direct. Interviewers expect and deserve direct responses to their questions. They need these answers to help them to make decisions. Although a question asked may refer to the work place, be prepared to use examples from volunteer work, school projects, and family life if these accomplishments provide the best direct response. Consider current job, classroom, and work-related stories first, and then rely on other current stories as necessary to respond to questions. It is often best to stay away from religion during an interview.
Be honest. Most interviewers will use your initial response to probe deeper into your behaviors, values, and skills. In the course of probing, any untrue stories are likely to be uncovered. Uncovered lies or bluffed responses leave a strong impression about dependability, honesty, and values. It is better to have no story than to make up a story that is not true.
Studies show that examination of past behavior and performance helps interviewers predict your future behavior and performance. As you prepare for your next job interview, identify and practice promoting your skills and accomplishments while answering behavioral questions. This preparation will help you to anticipate and plan for opportunities to help potential employers learn more about selected aspects of your performance.