4 steps necessary to prepare for behavioral-based questions

During our career center orientation, I ask the participants if they’ve been asked behavioral-based questions. Then I say, “If you find this type of question difficult to answer, keep your hands up.” Almost all hands are still raised.

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I’m not surprised when job seekers in my orientation admit that behavioral-based questions are difficult to answer, given the fact that this type of question is meant to get to the core of the applicant.

Surprisingly, not enough interviewers ask behavioral-based questions. Instead they fall back on traditional questions that lack creativity and can be answered with rehearsed replies. “What are your two greatest weaknesses?” or “Why should I hire you?” are two examples of predictable traditional questions that are easy to prepare for.

In addition, traditional questions  can be answered theoretically—in other words, the candidate hasn’t performed, or failed to perform, the desired competencies successfully. The candidate can essentially tell the interviewer whatever he/she wants to hear.

What is difficult about answering behavioral-based questions is that they demand the candidates to address specific times when they’ve performed certain skills and then tell stories about those times. To be successful, candidates need to do the following:

1. Understand the requirements of the job

In order to prepare for a behavioral interview, it requires acute knowledge of the position’s requirements. If you are able to identify eight or more competencies required for the position, you can predict, within reason, the types of questions that will be asked.

For example, if the job ad calls for someone who is organized, demonstrates excellent verbal and written communications, is a leader, etc., you can expect questions such as:

“Tell us about a time when your organization skills resulted in a smooth delivery of services.”

“Give me an example of when your verbal communications skills made it possible for you to solve a conflict between colleagues.”

“Tell me about a time when your leadership faltered and resulted in a conflict between a subordinate and you. What did you learn from your error?”

2. Write the stories for each question

Questions like these will require you to tell a compelling story for each of these skills. How you tell your stories is important. They will consist of a beginning, middle, and end. You should write your stories because you will remember what we’ve written better than by simply trying to remember them.

When you write the stories, use the S.T.A.R. formula. The beginning is the Situation and (your) Task, the middle consist the Actions taken to meet the situation, and the end is the positive, or negative, Result.

Following is an example of an answer for a behavioral-based question. The question is, “Tell me about a time when you collaborated on a successful project.”


Situation: As part of a three-member team, we were charged with writing a report necessary to continue operating an outside program funded by the Department of Labor.

Task: I was given the task writing a detailed report of our participants’ training experience and the jobs they secured with the assistance of a dedicated job placement specialist.

Actions: I started with noting how I recruited 80 participants for the training program, a number I’m happy to say exceeded previous expectations of 50 participants. This required outreach to junior colleges, vocational schools, and career centers.

Step two involved writing detailed descriptions of their training, which included Lean Six Sigma, Project Management, and Agile. Then explaining how this training would help the participants secure employment in their targeted careers.

Next, I interviewed each participant to determine their learning level and satisfaction with the program. All but one was extremely satisfied. The person who was not satisfied felt the training was too difficult but wanted to repeat the training.

As well, I tracked each participant over a period of four months to determine their job placement. Jobs were hard to come by, so at times I took it upon myself to approach various manufacturing companies in the area in order to place 40 of our participants.

Finally I took the lead on writing a five-page report on what the members of the team and I had accomplished in the course of  three months. Other members of the team were of great help in editing the report and making sure it was delivered on time to Boston.

The result: The result was that we delivered the report with time to spare and were able to keep funding for the project for three more years. In addition, the DoL told our director that our report was the best one they’ve received.


3. Rehearse your stories

The story above, as written, takes approximately two minutes to read. This is stretching it in terms of time, so you’ll want to rehearse your stories to the point where they’re more concise, yet maintain their value.

You can talk about them in front of a mirror or deliver them to a live audience, like your friend, neighbor, or family member. The latter is probably the best method to use, as you will not only speak them aloud; you’ll speak them aloud to someone who may make you a tad bit nervous.

Do not try to memorize every little detail of each story. You may fumble with your stories during an interview. Also, you will forget some of the smaller details, but don’t get down on yourself when this happens. Just make sure you hit the major points.

4. Be prepared for zingers

In the interview, you may face questions that take you off guard. Perhaps the stories for which you prepared and rehearsed only end with positive results.

Keep in mind that not all questions will call for a positive results; some interviewers will ask about a time when you failed. Obviously you don’t want to elaborate on these situations.

And don’t answer negative questions with stories that describe the downfall of your company. Therefore, it’s important to write brief stories that end with negative results. A popular question is: “Tell us about a mistake you made and how you rebounded from the mistake.

Interviewers who ask negative questions are smart. Would it make sense to you to learn only about the positive side of the candidates? No. Smart interviewers need to know the good, bad, and  ugly.


How many stories are necessary?

One wonderful thing about stories is that they often reveal more skills than the interviewer originally asked for. For example, the story I provided above reveals the following skills: coordination, outreach, interviewing, interpersonal, initiative, writing, and more.

Photo: Flickr, cthoma27

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2 thoughts on “4 steps necessary to prepare for behavioral-based questions

  1. Pingback: 10 signs your job search resembles The Middle | Things Career Related

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