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The Behavioral Style Interview

by Linda Matias

The cornerstone of a company’s success relies on the caliber of its workforce -- the smarter the workforce, the more successful the company. In an effort to find the perfect employee, recruiters have embraced behavioral style interviews as their interview of choice. This is because a behavioral-based interview is designed to make the candidates think on their feet since recruiters don’t ask typical questions that can be easily prepared for in advance. For instance, “Where do you want to be in five years?”

During behavioral style interviews, recruiters will probe for specific details and ask you to recall successes and/or failures in your experience so they can easily assess your hands-on knowledge. This is why the behavioral style interview is “tricky” because it is difficult to anticipate questions, although not impossible.

Step One: Understanding what behavioral-based interviews measure

Behavioral-based interviews are designed to assess general core competencies (i.e., problem-solving, decision-making ability, conflict resolution) and competencies that are specific to your industry. For example, if you are a customer service representative, core competencies that recruiters will be interested in include customer retention, account management, and customer satisfaction.

Step Two: Comb job descriptions

Interviewing with companies doesn’t have to be a mystery. Most companies spell out exactly what they want in the job description. Take the time to scrutinize job descriptions, not of just the company you are interested in, but also their competitors. You will find that the postings usually have a nice balance between general and industry-specific competencies. Take note of the recurring themes, and prepare for behavioral interviews based on the information you gathered.

For example, if the job description states that the company is looking for a team player, you can expect the interviewer to ask the following type of questions (or a variation of) during a behavioral interview:

  • What was your role in your department’s most recent success?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to adjust to a colleague’s working style in order to complete a project successfully.
  • Describe a situation when working with others produced more successful results than if you had completed the project on your own.

As you can see, behavioral-based interviews can be challenging. However, knowing what the company is looking for sets the foundation to start preparing for the interview. Once you have a grasp of the core competencies recruiters are likely to address, it will be easier to predict the kind of questions they will ask.

Step Three: Prepare stories

For each competency that you have identified write a story that supports each one. As in any good story, yours should focus on the following: the who, what, where, when, why and how. As an example of how you should answer behavioral-based questions, let’s address the first question mentioned above, “What was your role in your department’s most recent success?” Here’s a possible response:

“At my current employer, The Widget Center, the sales and customer service departments work collaboratively to win and retain accounts. The sales team negotiates the deal and as a customer service manager, my role is to ensure that the customer is satisfied with their purchase and handle any glitches that may arise. In one particular case, I resolved a potentially damaging situation with a key client when the $1.5 million database system they had purchased began faltering a week after it was installed. Needless to say the customer was not pleased and demanded that all the monies be refunded.

After I listened to the customer’s concern, I immediately dispatched technical support and the problem was resolved within one business day with little loss of productivity on the part of the client. In the end, the customer upgraded all the database systems in all four locations.”

The above response has the makings of a classic story – a damsel in distress, a hero coming to the rescue, and a “they lived happily ever after” ending.

Behavioral style interviews are here to stay and their popularity will increase over time as more recruiters realize that story telling is the best method to gauge a candidate’s future success. This type of interview format allows recruiters to shrink the candidate pool and effectively determine the “keepers.”

Linda Matias is President of CareerStrides and The National Resume Writers' Association. She has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, New York Newsday, Newsweek, and Visit her website at or email her at

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