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Behavioral Interview Questions: What Are They And How Should You Answer Them?

HR pros are always looking for the newest and most effective approaches to candidate assessment. After all, hiring is an expensive and complicated process, and despite advances in testing and psychological research, job interviews are far from an exact science. As a job seeker, recognizing this can help you understand what's happening on the other side of the table, and understanding your interviewer's questions and motivations can help you land the job you want.

Right now, interviewers are embracing behavioral questions, which can be described as opened-ended questions that encourage candidates to talk about their past performance (this allows hiring manager's to better evaluate future performance). While conventional questions elicit yes or no responses with clear right and wrong answers (for example: "Have you done this kind of work before?"), behavioral questions invite the candidate to tell a story.  Here are a few examples:

  • "In this job, you'll be dealing with hostile customers on a daily basis, and this can be challenging for some personality types. Can you tell me about a time when you faced an angry customer or dealt with emotionally charged criticism? What happened and how did you respond?"
  • "In this job, you'll need to demonstrate leadership, even though you may have no direct authority over the people you're asked to lead. Have you ever had to do this before? Tell me about that."
  • "Can you describe the biggest challenge you've ever faced on the job?"
  • "Can you tell me about time when you put your whole heart into a project and still failed? What were the circumstances and how did you recover?"

Answering a Behavioral Interview Question

There are a few things to keep in mind before you launch into your answer, but first and foremost, understand the interviewer's expectations. They want you to recount a specific past experience – to tell a story that demonstrates how you behaved in a relevant context. They don't want a vague and general response; they want an answer that's detailed and emblematic of what you will do in the future if a similar situation crops up.

Good stories have a beginning, middle, and end.

Since you'll answer in the form of a story, assemble the arc of that story in your mind before you begin to speak. This may take a few seconds, and that's okay. Gather your thoughts. Your interviewer will be happy to wait. When you're ready to launch, describe the situation or task you faced, the action you took, and the results of that action. (Some HR pros call this the STAR method—Situation, Task, Action, Results).

Match your answer to the job skills.

Always try your best to tailor your answers to the skills outlined in the job description. For example, if a position demands a candidate who works well in teams, be sure to integrate your collaborative abilities into some of your responses. You want to honestly recount how you dealt with specific past situations or challenges, but you also want to drive home the fact that you're the new employee a hiring manager is looking for. To do this well, spend some time getting to know common behavioral interview questions and preparing appropriate answers.

— For more on how to prepare for the trickiest interview questions and elevate your job search game, explore the resources at MyPerfectResume.

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MyPerfectResume Staff Writer

MyPerfectResume Staff Writer

At MyPerfectResume, we are passionate about two things: sharing our knowledge about the workforce and providing exceptional tools to help jobseekers get ahead. Thanks to our well-rounded assemblage of experts, we offer industry-specific resume and cover letter writing tips and career advice for almost every job. MyPerfectResume culls detailed advice…

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