The primary difference between traditional and behavioral based interviewing is that traditional interviewing asks generalized questions such as, “What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?” while Behavior-Based Interviewing (BBI) asks for specific examples from the recent past, such as: “Give me an example of a time recently when you needed to adjust quickly to new information. What did you do and how did it turn out?”
BBI works like this: the interviewer develops questions about the kinds of incidents and interactions that occur commonly on the job. For an administrative position, for example, the questions may involve managing multiple priorities, meeting deadlines, or answering difficult inquiries over the phone. The interviewer will ask you to describe brief scenarios about how you used special skills or solved problems, each illustrating a specific activity or task required by the job. Each “story” should explain the problem, a set of actions and the results in quantifiable terms. This model is called the S.T.A.R. model (Situation, Taking Action, and Results.) The interviewers are trained to ask follow-on questions that continue to reveal parts of the story until you accomplish the entire S.T.A.R. model.
BBI interviewers are looking for specific skills:
- Content Skills — Knowledge that is work specific such as using computer applications, accounting etc.
- Functional or Transferable Skills — Used with people, information or things such as organizing, managing, developing, communicating, etc. expressed as verbs.
- Self-Management Skills — personal characteristics such as dependable, team player, self directed, punctual, etc.
BBI offers a greater opportunity for interviewers to gain more insight into real life abilities and experience of candidates. But there are challenges involved. Interviewers and candidates must get used to new kinds of questions, and to feel comfortable in pursuing follow up questions until the entire S.T.A.R. model is achieved. This can sometimes lead to awkward interviews, especially if the candidates have trouble remembering an appropriate past incident or in articulating results.
The BBI technique sometimes appears to favor candidates who are articulate, and have a penchant for clear thinking and telling a good story. A good BBI interviewer will sometimes tell short stories themselves as a way of prompting the candidate. “I remember the first job I had. I had three bosses, all with very different personalities. One week, we were getting ready for the annual sales meeting…” Most candidates will be able to follow the S.T.A.R. pattern more easily after hearing an example.
An unusual aspect of behavioral interviewing is that the questions often turn to a negative subject, such as “a time when you dealt with a difficult customer,” or “a time when you disagreed with your boss about an important issue.” This makes for a more interesting and revealing interview (we presume everyone can perform well under ideal conditions; we’re more interested in how they perform under pressure) but it can make any candidate uncomfortable, since all job seeking advice is adamantly against addressing negative topics in an interview. You hope that your interviewer will include at least one positive, “tell me about a time when you succeeded” scenario.
Here are some tips for preparing for the BBI interview:
- Think about the worst question you can face in an interview—the one you most dread, and practice answering that. If you can answer it, the rest will be much easier. Once you’ve crossed that hurdle, you can practice for the rest of the interview.
- Be prepared to articulate your strengths and skills and what you can bring to the organization. Stay focused on what you can do for the company.
- Practice a mock interview with a career counselor, family member, or friend—or in front of the mirror.
- Don’t forget to work on framing your answers in the S.T.A.R. model (describe the Situation, explain how you Took Action, and the Results you accomplished.)
Some Great Examples of Behavioral-Based Questions (courtesy of Judson College Career Center)
- Tell me about a time when you worked under a tight deadline.
- Tell me about a work situation where you had to do creative problem solving.
- Tell me about the most difficult customer you have run into recently.
- Tell me about a recent project that you’ve found challenging.
Tell me about a time you went above and beyond the call of duty for a customer.
- Tell me about a time you were assertive and it paid off for you.
- Tell me about a time your manager wasn’t around and you had to make a decision that they typically make and what happened.