Understanding the questions in a behavioral interview

CvTips.Com Guide To Behavioral Interviewing

There's a myth in the employment market that you can simply provide a formula for answering interview questions.

That's particularly useless, in terms of behavioral interviews, because these interviews are designed to get information, not listen to recitals.

Fundamental principles

Each question relates to your behavior, how you work, as much as your knowledge and experience.

You'll be asked to give examples of your work, in one form or another, on different topics.

The quality of your answers is very important. If there was ever a time where giving it your best shot was a very appropriate expression, this is it.

The examples you choose are therefore critical.

For each question you should use the best possible example you can find of your skills. Pick cases where you can show your handling of difficult issues. Try to avoid routine, uninteresting, situations.


So let's start from the beginning.

This is a pretty normal question:

Give me an example of when you solved a problem.

  1. Pick an example where you can show your skills effectively.
  2. Above all else, explain the situation clearly, so the interviewers can understand the issues created by the problem, in context with the work.
  3. The example should relate to the job you're applying for, and/or show your problem solving skills.
  4. You need to show your involvement in solving the problem, what you did, any decisions you made which helped solve it.

Looks pretty obvious, doesn't it?

Most people don't do one or all of those things. The interviewers are left asking more questions to try and understand the answer.

It's not at all uncommon for interviews to be decided simply because people don't answer the questions well. The person who gives better answers wins, not because of superior skills or knowledge, but because everyone else sabotaged themselves.

Here's another fairly common question which should be treated with a lot of respect, because it involves quite a lot of information:

How do you organize your work, set priorities, and deal with competing priorities?

This time you need to ask yourself some questions beforehand.

  1. Think about how you plan your work. How do you organize your work load, so you can stay on top of your job?
  2. What system of priorities do you use? How do you assign importance to your various tasks? Does someone else give you work labeled as Urgent, or is it your decision?
  3. If you have two things called Urgent, what do you do to find out which should be done first? Is it your call, or a manager's?

OK, you know the answers to all those questions. Now, the task is to explain your system to the interviewers. Bear in mind that they may know nothing about your work, unless you've told them something earlier.

They definitely won't know how your work is organized, and they do need to know, to assess your organization skills.

  1. Explain what your work involves, clearly.
  2. Explain how you receive your work.
  3. Explain how it's prioritized.
  4. Tell the interviewers how you deal with routine matters.
  5. Tell them next what is involved in Urgent matters, and how they're handled, including details about time frames .
  6. Explain clearly what you can do about competing priorities, and what you can't do about them.

Point 6 is important, because you may need to explain that you don't have a role in deciding some issues where priorities are determined by your managers. You're trying to tell the interviewers that you deal with competing priorities in accordance with management instructions.

The reason for asking yourself those questions is that you need to be clear in your own mind the information you're going to give to the interviewers. In many jobs, the work is comprised of multiple tasks, which experienced people often perform automatically. The input and output is operated on mental autopilot.

Even if hundreds of different matters and processes are handled every day, describing what is done can be difficult.

It isn't really a simple question, and you're really being asked to explain how you do your job, to a large extent.

On interview panels, it is not at all uncommon to see people who don't know how to explain how their job operates. They may have been doing that job for years, but they can't explain it very well.

Some jobs are complex, and there are inputs from multiple sources giving work to the same person. Some are simple, but very demanding in terms of performance.

The answer to this question, whatever you do, has to include:

  1. What is done,
  2. How it's done
  3. How it's organized
  4. How priorities are set


Each answer needs to have interesting content.

Standard answers can be suicide. They simply do not tell the interviewers anything but This is an average answer.

The average applicant is by definition the one who doesn't get the job.

It's the better applicant, with the better answers to the same questions.

Some answers don't have much impact on interviewers at least partly because they've already heard about seven answers which were almost identical.

Try and think about something which is unique about your job or your work where you can be the one that stands out from the pack.

You can do that in any job. Say you're stacking shelves in a supermarket.

Here are two slightly different answers:

  1. I pack supermarket shelves for ABCD.
  2. I do our shelf stocks and displays for ABCD. We do quality control, handle new products as they come out, and make sure our stock is always well presented. I also help out with the promotional materials, like giveaways and competitions.

Which is more interesting, would you say?

Which is going to stick in the interviewer's minds?

Which applicant sound like they're alive?

It's not a great idea to bore interviewers, or yourself, to death with your answers.

Keep it real, keep it honest, but above all keep it interesting.

Behavioral interviews, because they're very information oriented, can work in your favor.

If you provide a higher standard of answer, and add to that unique content, which could also mean unique skills or experience, you're adding value to your answers.