Have you ever heard about behavioral based interview questions?
I hadn’t before I took a course on interview techniques. Our HR business partner had recommended me to take this course because I had to replace a lot of women who left on maternity leave at the time.
This course was absolutely eye opening for me and enabled me to become much better at finding the right people for my team and the job. All the people I hired after I took this course are still in the company and are doing very well.
I’m dedicating an article to this topic because I noticed in the many interviews I performed using this technique that especially women often have a hard time coming up with good answers or with any answers at all. You wouldn’t believe how many women with several years of work experience are unable to come up with concrete examples from their careers when asked. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s start with the basics.
What are behavioral based interview questions all about?
They enable the recruiter or hiring manager to find out a lot about your experience, your mindset and your soft skills. The recruiter or hiring manager will ask you for concrete examples of your work or life experience.
Asking for concrete examples enables them to get a good idea about:
what your concrete tasks and responsibilities were
how you dealt with concrete situations
what you learned from your experiences
Concrete examples tell me much more about you than “what would you do if ...” or the classic interview questions referring to strengths, weaknesses, etc.
I’ll find out if you’re able to present your skills and yourself well, how you reacted in a real situation and if you’re able to learn and change your behavior.
The intention of behavioral based interview questions is also to reduce the unconscious bias in interviews and base the selection of candidates on their actual experiences rather than impressions and feelings.
Before I knew about behavioral based interview questions and unconscious bias, I made a lot of bad hires because I based my decisions on sympathy and the first impression. Since I’ve been using behavioral based interview questions with every candidate, I find employees who perform much better and who fit the team and the company really well.
How to prepare for behavioral based interview questions
Well, as behavioral based interview questions are all about concrete examples of your behavior, think about really good examples from your career or your life which show how you excelled at a certain task or soft skill.
Of course you won’t know which questions they’ll ask but you can prepare yourself very well based on the job description. What would the employer want to know about you?
The questions will most likely revolve a lot around soft skills such as collaboration, teamwork, problem solving, adaptability, communication, decision making, interpersonal skills, etc. Of course they can also refer to concrete work experience, e.g. managing a concrete project, executing a certain task, etc.
You don’t have much work experience yet?
There is no reason to despair if you have little work experience. You can also use examples from your education or your private life - as long as they are well suited to the position. If you’re doing sports which require a lot of hard training, they are excellent examples to underline your mindset. If you did a project at university with other students, it’s an excellent example for team work. If you moved to a foreign country or travelled the world alone it shows that you’ve got courage, are open minded and not adverse to change in your life.
Why do they want to know about mistakes?
Behavioral based interview questions might also refer to your biggest mistake, weakness or challenge because they are well suited to find out about your learning agility.
What’s learning agility, you ask? That’s the capability to learn from your mistakes and not repeat them. So if you’re asked about a mistake, weakness or challenge in a job interview, the employer wants to see if you are able to reflect on the situation and learn something from it.
Making mistakes is human. We all make mistakes and nobody will believe you if you say that you never made a mistake. But of course the employer doesn’t want someone who’ll make the same mistakes over and over again. The employer doesn’t want you to hush up mistakes you might have made because employees who hush up mistakes are a big risk for the company. Think about Volkswagen and the diesel scandal.
By asking you about such situations, the employer hopes to find out if you are able to admit a mistake and how you changed your behavior to avoid this mistake in the future.
I noticed that especially women struggle with giving good answers with regards to challenges and failures. These questions often make many women very insecure. I can read on their face how they are wondering what the employer wants to achieve with these questions and how they should react. I can see their confidence shrinking. I experienced many times how they couldn’t come up with a suitable example or any example at all. If you're still unsure how to deal with this, also check out my article about how to talk about your weaknesses.
So my advice is: prepare yourself for behavioral based interview questions and especially for questions about negative experiences. You know now why employers ask these questions and how you can tackle them. Even if the employer doesn’t ask such questions, you can use the examples to answer the strengths and weaknesses or the “what if” questions.
Check out my free checklist for the perfect job application to prepare yourself as well as you can for the interview.