How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

Real talk: Longwinded and/or vague answers are the top two reasons why I don't hire people. Let me explain...

As a hiring manager, my goal in an interview is to MAXIMIZE the very limited time I have with a candidate. In that time, it's critically important that I'm able to cover the scope of their skills and experience through my questions so I can best assess their ability to perform in the role. Long-windedness or vague answers will only leave me unconvinced, which is probably not the candidate's goal and definitely doesn't improve their chances of getting an offer.


So here's what I'm looking for as a hiring manager when I ask behavioral interview questions. This format is succinct so we maximize our time, helps me understand your approach to situations, and captures your skills in a clear way.


EXPLAIN THE SITUATION

What was the problem you were facing? What task were you given? What was the goal of the project? Set up the scene for me and share just enough context for me to understand what's happening.


Typically this is where people spend way too much time because they drone on and on about the organizational structure, the relationships at play, the company history, whatever. No one cares.


Keep the explanation of the situation short - it's not as important as the following two points. This is the appetizer.


EXPLAIN THE ACTION

After you've set the scene for me, I need to know what action you took and why you decided to go that route. I'm looking to hear a) what role you played and b) your thought process. As a hiring manager, this helps me understand how you approach problems that will be relevant in the role you're interviewing for.


This is the bulk of your answer, but try to deliver in "bullet point" format to keep it succinct. Your action and thought process are the main course. Anything else you share should only exist to garnish or complement the meal.



EXPLAIN THE RESULT

I want to know what happened as a result of your action. Did it go well? Did it fail? I don't care either way - I just want to know that you were able to reflect and assess your own performance. You can also add what you learned from the experience and/or maybe how you've evolved since.


Keep this short and to the point, just like the first step. This is the dessert!


HOW TO PREPARE

Make sure you practice delivering your stories in this format, because it will feel rushed at first. Ask a friend to practice with you, but try to find someone who doesn't work at your organization. It will help to simulate what the real interview will be like if the person doesn't have any prior knowledge of your work or company.


Look up some common behavioral-based interview questions to practice with. After each mock interview question, ask your friend these questions:

  • Did I share enough context about the situation? Did you understand what was going on?

  • Did I explain the action I took to address the situation? Did I articulate what my role was?

  • Did I tell you what happened or what I learned?

It should typically take anywhere from 2 - 4 minutes to provide your answer to any behavioral-based question, so you might consider timing yourself as well. The shorter the interview is, the more you need to focus on being succinct. Remember, you can always ask the hiring manager if they would like you to go into more detail about any answer.


To learn my proven method for preparing for behavioral interviews, check out The Perfect Candidate Course



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