Picture this: your polished resume submission landed you a first-round interview for an exciting new position you're interested in. Behavioral interviews are commonly used as first-round interviews to filter potential candidates based on company culture fit. The outcome of these interviews often indicates whether or not you will be invited to interview for a final-round interview or Superday*.
Fortunately, most behavioral interviews tend to follow the same structure and types of questions. The following is a guide for common aspects of behavioral interviews. Familiarizing yourself with these concepts will help you leverage your experiences and skills to set you apart when answering questions.
Every interview starts with a variation of “Tell me about yourself.” It’s a way for your interviewer to get to know your background and experiences before diving into more specific questions. While it may seem like a straightforward question, a lack of preparation can make you ramble about insignificant details and forget important ones. To best set yourself up for success, use this tried-and-true format for concisely hitting all the important details.
The interview's main goal is to draw on your experiences to exemplify your thought process and leadership style. Most of the commonly asked situation-based interview questions revolve around four main categories: teamwork, adaptability, time management, and motivation. Some situation-based questions to prepare for include:
A common method used to answer situation-based questions is the S.T.A.R. method, in which:
For example: Tell me about a time when you took on additional responsibilities and the result.
Put those four statements together, and you have a concise, straightforward answer! Of course, everyone’s experiences are different, and you may have multiple situations to choose from to answer the question.
So, what happens when you get about a situation you have not experienced? You still want to give it your best, so try your best to remember, and if nothing comes to mind, try to think of an experience that involves similar traits and tasks or produced similar results.
Remember: while it's great to plan out your thoughts, make sure you keep your tone conversational and avoid sounding like you are reading from a script. Practice with a friend to help you keep a good conversation flow.
Another common question to analyze your self-awareness and proactivity is: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Keep in mind that interviewers may ask for either one, one of each, or up to three of each.
As a rule of thumb, you should choose relevant strengths that make you sound humble but set you apart. Some safe options include time management, communication, and prioritization. Feel free to draw on your experiences to develop more unique strengths that will stand out to the interviewer.
You also don’t want to discuss a detrimental weakness that disqualifies you from the role you are pursuing. Instead, choose a neutral weakness and show how you are being proactive to improve. A good example is public speaking, a skill that does not come naturally to all. Stating that you are putting yourself in positions where you are developing this skill organically (say, a public speaking class) demonstrates self-awareness and eagerness to improve.
It is a good idea to back up your strengths and weaknesses individually with anecdotes of when you exercised that trait or how you are developing it.
“Something I have learned to do effectively is to manage my time effectively under pressure. I find that keeping a detailed calendar and making to-do lists helps me organize my thoughts. This skill helped specifically during final exam week last semester when I had to manage a research-heavy group project. By coordinating meeting times with my group ahead of time and setting aside time blocks to study for exams, I ensured that I put my best efforts into multiple things at one time and minimized time conflicts.”
“An area I’m actively working to improve is public speaking. I recognize that this skill is crucial in communicating with large groups of people at a time and in leading others effectively. For this reason, I make conscious decisions to put myself in situations that require me to speak in front of large groups, such as raising my hand in class and volunteering to present projects. I also registered for a public speaking course next semester to learn techniques to improve my skills. While confronting my weakness is intimidating, I know this will be a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and grow my skill set.”
Throughout this entire process, your resume will be your best friend! A polished resume is a great reference sheet from which you can pull experiences and skills. Since your interviewer has access to your resume, they may ask you to elaborate on any experience or skill it contains. Knowing your resume top to bottom will help ensure that you are prepared to answer any follow-up question easily and make you come across as knowledgeable and well-rounded.
Now that you have a trusty format for your next behavioral interview, the real work begins! Practice your answers by introducing yourself and talking about different scenarios. This will help you become familiar with how to phrase your answers to keep the interview conversational. Maintain eye contact, relax, and be yourself!
*Superday: refers to a session of back-to-back interviews with established professionals at a company.