ATD Blog

Ask the Career Coach: Tips for Acing the Behavioral Interview

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Each month we’ll pose a career-related question to one of ASTD’s Career Center Coaches or a guest career coach. This month’s coach is Alan De Back, Principal, Alan De Back Learning & Communications.

Q: I have an interview scheduled for next week and the recruiter has told me that they will use a “behavioral” interview format. What does that mean? Will they judge me based on the way I “behave” during the interview?

A: Employers in both the public and private sectors are increasingly using behavioral interviewing. Although how you “behave” during an interview is certainly important, that is not the premise behind behavioral interviewing.

Instead, the theory behind behavioral interviewing is that the best predictor of your behavior and performance in the future is your behavior and performance in the past. In other words, if you approached a specific situation in a certain way in the past, the chances are pretty good that you would approach a similar situation in the future in a comparable way.

Here are three ways to effectively prepare for a behavioral interview:

#1: Review the job description for key skills


What are the critical skills that are important for the position for which you are interviewing? I like to go through the job description with a highlighter to help me focus on the important skill sets. Because behavioral questions focus on the specific skills important to the job, you are very likely to be asked about the skills you identify in the job description.

#2: Review your resume for specific relevant experience

With the important skills in mind, review your resume looking for specific examples of how you have used each of those skills in the past. It’s not enough in a behavioral interview to say something like “oh yes, I am really good at that.” You need to describe specific examples from your past that highlight how you have effectively used the important skills.


#3: Plan or rehearse how you will describe your experience

Carefully plan your answers to possible questions using specific past experiences as examples. Be sure to include:

  • What was the situation you addressed?
  • How did you respond? What actions did you take?
  • Why was the outcome important? What were the results?

So, what is the bottom line with behavioral interviewing? It’s all about identifying the skills important to the job, pinpointing your specific relevant experiences, and planning how you will present those experiences with clear, concise answers. With good advance planning, you will ace your behavioral interview.

About the Author

Alan De Back is an independent career counselor and learning consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area. His experience includes more than 20 years in career counseling and learning- and training-related functions. In addition to his current independent role, Alan has served as director of global learning for an Internet consulting firm and manager of leadership development for a major aerospace corporation. His experience also includes roles as a career counselor, trainer, and program manager for a local Northern Virginia government, and assistant director of career services for a major Upstate New York university. Alan holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and history from the State University of New York at Geneseo, a master’s degree in human resource development from Rochester Institute of Technology, and a graduate-level certificate in Industrial Labor Relations from Cornell University.

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