Behavioral interviews are now the standard in almost all hiring situations. From executives interviewing for C-suite positions to high school students looking for summer jobs, “tell-me-about-a-time-when” questions are ubiquitous.
There’s a good reason behavioral questioning has been adopted so widely — it works. The idea is that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior; coaxing out how candidates have handled specific situations in the past will tell an interviewer more than just rehashing a resume or asking about strengths and weaknesses.
Behavioral interviewing also gives interviewers the chance to assess soft skills, something that can be very challenging to do. Things such as the ability to handle stress, take criticism or successfully act as part of a team can all be assessed through behavioral questions.
While behavioral interviewing isn’t a perfect predictor, it offers a more complete picture of a candidate and how they’ll function in an organization. That means behavioral questioning isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and interviewees need to be prepared for it.
The Challenge For Interviewees
The big challenge behavioral questioning presents interviewees is that it can be what I refer to as “handcuffing.” Behavioral questions require answers that are anecdotal and narrative in nature. The interviewee essentially has to dig through their past work experiences, find a relevant scenario, and then convincingly tell the story in a way that paints them in the best light possible — all on the spot.
That can be daunting, and it isn’t uncommon for excellent-but-unprepared candidates to crumble under the pressure. Luckily, it’s very possible to prepare for behavioral interviews. While there are countless variations of what questions might be asked, some are more common than others, and the simplest way for an interviewee to prepare is to get a list of those common questions and start formulating their answers well in advance.
A lucky candidate might be asked one of the questions they prepped for and knock their answer out of the park. But even if that doesn’t happen, the self-review and added confidence that preparation imparts on an interviewee means that even totally unfamiliar questions become easier to answer.
Advanced Preparation For High-Pressure Candidates
Naturally, the level of the position sought has a huge impact on the level of pressure that exists in an interview. A student looking for a first job out of college has a lot less to lose from a botched interview than a candidate for a vice president position. In the former scenario, prepping with a question list might be enough. In the latter it isn’t, and candidates interviewing for high-level positions need to consider more advanced preparation strategies.
This is why I believe it’s critical to mimic the interview process to become more comfortable for the real thing. In my own coaching practice, for example, I prepare my clients through highly immersive interview simulations in which we don’t just go over the questions they’re likely to encounter, but we also recreate the entire interview setting. The goal is to make them as comfortable with the entire process as possible. With each additional pass, their confidence increases, ensuring that when they walk into their actual interview, they’re as calm and collected as possible and in the right frame of mind to succeed.
That additional stress-management training is the key to advanced interview preparation. You could consider undergoing a full professional simulation as the one I mentioned above, or you can do it yourself. At home with a spouse or friend standing in for the interviewer, recreate the interview setting, and have them ask you potential questions. The key is to make the practice sessions as close to the real thing as possible from an emotional standpoint (in addition to a mental one).
Behavioral interviewing has become ubiquitous because it works. But hiring managers and executives have begun to realize that their application of behavioral questioning techniques needs to be constantly refined and adjusted to achieve the end goal — getting a candidate to think on their feet and provide an honest look into their past performance and work behaviors.
That makes preparation more important than ever, and it also means that confidence and comfort in the interview are as — or more — important than trying to anticipate the questions themselves. But regardless of what method a candidate chooses, it goes without saying that an interviewee walking in confident and prepared has the best possible chance of walking out with a new job.