Like it or not, behavioral interview is of one the most commonly used interview formats in any industry. In Hong Kong, banks like HSBC love to use this. I know some senior managers from Accenture prefer this format over the case interviews. Even Google, who used to be famous for asking Guestimate / Brain Teaser questions like “how many golf balls can you fit into an air plane”, has dropped it for behavioral questions. Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of People from Google says that structured behavioral interviews enables the interviewer to have “a consistent rubric for how you assess people, rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up.”
So, how to play the interview game and not be played by it?
I suggest you have a quick look at the proven steps below.
I. 5 steps to crack any behavioral interview questions
Step 1. Get an idea of the type of behavioral questions
Step 2. Try answer them as you go through them
Step 3. Write down 3 ideas for each question
Step 4. Incorporate your answer into the SAR format
Step 5. Incorporate key success factors into your answer
II. 7 Categories of behavioral interview questions
Category 1. Teamwork / Inter-personal skills
For questions like these, you want to prepare stories that show your skills to work with others under challenging circumstances. Think about the time you have team conflicts, difficult project constraints, or clashing personalities. Be sure to incorporate the key success factors into your answers.
- Talk about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours. #Team Work #Inter-personal Skills
- Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that? #Team Work #Inter-personal Skills
- Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important. How did you eventually overcome that? #Team Work #Inter-personal Skills
- We all make mistakes we wish we could take back. Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation differently with a colleague. #Team Work #Difficult Person
- Tell me about a time you needed to get information from someone who wasn’t very responsive. What did you do? #Team Work #Difficult Person
Category 2. Problem Solving / Analytical Skills / Decision Making Process
This is where we want to see how you define a problem, what you focus on. I would say this is probably the easiest ones because you are solving problems everyday. Even as simple as data entry. “While data entry may sound easy, my task is find a smarter way to be as effective and efficient. I was trying to finish what would normal take 1 month to complete in one week.” But be sure to incorporate the key success factors into your answers.
- Have you ever been caught unaware by a problem or obstacles that you had not foreseen? What happened? #How you deal with surprises
- Describe the project or situation which best demonstrates your analytical abilities. What was your role? #Analytical skills
- What is the most difficult decision that you have ever made? Take me through your decision making process. #Decision making process
- Tell us about a time when you had to analyze information and make a recommendation. What kind of thought process did you go through? What was your reasoning behind your decision?
- Tell us about your experience in past jobs that required you to be especially alert to details. #Attention to details
Category 3. Client-Facing
First of all, you can wow your interviewer by telling them what you think about the definition of a “client”. As a good professional, your client is the person that you handover your work to – it can be your peer, boss, and (external) customer. This notion is important because not everyone of you will face an external customer. But I dare to say everyone of you has some client-facing skills. So, don’t freak out if you are a student with few internship experience. What’s more important is the client mindset and thought process.
- Describe a time when it was especially important to make a good impression on a client. How did you go about doing so? #Client-facing
- Give me an example of a time when you did not meet a client’s expectation. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation? #Client-facing # Expectation Management Skills
- Tell me about a time when you made sure a customer was pleased with your service. #Client-facing
- Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult client. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?
- When you’re working with a large number of customers, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you go about prioritizing your customers’ needs?
Category 4. Priority Management / Project Management / Time Management Skills / Strategic Planning
This category of questions are meant to see if you are a completer. It’s also meant to see how you prioritize things, some people call it “strategic thinking”. It’s really just a fancy way of asking if you can get the most important thing done in time, meet budget, and make people happy. It’s about the art of juggling. And we want to know if you can juggle without breaking shit in the process.
- Describe a long-term project that you managed. How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner? #Project Management
- Sometimes it’s just not possible to get everything on your to-do list done. Tell me about a time your responsibilities got a little overwhelming. What did you do? #Priority Management #Time Management #Stress Management
- Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself. How did you go about ensuring that you would meet your objective? #Priority Management
- Give me an example of a time you managed numerous responsibilities. How did you handle that? #Project Management #Priority Management
- Tell me about a time you had to be very strategic in order to meet all your top priorities. #Priority Management
Category 5. Communication Skills / Presentation / Persuasion
Communication probably the most important aspect of professional lives. To some extent, communication is sales; it’s leadership; it’s team work; and it’s client facing skills. Familiarize yourself with the questions below and practice the key success factor later on.
- Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way at work. #Communication
- Describe a time when you were the resident technical expert. What did you do to make sure everyone was able to understand you? #Communication
- Tell me about a time when you had to rely on written communication to get your ideas across to your team. #Communication
- Give me an example of a time when you had to explain something fairly complex to a frustrated client. How did you handle this delicate situation? #Communication #Client-facing
- Tell me about a successful presentation you gave and why you think it was a hit. #Presentation
Category 6. Stress Management / Failures / Ability to Adapt / Flexibility / Strategic Thinking
Personally I am a big fan of comeback stories. Everyone has a plan until they got punched in their mouth. What is a failure to this person? What does it mean to them? How did they pick them up?
- Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it? #Stress Management
- Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some change. How did that impact you, and how did you adapt?
- Tell me about the first job you’ve ever had. What did you do to learn the ropes? #Adaptability #Value #Personality
- Give me an example of a time when you had to think on your feet in order to delicately extricate yourself from a difficult or awkward situation. #Stress Management
- Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with this situation? #Stress Management #Failure
Category 7. Leadership / Motivation / Values / Success / Initiatives
These types of questions are actually attempts to learn more about your value systems. Your response would ideally address this directly even if the question wasn’t explicit about it.
- Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment. #Value
- Describe a time when you saw some problem and took the initiative to correct it rather than waiting for someone else to do it. #Initiatives #Leadership
- Tell me about a time when you worked under close supervision or extremely loose supervision. How did you handle that? #Self-Motivated #Driven #Value
- Give me an example of a time you were able to be creative with your work. What was exciting or difficult about it? #Creative #Strategic
- Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied in your work. What could have been done to make it better? #Initiatives
III. Key success factors
#1. Make the low low to show the high high.
You may think there is something wrong in my English. There probably is. But not this one. The tip should be immediately clear as you think about the message in the image. Whatever example you give, make sure the contrast is big enough. Otherwise you are not talking about your experience and skill from the right angle.
#2. Be good at using SAR but don’t overuse it.
In case you are seeing SAR for the first time, it’s Situation, Action, and Result. While, 90% of the time in the interview, it helps you to follow this structure. But if you are asked “What wakes you up in the morning? What makes you want to go to work?” Personally, I would love the candidate who says “iPhone and money.” And just hold the eye contact without breaking into a laughter. But sadly most interviewers are looking for some BS answers by asking BS questions – to see what motivates you. You can still use the SAR format by describing how one day you actually forgot to set an alarm and just woke naturally because you have a client meeting that day and your strong sense of responsibility made you want to go to the office earlier to prepare for it.
#3. Be personal not robotic.
What is robotic? Seemingly reciting things without connecting with the interviewer is. Remember the word “interview”, it’s got “inter” there – meaning you need to sound somewhat spontaneous. Depending on who you are interviewing with. If that person is a bit insecure, you may catch him asking a variation of the questions above to encourage him by saying “wow, that’s a really good question.” The point is not you telling the story but me hearing the story.
#4. Be careful how you talk about problem.
Part of the fun of behavioral interviews for interviewer (sorry, not you interviewees) is we got a glimpse of how you view a problem. Our eyes are not viewer but also projectors. What is a problem to you and how do you handle it? What do you focus on in a situation? What do you talk about? Are you a people-bitcher or a problem-solver? By listening to your painpoints, you actually tell us a lot about yourself.
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