Chances are that you’ve encountered the term “behavioral interviewing” at some point during your job search.  This is an increasingly popular interview format based on the belief that past behavior is the greatest predictor of future behavior.  Typically interviewers ask questions like, “Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker, and how you chose to handle that situation.”

During a behavioral interview, the interviewer is expecting the candidate to provide very detailed and specific answers to his or her questions.  A response such as, “Oh yeah, I’ve done that before.” is definitely inadequate.  Although it’s best to draw from your professional experiences when answering behavioral interview questions, if necessary, you can discuss volunteer—or even personal—situations that you may have handled as they relate to the specific question. Although, we strongly advise discussing personal experience unless absolutely necessary and it should always be framed in a positive and professional manner.

One issue that sometimes confuses candidates and interviewers alike is when a candidate comes from a background where the interviewer’s scenario was impossible.  For example, I know a publisher who worked for a company where anyone who missed a delivery deadline was automatically fired.  Missing deadlines was simply not an option with the publishing company.  This candidate then found herself in a behavioral interview with someone asking, “Tell me about a time you missed a deadline and how you managed that.”

Unfortunately, the publisher was stumped by this scenario and had no idea how to proceed with an answer.  Her interviewer apparently did not have the flexibility to reword the question, as she simply repeated it several times.  Lack of preparation for a question of this nature probably cost the publisher this job opportunity.  What she should have done was answered the question as closely as possible to the way it was asked—i.e., provided an example of a time when she almost missed a deadline; or she could have discussed a previous experience outside a professional setting.

It is almost impossible to forecast exactly what an interviewer will ask you during any particular interview.  However, understanding how important it is to answer behavioral interview questions as closely and specifically as you can will help you to manage future interviews as smoothly as possible.

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