Preparing for Behavioral Interviews

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to be a mock interview candidate for a prominent Fortune 500 company whose training department was field-testing its behavioral interview process. The hiring managers had completed a behavioral interview training program; the final segment was to practice their skills on mock candidates.

 The premise of behavioral interviewing is that a candidate’s behavior on an interview will predict their performance on the job. Interviewers identify the skills required for a specific job; then they tailor their questions accordingly. Typically, behavioral interview questions are “open ended” — requiring more than a “yes” or “no” answer — starting with “what,” “how,” “tell me,” “explain,” “describe” or “give me an example.”

 My mock interview experience reinforced the importance of what I teach my private clients: have a cache of “career success stories” memorized and ready-to-go, to draw upon for any behavior-based questions the interviewer might ask. With the competitiveness of today’s job market, having these stories prepared in advance will help you stand out among other candidates.

 The position I “interviewed” for was a fictitious customer service position. Some of the questions the interviewers asked me were: 

  • Give me an example of how you worked on a team to achieve a specific result.
  • Describe one of your recent projects and how you dealt with an unproductive team member.
  • How have you recently handled a sensitive customer service situation?
  • Tell me about a project where you weren’t recognized for your efforts. How did you handle it?  

When asked these questions, I fumbled for answers and knew that if this had been a real interview, I would have failed miserably because I was so unprepared. So, take my experience as a “lesson learned” to prepare for any questions interviewers might ask:  

  • Research the company through their website, www.Google.com, www.Hoovers.com, or www.Glassdoor.com;
  • Study the job description and note any tasks that might be unclear;
  • Write out at least 10 stories (30-40 words each) that convey how well you can do the job. 

To prepare your stories, use the “Challenge-Action-Results” (CAR) model:

  • The challenge you inherited: what made this task difficult, important, timely, urgent or valuable;
  • The action you and/or your team members took: what you did, how you did it and what the roadblocks were;
  • The results: what was the outcome in terms of quantifiable metrics or a “before” and “after.”  

When elaborating on results, consider that hiring managers are impressed with candidates who can help their company:  

  • Make money or save money;
  • Be more competitive;
  • Keep customers and attract new ones;
  • Make work easier or faster.

 <Download this worksheet to help you write out your stories>

 After writing out your stories, rehearse them out loud with someone you trust such as a colleague, mentor, spouse or significant other-anyone who has a vested interest in your success. Ask for constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement. You might even want to rehearse in front of a mirror, to gauge your body language and facial expressions.

 Preparing for behavioral interviews is critical to your performance. When you follow my strategy, you’ll avoid tongue-tied moments, be ready to answer any questions the interviewers will ask, and position yourself as a top candidate for the job.

© 2012 Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach. All Rights Reserved

*This post originally appeared in the April 2012 Edition of Career E-News.

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    How to Follow-up After The Interview: A Four-Step Strategy

    Employment interviews can be exhausting and time-consuming experiences. Researching the company ahead of time and answering tough questions during the interview is challenging enough. However, waiting to hear back about your candidacy status can be sheer agony!

    The solution: Use this four-step strategy to follow up in a professional manner without being a pest and feel in control at the same time. And if the career opportunity appears to be a “no-go,” this will close the loop and help you move on.

    1) Get permission to follow up. Don’t leave the interview without it! When your interview ends, ask the decision-maker when you can expect to hear from him/her regarding the status of your candidacy. If he/she responds with: “I’ll call you to let you know our decision,” you can say, “You’ll call me? Great! When can I expect your call? Next Monday? Okay! If I don’t hear from you by Monday, would it be alright if I follow up with you by phone on Tuesday?” Usually, the interviewer will say “yes” — especially if you are a strong candidate.

    2) Reiterate in writing. Send a thank you letter to each person you interviewed with. While email is faster, a hard copy will create a more lasting impression amidst email clutter. Your letter should: a) express appreciation for the interviewer’s time; b) restate your interest in the position; c) recap highlights of the interview; and d) summarize your qualifications. In your letter to the decision-maker, say that you look forward to speaking with him/her on the agreed-upon date regarding the next step in the interview process.

    3) Pick up the phone. If the decision-maker hasn’t called, follow through with your planned phone call. The best time to reach decision-makers directly, without being routed to voicemail, is before or after regular work hours. If you get voicemail, leave this message: ” Hi <hiring manager>. This is <your name>, a candidate for the <blank> position. I was expecting a call from you yesterday, regarding my status. I haven’t heard from you, so I’m following up as we agreed. Once again, this is <your name> and my number is <blank>. I look forward to hearing from you soon, thanks!” Do this once a week, but stop after four times.  

    4) Close the loop and move on. If you’ve faithfully completed steps 1-3 above and you’ve gotten no response, most likely another candidate has been selected or the hiring process might temporarily be on hold. For your own well-being, it’s worthwhile to follow up one more time to close the loop and move on. Use this script, which is adaptable to voicemail or email:

    “Hello <name of decision-maker>, I’ve followed up with you on <agreed upon date>; then four times after that and still haven’t heard from you. I’m assuming your hiring process is taking longer than expected, which is totally understandable. However, I want you to know that I’m continuing my search and may not be available in the future. So, I’d appreciate if you could let me know where I stand by <date chosen by you>, so we can both move forward. Thanks again for your time and consideration up to this point.”

    Taking this final step will help get you off of dead center by:

    a) Conveying to the hiring manager that you won’t wait forever; if they want to hire you, they’d better act quickly;

    b) Allowing you to put closure on the situation, so you won’t waste any more energy on it;

    c) Clearing your mental clutter to allow other opportunities to come your way.

    Following up in a professional manner is good for your reputation, self-confidence and peace of mind. With these scripts in hand, you can manage any jitters and keep yourself moving towards the dream job that awaits you.

     © 2012 Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach. All Rights Reserved

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