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.