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How to Nail Behavioral Interviews

Estimated reading time ~ 6 min
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Picture this: your polished resume submission landed you a first-round interview for an exciting new position you're interested in. Behavioral interviews are commonly used as first-round interviews to filter potential candidates based on company culture fit. The outcome of these interviews often indicates whether or not you will be invited to interview for a final-round interview or Superday*.

Fortunately, most behavioral interviews tend to follow the same structure and types of questions. The following is a guide for common aspects of behavioral interviews. Familiarizing yourself with these concepts will help you leverage your experiences and skills to set you apart when answering questions.

Tell me about yourself.

Every interview starts with a variation of “Tell me about yourself.” It’s a way for your interviewer to get to know your background and experiences before diving into more specific questions. While it may seem like a straightforward question, a lack of preparation can make you ramble about insignificant details and forget important ones. To best set yourself up for success, use this tried-and-true format for concisely hitting all the important details.

  • Your Name. This serves as a way to remind them of your preferred name or help them pronounce it.
  • Your Major and Degree. This can help your interviewer learn more about your educational background.
    • For example, "I am a sophomore studying finance at ABC School.” or "I graduated with an MBA from ABC Business School."
  • How your interest in your career field/major started. This can help you briefly introduce some of your personal background or interests that led you to choose your career path.
    • For example, “My interest in finance started when I helped my dad start his own contracting company in high school. Experiencing first-hand the formation and components of a business pushed me to want to study finance more seriously.”
  • Any prior experience, if applicable. Any past relevant roles, externship, or internship can be discussed briefly to show tangible work experience.
    • For example, “Last semester, I held an intern/extern position with XYZ Corp, working with ___ with a focus on ___ .”
  • Leadership involvement. This can help you summarize the organization or club you’re involved in, whether or not they are related to your career field/major. Bonus points if you hold a leadership position within the organization, this component mainly highlights your willingness to take initiative and shows how well-rounded your interests are.
    • For example: “Around campus, I’m an active member of the Corporate Finance Club and the Woman in Business Organization. I like to volunteer in environmental campaigns and assist in behavioral research studies.”
  • Wrap it up!
    • Summarize your introduction with something like: “These are just a few of my interests and experiences. I’m happy to elaborate on anything I’ve mentioned so far.”
    • This conclusion sounds better than the typical “And… yeah,” all of us have used at some point. It also shows openness in sharing more, so be prepared to back up any of the experiences you’ve mentioned.

Situation-based questions

The interview's main goal is to draw on your experiences to exemplify your thought process and leadership style. Most of the commonly asked situation-based interview questions revolve around four main categories: teamwork, adaptability, time management, and motivation. Some situation-based questions to prepare for include:

  • Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict with a coworker. How did you handle that?
  • Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure at work or at school. What was going on, and how did you get through it?
  • Give me an example of a time you managed numerous responsibilities. How did you handle that?
  • Tell me about a time you took a leadership role. What was the role, and what was the outcome?

A common method used to answer situation-based questions is the S.T.A.R. method, in which:

  • S = Situation: When and what was going on? Provide context!
  • T = Task: What needed to be accomplished?
  • A = Action: How did you complete the task?
  • R = Result: What was the outcome of your action / what did you learn from it?

For example: Tell me about a time when you took on additional responsibilities and the result.

  • Situation: “One of my teammates in a semester-long project was ill and unable to complete their part of the project and could not join the group for the final presentation.”
  • Task: “I needed to take on their responsibilities and complete their part of the research and final presentation for our team to get a passing grade.”
  • Action: “I broke down the teammate’s work into smaller tasks and set a schedule to work on the project between classes.”
  • Result: “I completed my part of the project and my teammate’s, and our group presented a thorough, polished project. We received a good grade, and I learned that with proper organization and time management, taking on additional responsibility can be a great learning experience.”

Put those four statements together, and you have a concise, straightforward answer! Of course, everyone’s experiences are different, and you may have multiple situations to choose from to answer the question.

So, what happens when you get about a situation you have not experienced? You still want to give it your best, so try your best to remember, and if nothing comes to mind, try to think of an experience that involves similar traits and tasks or produced similar results.

Remember: while it's great to plan out your thoughts, make sure you keep your tone conversational and avoid sounding like you are reading from a script. Practice with a friend to help you keep a good conversation flow.

Strengths and weaknesses

Another common question to analyze your self-awareness and proactivity is: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Keep in mind that interviewers may ask for either one, one of each, or up to three of each.

As a rule of thumb, you should choose relevant strengths that make you sound humble but set you apart. Some safe options include time management, communication, and prioritization. Feel free to draw on your experiences to develop more unique strengths that will stand out to the interviewer.

You also don’t want to discuss a detrimental weakness that disqualifies you from the role you are pursuing. Instead, choose a neutral weakness and show how you are being proactive to improve. A good example is public speaking, a skill that does not come naturally to all. Stating that you are putting yourself in positions where you are developing this skill organically (say, a public speaking class) demonstrates self-awareness and eagerness to improve.

It is a good idea to back up your strengths and weaknesses individually with anecdotes of when you exercised that trait or how you are developing it.

Sample strength:

“Something I have learned to do effectively is to manage my time effectively under pressure. I find that keeping a detailed calendar and making to-do lists helps me organize my thoughts. This skill helped specifically during final exam week last semester when I had to manage a research-heavy group project. By coordinating meeting times with my group ahead of time and setting aside time blocks to study for exams, I ensured that I put my best efforts into multiple things at one time and minimized time conflicts.”

Sample weakness:

“An area I’m actively working to improve is public speaking. I recognize that this skill is crucial in communicating with large groups of people at a time and in leading others effectively. For this reason, I make conscious decisions to put myself in situations that require me to speak in front of large groups, such as raising my hand in class and volunteering to present projects. I also registered for a public speaking course next semester to learn techniques to improve my skills. While confronting my weakness is intimidating, I know this will be a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and grow my skill set.”

Leverage your resume

Throughout this entire process, your resume will be your best friend! A polished resume is a great reference sheet from which you can pull experiences and skills. Since your interviewer has access to your resume, they may ask you to elaborate on any experience or skill it contains. Knowing your resume top to bottom will help ensure that you are prepared to answer any follow-up question easily and make you come across as knowledgeable and well-rounded.

Practice makes perfect!

Now that you have a trusty format for your next behavioral interview, the real work begins! Practice your answers by introducing yourself and talking about different scenarios. This will help you become familiar with how to phrase your answers to keep the interview conversational. Maintain eye contact, relax, and be yourself!

*Superday: refers to a session of back-to-back interviews with established professionals at a company.

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