Main image of article Mastering the Behavioral Interview Question
Not everything about the interview process is predictable, but you can bet that you’ll be asked a few behavioral questions – and probably a few behavioral questions per interview. Behavioral questions can be questions like, “what would you do if _______?”, but more likely they’re of the form, “Tell me about a challenging interaction with a coworker on _____ project.” Contrary to popular belief, you can and should prepare for behavioral questions. Yes, I know it’s “just talking about yourself,” but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use a few tricks to nail down your answers.

Crafting a Response

In responding to a behavioral question, you want to deliver a good answer and deliver it well. The former is about preparation, and the latter is about communication skills. Indeed, a lot of what an interviewer wants to do when asking these questions is gauge your ability to communicate. Can you deliver a clear, concise, well-structured answer? Here are two structures that will help you:
  • Nugget First: In this structure, you lead with your thesis, or “nugget”, first. For example, if you're asked about a challenging interaction with a coworker, you might say something like: “Let me tell you about the time a teammate objected to the product’s new direction. So what happened was....” This structure helps focus your interviewer – and you – on what you’re about to say.
  • Situation / Action / Result: In this structure, you clearly outline what the situation was, what action you took and what the result was. Be careful not to give too many extraneous details. Your interviewer probably only needs to know the details of the situation that actually relate to the action and result.
These two structures are often used in conjunction with each other. You might start with the nugget, and then go into the situation, the action and the result. If nothing else, even if the content of your answer isn’t great, you should always be able to deliver an answer that demonstrates strong communication skills.

Preparing for Behavioral Questions

The key to delivering great content is to be very well prepared for these questions. But how do you prepare? A simple way is to just be sure you can talk about any of the bullets on your résumé. That’s rookie stuff though. To move up into the major leagues, create what I call a “preparation grid.” A preparation grid is a grid (Excel or any spreadsheet program works great here) where the rows are each “chunk” of your résumé (each project, role, club, etc) and the columns are the major behavior questions: conflicts, challenges, mistakes, what you learned, what you enjoyed, what you hated, etc. If you fill in each cell with a story (or two or three), you’ll be well prepared when your interviewer asks you a very specific question. Want to really, really nail this process? Practice your stories using those structures. Focus on keeping your stories concise and to-the-point.