Expert Behavioral Interviewing

by Ron Haynes

job interview

Photo by Esthr

Behavioral interviews are all the rage in human resources circles. Why? HR managers believe the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation. So, they want you to explain your career in a series of stories based on the situations they present. It can be a challenging exercise to say the least.

But preparing for a behavioral interview isn’t that difficult if you do a little research on the company and do a little reminiscing about your own work life. Does the company value planning and organizational skills? Think back to times when you’ve been responsible for planning a company or department project and what worked, what didn’t, how it succeeded or failed, and what you learned.

After you’ve determined which behavioral interview questions you might be asked during an interview (see the chart below for examples), think back on your own work experience. Then design coherent stories around those personal situations. These stories must be:

  • True – never lie in an interview.
  • Detailed – and you better know the details inside and out.
  • Brief and to the point – never ramble.

These stories must have:

  • A brief account of a specific challenge you faced.
  • A brief account of the specific actions you took to conquer the challenge.
  • A brief summary of the results (quantify these results with actual numbers).

Here are some areas where human resources managers might ask for your story and how they might ask it:

If the company values: The interviewer or HR person might ask:
Leadership Tell me about a time you had to lead a team, what you did, and how did you handle any conflicts between members.

Have others ever disagreed with your ideas? Tell me about it.

Performance Tell me about a specific instance when you identified a problem. What did you do to solve it and what was successful in your approach?

If you went to work for us today and we asked you to solve [X], what would be your first steps and why?

Decision Making Tell me about a time when your use of good judgment made a difference.

Have you ever had to make a quick decision before you could gather all the information you wanted? Tell me about what happened.

Interpersonal Skills Tell me about a time you had to present an unpopular decision to your team. What was their response and how did you handle it? What did you learn from it?

Have you ever disagreed with your boss or an upper management decision yet YOU had to implement it? How did that work?

Skill Tell me about a particular time where you used [fill in the skill]. What was successful and unsuccessful about your approach?

Can you [fill in required skill]? Tell me about a few instances when you used this skill.

Motivation Tell me about a time you had to motivate a team. What methods did you use and why? Did those methods work? Why or why not?

Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty. What were the circumstances and what was the result?

Management Tell me about a time when you had to discipline an employee. Without naming names, what were the circumstances and what steps did you take?

How successful have you been at developing others? Give me some examples of how you trained an employee and where that employee is now.

Planning Tell me how you prioritize your work or the work of others. Can you give me an example or two?

What steps do you take in deciding to trust someone with developing a plan? Can you think of an instance when you’ve done this?

Customer Service Tell me about the most irate customer you ever dealt with. What were the circumstances and what did you to resolve the situation?

How do you satisfy a customer complaint without giving away the store? Give me an example of when you used just such an approach.

Photo by Esthr

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Thanks. I’ve got several interviews early next week and the recruiter told me to be ready for a behavioral interview style. This REALLY helps!

Sid Savara

Hey Ron,

Thanks for the tip for telling stories during interviews! I try to do that in my job interviews as well, but I love your handy “cheat sheet” that shows where the focus should be ;)

I also totally agree you always have to be honest. I never lie, fabricate or even embellish my stories – I tell it like it is.

Credit Girl

This is a really great check list for a potential job interview! Thanks for the detailed list. It seems to me though that companies would love if you had more than one of those qualities listed above. The more the better.

Daddy Paul

Good read. These are some of the questions you may face in an interview. “Tell me about yourself is becoming a thing of the past.” But be ready for that one!


The TMAY (tell me about yourself) is becoming a little antiquated, but it’s still used in 80% of all interviews — mostly as an ice breaker and to get the interview rolling. If candidates are prepared for it and have done some research, the TMAY is the absolute BEST opportunity to show the interviewer how his needs are matched by the candidate’s skills, education, and experience. Using it that was as a job candidate will set your interviewer back on his feet because few are expecting that kind of response. It will also make you appear head and shoulders above the competition if you’re also well prepared for the behavioral style interview.

Do You Dave Ramsey?

YES, the TMAY question is the first question to perfect. This is important because it will always be asked in the interview process AND it is a great intro for networking.

My approach is to think inverted tri-angle. Talk about your high level experience and then ween it down to a closing sentence than make *this* job the perfect fit. 6-8 sentenced are all you need!

Do You Dave Ramsey?

Ron, this spot on. Behaviorial interviews sound intimidating but with proper prep, they’re pretty easy.

My approach has been to reflect on my experience WHILE considering the types of questions that may be asked. Then I start to think like a political candidate. You know, it doesn’t matter what the question is, the candidate will turn it into what he wants to say. So I start to map specific stories I want to tell to the types of questions I expect. Then I rehearse and perfect my stories.

Before you know it, you have an inventory of stories you can mold into a wide array of questions. You’ve practiced the stories and can anticipate or even bait the follow-ups.

You’ll never be able to anticipate EVERY question, but with prepared talking points you can make you way through.

I speak from experience. The 2 times I’ve had behavior interviews, I’ve landed an offer and job both times.

Great topic Ron!

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