What is Behavioral Interview?

Behavioral Interview – did you respond or react?

Insider scoop into the world of behavioral interviews

Most interviews these days, whether you are experienced or not, are behavior based interviews targeted to test your response/reaction/attitude towards a situation in your past or to a hypothetical scenario.

Why behavioral interview?

Simple, your past behavior to a situation is the best way to predict your ‘potential’ reaction to a future situation. Your college degrees or experience letters won’t reveal this about you, but your response to a behavior based question does. For that reason, behavior based interview plays a vital role in candidate selection.

Throughout the questions covered on this website, you will notice that the responses confirm to the behavior-based format. While reading the responses, you will observe a pattern which will help you in responding to a surprise question during the interview process.

Behavioral interview is designed to dig details about SRI:

SITUATION: A situation you have been related to the topic at hand. If you are a fresher or have not been in a situation of the kind that the interviewer wants to seek insight into, a hypothetical situation can be used.

RESPONSE: It is important to demonstrate that you ‘responded’ to the situation and NOT reacted to it. Usually a response means that you knew what you were doing and a reaction is, well, just doing. This is THE most important part of the behavior based interviews – your response – this is what the interviewer is most interested in knowing so that they can assess what your potential response would be on the job.

IMPACT: It is useful if you used an example where your response impacted the outcome in a positive way. Interviewers have enough experience to know that results may not be to our desire every time but they want to know that your response had positive impact on the outcome.

It is easy to confuse some question formats with behavior based questions. To qualify as a behavior based question three Rs’ must be present: question must be ‘regarding’ a situation (real or hypothetical), your ‘response’ and the ‘result’.

If interviewer asks about whether you have faced a certain situation only then the question is simply an experience question – for example – ‘Have you ever faced the Grao error while working on Sybon Technology? How did you handle it?”

If the interviewer asks you whether you agree to a certain response then the question is just seeking your opinion – for example – ‘Would you have handled it differently? Why?”

A question that is targeted about your past results only is testing your ‘expertise not your behavior – for example – “What is your error-success aspect ratio for the past six months?”

Pointers you should know when responding to a behavior based question:

– Pick a recent example and always address the time frame. Example: During this summer or in summer of 2009.

– You should have examples ready to demonstrate the skills you highlight in your resume, especially interpersonal skills. If you wrote in your resume that you keep your cool in stressful situations – you better have a rock solid example(s) from the past.

– Always pick example which involves your MAJOR contribution in positively impacting the results. Do NOT pick examples where you were only ‘participated’ as a team member (unless interviewer specifically seeks out such a reference).

– Try to pick examples where your ‘response’ impacted the results positively.

– Detail only the important parts, if possible, animate it a bit – but do not dramatize or bore the interviewer.

Never take names of people, clients and projects while responding to a behavior based question (to that matter, do not reveal the PCP throughout the interview process). You would be surprised how small the corporate world is. You may be putting yourself, the company you work for and the clients you are serving in jeopardy if you do not withhold the PCP information. There may be exceptions to how much of PCP information that can be revealed but a general rule of thumb is to ‘avoid’ them.

– NEVER condescend anyone/anything while responding to ANY question during the interview process.

– Goes without saying – always use relevant examples and when in doubt – ask the interviewer probing questions.

We will explore questions-responses keeping the behavior based interviews in mind but for starters, here is an example of behavior based question and how to respond.


Interviewer: Can you describe a situation where you had to deal with completing a project in absence of your supervisor? How did you handle it? Were you able to successful at delivering?

You: Last summer, our Manager had a family emergency and went on a leave. That same day, we received a request from the client for a new project. We always had our manager formulate the schedules and define responsibilities for the team, and reviewed the work before it went for partner’s sign off. With his absence and with other managers on summer vacation the responsibility was assigned to me. It was difficult to be able to fulfill my own role on the project while acting in the Manager role but it gave me a great opportunity to think and act-like a Manager. I worked about 12-14 hours for eight straight days without taking a break to execute the project. When my Manager returned, he mentioned that the Partner did not realize that the work did not go through his review and he commended me for executing the flawless job. Invariably, that incident also helped me to get promoted to Manager this year.


Interviewer: Can you describe a situation where you had to quit? What did you do? What was the repercussion?

You: Since I am a hard worker who can focus on things to their end, there are very few situations where I had to quit. During last year summer semester, I took up two extra courses, one language course in Spanish and another in Applied computer systems – as I knew they were going to help me on my job. A week into the course and 16 hour study days, my mom got sick with flu. At the time my dad was in Asia on business. I had to take care of my mom and I couldn’t allocate the same amount of time as I had hoped for at the beginning. I had to drop one of the two extra courses – I chose to drop Spanish to take care of my mom. It was the most practical choice as I need to be proficient in computers by the time I applied for the jobs. I couldn’t take the Spanish course to this day due to the hectic schedule during my final semester. I had to quit on Spanish to take care of my mom. I plan to take evening classes in Spanish in next six months though.

As you notice, the response should have time frame, situation, your response and the outcome.

Probing – interviewer may probe to dig more details, it is very important that your response is consistent and that should not be a problem as long as you have not ‘made up’ the story in the first place. Probing is sometimes a good thing – it shows that the interviewer wants to learn more about you.