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by Joe Turner | March 10, 2009


When you go into an interview, you need to leave your nerves at the door. The best way to prepare is to develop, beforehand, your own story (or stories). This is especially great for the "behavioral" or "competency"-based interview, which is used more today.

A behavioral interviewer will spend about half the interview on your job skills, and the other half on your behavioral competencies. He or she will be looking for evidence of how you have acted in real situations in the past. So having your stories ready to go plays very well for this type of interview.

What are behavioral interviews?

Also known as "competency-based" interviews, these go further than the traditional skills-based interview. You can expect additional questions about your character and personal attributes that can better determine whether you fit their corporate culture. These are called "behavioral competencies."

Specifically, this is simply an interviewing technique used to determine whether you are a good fit for the job by asking questions about your past behavior. Your answers are then used as a predictor of your future success. For example, if you've done it in the past, you probably will do it again.

How is this different than other questions you might encounter?

A behavioral question will be very specific. For instance, when asked, "Tell me about a time when you overcame a crisis, solved a problem, dealt with failure, etc.," the focus is on a specific "time" in your past when you . Here your answer must elucidate a particular action that you took at some point in your past.

In contrast, a traditional interview question would be "what if" type questions. For example, "What would you do if such and such a situation were to occur?" The difference here is there are no past experiences to call upon. You merely put yourself in the situation and use your imagination for the answer. The interviewer is looking for your thought process and how you might think through a problem.

How do you prepare for behavioral interviews?

The best way is to take the initiative by preparing several 30- to 90-second personal stories.

Consider developing your stories around these areas:

  1. A crisis in your life or job and how you responded to or recovered from it.
  2. A time when you functioned as part of a team and what your contribution was.
  3. A time in your career or job when you had to overcome stress.
  4. A time in your job when you provided successful leadership or a sense of direction.
  5. A failure that occurred in your job and how you successfully overcame it.

Preparation is especially important for success in the behavioral interview. A word of warning: you must have stories to back up anything you claimed on your resume.

All stories have three parts and yours should be no different. They include:

  1. A beginning (set the stage, describe the situation, the time)
  2. A middle (this is the process you used or the action that you took to solve the problem)
  3. A resolution (how the problem was solved, overcome or resolved)

A good story should be interesting and full of action. Give them something memorable about you that makes you stand out. Since these are your stories, it shouldn't be hard. Let your personality and your core character shine through. Make sure you let them hear the steps you took to solve the problem. The more details and skills you can add, the better.


Spend some time well before your first interview to craft and polish several "short stories" about your past using some of the above examples. Take the best examples you can and hone them to a fine edge. Practice them out loud in front of a mirror, and often. These are your successes. Done right, they'll give your interviewer a clear picture of who you are, enabling him or her to determine whether you're the right person for the job.

As a recruiter, Joe Turner has spent the past 15 years finding and placing top candidates in some of the best jobs of their careers. Author of Job Search Secrets Unlocked, Joe has been interviewed on several radio talk shows. Discover more insider job search secrets by visiting


Filed Under: Interviewing

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