How to ace the behavioral interview — Jessica’s Career Tip of the Week

Often in the engineering community, there is a large emphasis on technical interviews and behavioral interview prep tends to take a backseat. To many seasoned interviewers, behavioral interviews come very naturally. To those that are still new to it, it can be tricky to navigate. Behavioral interviews are how companies tell if a candidate will fit in their workplace. With the right practice, anyone will be able to ace the behavioral interview.

The first step is to understand the types of questions that are asked in behavioral interviews. Most behavioral interviews will consist of questions that ask about different types of situations you may have been involved in. Examples include, “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker,” or “Tell me about a time when you had a deadline you couldn’t meet.”

It is impossible to try and find every possible question and come up with an answer, so it is important to keep four or five situations in mind before going into the interview. These situations can be times where you’ve worked on a class project with a group or worked in a professional setting. Having a list of situations like these in mind will help tackle a variety of different questions.

Next, learn the STAR method. The STAR method stands for situation, task, action, result. This is a layout for how to answer behavioral questions.

Starting with “situation,” this is where you give some background information. This can include where you were, what you were working on, etc. Make sure to give just enough information in order to set up the story behind how you came to be in the situation presented in the question, but don’t overshare.

The next part of the STAR method, “task,” is similar to “situation.” You want to provide the tasks you had at hand when you were in your situation.

Next, “action” is where you mention all the actions you took to tackle the situation you presented in the first step. This is the main part of the response and it is when you explain how you handled the situation.

Finally, “result” is where you explain the outcome of the actions you took. Note that results may not always be positive. For example, if you’re given a question about a time you got into a disagreement and the result is negative, it’s fine to mention this. Just make sure to also mention the lessons learned and what you would do differently.

With the STAR method and your situations figured out, find example behavioral interview questions online and practice. There are many different websites that all list common behavioral questions, so you won’t run out of material to practice. It helps to have a friend or family member ask you the questions in order to simulate an interview. If you aren’t able to do this, you can also practice in the mirror or record yourself to make sure you’re providing appropriate responses.

You may encounter a situation where you have not experienced what the question is asking. Under no circumstances should you lie or make up a scenario to fit what the interviewer is asking. If the interviewer figures out that you are lying this will greatly impact your application, no matter how well you may have been doing up until that point.

In the end, the best way to improve your behavioral interview skills is by practicing. Although companies may not give behavioral interviews as often as technical skills, when preparing for interviews it is best to prepare for both types of interviews. By using the methods presented above, you can ace your next behavioral interview!


*This blog was written by Peer Career Coach, Prashant Mokkapati