Preparing informed responses to behavioral interview questions
I’m going to date myself a little bit, but who remembers Choose Your Own Adventure books? You know, where you were an international spy – ooh! – or better yet, a dragon slayer, trying to save the fair maiden (why are fair maidens always lost, in high unreachable towers, or trapped by big scary creatures? Geez…high maintenance). I love(d) these books because they let you have some control over the direction of the story…for example…
You enter the cave – the thick humid air seems to pour off the walls directly onto your forehead in a steady sweat. You know you’ve taken a chance coming in here alone armed only with your trust sword and a torch that might last an hour…if you’re lucky. You proceed forward…tentatively…in the distance you hear a low rumbling in a frequency that makes your shoulders rise with just enough tension to make you consider turning around. But then, what’s that? A tunnel? Two tunnels? One to your right – one to your left. And then, out of the steadfast silence – A SCREAM!
What do you do?
Darn it! It’s just getting good! I love this part though, because then there were choices to be made. You could choose one of the tunnels, each with a corresponding page number (and one inevitably with an early demise!). You could run away in fear of the scream…or any number of possible choices offered. So, what would you do?
Well, trusty job seeker, as we return from the cave to the real world, I introduce a popular trend in today’s face-to-face: the behavioral interview question. Essentially, they read like the story above but take possible on-the-job scenarios as contexts. Let’s consider a few:
What would you do if you saw a co-worker taking office supplies home?
If we hire you for this management position, how would you deal with an employee that is chronically late to work each day because they have to stop in each morning to check in on and care for an elderly parent?
Our office in Dubai needs someone that can work as both an Engineering lead and financial liaison with our contractors. How would you use your experience and knowledge to meet or exceed this expectation?
Sound familiar? This type of interview question aims to (1) see how well we can assess a situation and problem solve in an effective and efficient manner; and (2) test our knowledge and skill sets to see how well one can apply them in an instant. The best way to have a good answer is to predict the question, or at least the nature of the question, that might be asked. Much of this can be discovered in the initial job announcement.
Also, interviewers themselves will drop hints during the interview. If the employer suggests they really want someone who is great at safety management, and your skills in this area are limited, you might suggest that while you do not personally know how to fix a safety issue, you know which resources and people to go to for a quick and effective solution. In this case, preparation is key. Have specific people and resources to offer. Simply stating, “I know I could do this job despite my deficiencies” is not enough.
There are definitely right answers to these questions. The right answer is what the employer wants to hear. But, be conscientious and cautious. Overselling skills and straight-out lying are bad ideas. If you come across a question that you have not considered, it is okay to take a step back and give some thoughtful consideration to the response. The only retreat appropriate here is to fall back on the skills and knowledge that you are most confident in.
How would you truly act in the situations proposed? Would you be able to choose the right response to avoid the dragon?
Danny Zendejas is the Hospitality Business Consultant for Workforce Solutions in the Houston metropolitan area. He has over eight years of experience in the hospitality industry and workforce development and is a native of San Antonio, Texas.