How To Ace The Behavioral Interview

Staff, Rocket Interview

Behavioral interviewing is said to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is only 10 percent predictive of job performance.

As a result, behavioral interviewing is often the preferred method of screening candidates, and the 5 most common themes of behavioral interview questions are:

1. Leadership

2. Conflict Resolution

3. Teamwork

4. Problem Solving

5. Accomplishment

The most common framework candidates use to answer these questions is the STAR framework (Situation-Task-Action-Results).

Situation and Task (STAR)

For simplicity, we will combine the Situation and the Task into Context.  In framing up the context there are three questions you want to address. 

  • What is the value at stake?  This should be something of importance.
  • What is the obstacle preventing you from achieving that value?
  • What are the basic facts the interviewer needs to know to follow along with the story?.

Here is an example of applying this to the question “Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership.”

  • “I am going to tell you about a time where I was on a project and we were launching a new product that was going to drive 30 percent of the company’s revenue.  So there was a lot riding on this from a commercial perspective.” [This highlights the value at stake]:
  • One of the major obstacles we had was losing three of our engineers before we had to go and develop this product.  [This shows the obstacle]:
  • You can also add any other basic facts needed to follow the story

This example has given the interviewer rich context, why this situation is important, and what a core challenge was in realizing the goal.

Actions (STAR)

When discussing your actions there are two areas that are important to highlight:

  • Focus on the actions you took rather than outlining all the actions the rest of the team took.  This is a common and critical mistake that candidates make.  They talk about what the broader team did when the interviewers are really trying to understand what you did.
  • Explain your actions in a structured manner.  The interviewer wants to understand the different things that you did, so it is important to delineate each one distinctly.  You can number your actions or make it clear that you are wrapping up discussing one action and moving to the next by saying “…and the next thing that I did was…”

Here is an example of applying this to the question “Tell me about a time you resolved conflict.”

  • “The first thing I did was sit down with my peer to deeply understand the source of conflict and understand why my peers opinion was different than mine.”
  • “The next thing I did was gather data about the problem at hand and solicit other people’s input and feedback to gather a set of competing perspectives that I could bring back to my following conversations with my peer.”
  • “Finally, I also invested time in building a relationship with my peer by setting up 1-on-1’s outside of the office to grab coffee and discuss each other’s personal and professional goals.”
  • [You could then proceed to discuss how the combination of these actions led to the conflict being resolved]

Results (STAR)

Describing the results of your actions is an area many candidates either understate or get stuck because they cannot perfectly quantify the outcome.  And, while it is helpful to quantify results, you do not have to.  It is more important that you tell a very compelling story about how something transformed — explaining to the interviewer how something was, and then how it changed because of your actions.  Describing how the team, the business, or a product changed can be very compelling, even without numbers, as long as you paint a clear picture.

Moreover, clearly articulating the change will be more powerful than just stating a revenue increase or a cost decrease.

For example when answering the question above, “Tell me about a time you resolved conflict,” you can frame up the results and the impact around the decision that you made together and how that decision helped take the company to the next level of growth.  And you can also layer on how you built a strong relationship with your peer that impacted both of your teams and enhanced the culture of collaboration within the company.

The “Results” of your story is an area where you want to broaden the aperture of results and not just narrowly focus on driving a financial result or a quantifiable outcome, but also describe how something evolved from an existing state to a fundamentally better future state.

Guiding Principles 

  • Apply a “so-what” lens to your story.  That means when the interviewer hears your story, it is very clear how your story both answers the question and has an implication on your candidacy.  That is, they are not left saying “so what” at the end of your story.
  • Avoid using jargon that is very specific to your job or your industry. Often candidates are so familiar with their own story that they forget that the interviewer is absorbing all of this for the first time.
  • Focus on being impact oriented.  Everything you share should be leading towards some impact because ultimately they are looking to make a hiring decision based on the impact you’re going to drive for their organization.