Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Oh Behave! How to Get Through a Behavioral Interview

Posted By: John Sweney on June 7, 2013

alice3You are working through the process of presenting yourself for a new job.

Education, qualifications, certifications: check, check and check.

Personality? Remains to be seen.

Welcome to the behavioral interview, where open-ended questions are as much about a candidate's thought process, mannerisms and dialogue as they are about the answers.

We do these interviews every day at Brookwoods Group.  Here are some of the things that make our hiring managers cringe and how you can make minor changes to help the situation:


We need you to show us your real self.  (Yes, we want the best version of your real self, professionally dressed and polished, but 100 percent real nonetheless!)  We would not want a contrived artificial “you” to appear for all interviews only to have a different real person show up for work!

If you are tempted to put on a show in your job interview:

  • Be natural.  Be yourself.  But just "dial it up" or "tone it down" for a job interview. Not too much; just a notch!
  • If you are a natural extrovert (like me, fast paced and people-oriented ), slow your pace of communications a little and get to the point a little faster.
  • If you are natural thinker (slower-paced and information-oriented), ratchet up your enthusiasm just a little and show that you are a little interested in the interviewer as a person.



"I toss and turn with nocturnal visions, searching for declarations that will touch and soothe the hearts of mankind as I aspire towards ever-lasting changes worldwide."

Here's a shorter, simpler and much more powerful way of saying the same thing: "I have a dream."

Worked for MLK, right?

The point is, candidates who have a hard time getting to the point won't get the job. Hiring managers see overtime and time wasted in this candidate's future simply because they're too busy waxing poetic to get the job done .

If this is you:

  • KISS it. Keep It Simple, Silly. Concise answers are to the point yet speak volumes.
  • Stay with the moment. Pay attention to the current question. Thinking ahead to what comes next can lead to unnecessary rambling.
  • Listen. We know you're eager to make sure the hiring manager hears everything you have to say while you sell yourself, but slow down – allow the hiring manager to set the pace. You will have the chance for a (brief) grand finale at the end.

Hemming & Hawing

You've seen them on television; you've heard them on the radio – those awkward moments where someone is hemming and hawing, umming and oh'ing their way through an interview. It's frustrating for viewers and listeners to sit through; same thing for hiring managers.

If this is you:

  • Prepare. Know the job you're applying for, inside and out.
  • Practice. "Deer in the headlights" is not a good look on anyone. Go online and research open-ended or behavioral-interview questions, then log-off and come up with your own answers. Go over (and over, and over, and over again) your answers in front of the mirror, and then in front of a real person who is not your mother (and therefore thinks you're fantastic no matter what).  But...
  • Avoid scripting.  You have seen these folks on TV interviews...  They are asked a direct question and their response is to skirt the question and "bridge" to a scripted talking point they have rehearsed.  This doesn't work well in a job interview.  Just answer the question.
  • Avoid playback. We all have stories that we tell about ourselves that we have repeated many times.  An interviewer need only ask the trigger queston and we press our internal PLAY button and repeat the story.  The problem is that the interviewer knows they are hearing a playback and this makes them wonder if you are a one-trick pony or fixated on the past.  Instead, focus on the future and the opportunity going forward.

Baffling with Baloney

Have you ever found yourself unable to answer a question and -- to fill the silence -- uttered such nonsense that you wondered afterwards if you can ever recover?  Such baloney usually follows questions such as "Do I look fat?" "Why did you lie?" "Where were the weapons of mass destruction?" and "What is your greatest weakness?" Such questions have hanged even the savviest of spouses, children, politicians and employees-to be.

Instead of making it all up as you go along, try:

  • Breathing. It's okay to take a few seconds to collect your thoughts before replying.
  • Rephrase the question. "So by asking me this, you would like to know that… is that correct?"

Failing to Wrap It Up

rabbitholeIt's down to two candidates. Some hiring managers can truly be stuck at this point.  They ask us for advice and we put the question back to them: "Quick: Who would you like to have coffee with?" There's the answer.  Although that solution is based on a gut feeling, we've also been told by hiring managers that the job simply went to the candidate who asked for it.

To tip the scales:

  • Ask well-thought out questions. For example, if the position is new, has it been created due to company growth?  If it's because somebody has left, what was great about that person and what characteristics would the company like to see going forward?
  • Close the loop. Finish the interview with something along the lines of "this sounds like a great opportunity, I would love to work on your team… What are the next steps?"

Overall, it's much better to be yourself, to hit the pause button than baffle with baloney, become long-winded, act flippant or morph into run-around-Sue. If you do manage to fool the hiring manager, guess what happens when the rubber meets the road? You'll be back practicing your behavioral interview skills.

At Brookwoods Group, we don't want to change you; we want to help you present your best self to a prospective employer and match you with a company where you will flourish. For hiring managers and candidates alike, the right fit can make a world of difference.