On Your Best Behavior: The Basics of Behavioral Interviewing

The Art of Responding to Behavioral Interview Questions Begins with a Fundamental Understanding of What the Interviewer is Listening For

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Behavioral Interview
image courtesy of Ibrahim Adabara from Pixabay

The most effective way to identify top talent is to conduct a behavioral interview. When armed with complex situational questions, the interviewer expects to hear specific examples that validate the experiences outlined on the resume. However, when a candidate isn’t sure what the interviewer wants to hear, the default is usually a generic response or a long-winded story that goes nowhere.

There’s no way to anticipate every question that could possibly be asked in an interview. So, there’s no sense in trying to memorize answers to all 101 found on the internet lists. Besides, it’s so much easier to master one proven method that can be used to successfully respond to any situational question.

In the correct context, your responses will demonstrate the competence, skill, and experience you can deliver if offered the job. But generic and long-winded answers will get you eliminated.

These tips can help you ace any behavioral interview.

Recognizing Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions are those that prompt you to respond with a real-life example of how you handled a certain situation in the past. They often begin with:

  • Tell me about a time…?
  • Give me an example of…?
  • How did you go about…?
  • What did you do when…?
  • Describe a situation when…?


You may have heard of the S.T.A.R. system that is considered the gold standard for responding to interview questions. The acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Results. To use this system effectively in an interview, respond to questions by answering with:

  • Situation: Provide a high-level overview of the scenario with just enough detail to provide context but don’t get carried away with too much detail.
  • Task: Describe the role (responsibility) you had in the situation
  • Action: How did you respond? What action or steps did you take?
  • Results: What was the outcome of that action? What was achieved? Include a measurement to elevate the impact of the overall example.

By putting the STAR system to use, you’ll be capable of providing a comprehensive answer in a few sentences.

What’s Your Point?

Candidates have a tendency to fall short in answering behavioral questions because they address the Situation and the Task in too much detail. That leads to rambling as a result of the candidate getting lost in the weeds. They don’t remember the original question or they don’t know how to come to a conclusion with the story. That’s because they really don’t know what they are trying to point out.  Either way, a critical aspect of the story isn’t relayed because the most important part of the answer lies in the Action that was taken and the Results that were achieved.

Systematically answering every question by addressing each point of the STAR allows you to stay on track. That means you’ll be able to respond with a meaningful answer. And understanding exactly how to frame and end the answer will help you avoid talking in aimless circles. Now you have a defined ending so you’ll know when to stop talking.

It’s Complicated

Behavioral interview questions are designed to provide more context to the experiences highlighted on a resume. But it’s also an opportunity to explore the depth of expertise the candidate has in the most critical aspects of the role. The best answers will offer scope and complexity. It’s not just about how you handled the situation, it’s about:

(S): How challenging were the circumstances?

(T): What was the significance of your role?

(A): How complex was the action that was taken?

(R) What were the results and the measured impact of your efforts?

Remember, your goal is to articulate an accurate depiction of how you perform in specific situations and you can validate that performance by providing examples with substance. Stay on target with a proven method of answering behavioral questions and you’ll be the STAR.

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