Prepping for behavioral interview questions

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

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You've got this. (Photo: Steven Depolo, Flickr/Creative Commons)

In a recent post on our nonprofit HR blog, we encourage hiring managers to ask behavioral questions:

Behavioral interviewing enables you to deeply evaluate candidates’ past work experiences, their knowledge, and their behaviors in order to accurately predict how they will perform in your organization. This type of system … focuses on their behaviors and results in various situations. It’s more about how they’ve used their knowledge – which often gives you a better understanding of how they will react and apply what they know in your environment. [Read more....]

But as a job seeker, how do you prepare to answer behavioral questions?

For many job candidates, thinking about specific past experiences can be challenging under high pressure situations. Below is a method to get ready for the interview. Download the full exercise here (PDF).

  • Looking at the job description, identify about 5-10 qualities, skills, and experiences the prospective employer wants.
  • Circle the qualities, skills, or experiences on your list that you possess.
  • For each of these, think of one or two anecdotes that illustrate your expression of the quality, your use of the skill, or your experience.
  • Write up a summary of each anecdote and practice telling each one orally for the interview.
  • Prepare to name the competency or skill, give an example of a time when you used the skill, and identify ways the skill applies to the job you want.

By the way, the “practice” part doesn’t just mean reciting your anecdote once or twice. You want it to sound natural, have an economical use of words, and be as captivating as possible while also clearly conveying your point. Practicing these anecdotes is akin to practicing an elevator pitch during networking situations. See the section on elevator pitches in Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers.

And how do you remember these anecdotes?

That’s easy! Type up your list of skills, and give yourself a few key words to jog your memory about the experience you plan to share.

Turn the tables at your interview

Finally, remember that any interview is and should be a two-way street. Pose behavioral questions to your hiring team to understand the work environment, culture, and leadership styles of the people you’d be working with, if hired. Here are our tips for presenting yourself in person, including when to ask the most important questions (hint: don’t wait ’til the second interview).

Good luck!

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