I remember the first time I was asked a behavioral interview question. I went into a split-second panic—gadzooks! With my racing heart and sweaty palms, I wondered why, after seeing my résumé and hearing about my experience, the interviewer threw this torturous question at me. I was too worried about giving the “right” answer to understand that the question was actually an opportunity.
I’m sure you have heard behavioral interview questions:
“Tell me about a time that you had too much to do and you were on a tight deadline. How did you manage all of your tasks while meeting that deadline?”
“Tell me about a time that you had to make a quick decision. What was the situation and what were the results?”
Now that I’m the one asking behavioral interview questions, I can tell you that it’s not about “right” or “wrong” answers. It’s about illustrating your skills, talents, and experience. Some job seekers cleverly use behavioral interview questions as a golden personal branding opportunities. Others are acutely aware that potential employers are trying to see if they are the right fit for the company or organization.
The key to managing these questions is preparation. You can’t necessarily predict which questions are going to be asked but you can prepare stories that highlight your personal brand. Five thoughts come to mind.
Practice telling a story that highlights your critical and analytical thinking. Ironically, that opportunity may come in the form of “Tell me about a time that you made an error in judgment. How did you manage or correct the situation?”
This may seem like a “gotcha” question but it’s not. The hiring manager wants to know how you bounce back from mistakes. Do you consider yourself resilient? Are you quick on your feet? Are you armed with a solution when addressing an error? Tell a story that illustrates how you mentally navigate difficult or tricky situations.
Pull together an example that sells your leadership skills. A question to gauge leadership skills would almost sound like a problem-solving question. You may be asked to describe a time that you helped your team get out of a jam. People with strong leadership skills are able to get others to rally behind them to accomplish team goals. Think about how you can brand yourself as “the one.”
Think of a situation where your communication skills were an asset to your team. One question I like is, “Tell me about a time you and a colleague weren’t on the same page about a task or project. What did you do to get on the same page?” Tell a story about how you used communication to provide clarity or simply speak the same language—figuratively or literally—as a colleague to get the job done.
Tell a story that illustrates your professional values. You may hear something like, “Tell me about a time that you took the initiative to create a positive environment at work. Why did you do it?” Sometimes interviewers are interested in knowing what makes you tick—your motivation for doing what you do. Use it as an opportunity to show your passion and enthusiasm for what you do.
Be prepared to brand yourself no matter what. Before my last interview, I rehearsed how I would weave in my personal brand regardless of the line of questioning. I was asked to give an example of how I deal with change. So I took the opportunity to talk about my mental flexibility along with my experience with change and went into my story from there.
Anyone can talk about what they “would” do in a situation but having examples is what sells your experience, skills, and talents. The beauty of preparing for behavioral interview questions is that you will be prepared to create a personal branding opportunity one way or another. Preparation will surely keep you out of that “gadzooks” moment.
Originally published on Careers in Government