How to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions


As civilian employers recognize that your military jobs likely won't translate directly to the jobs they are recruiting for, hiring managers are using behavioral interviews to learn more about your capabilities.

Behavioral interview questions assess your behavior, character and capability to handle various situations. For job candidates who have not done the exact job they are applying for before (i.e., military veterans entering the private sector workforce), these questions are used to evaluate how you think and react and the value you could add to the organization.

Typical Behavioral Interview Questions

Some of the typical behavioral interview questions employers might ask in an interview include:

  • Describe a time you had to solve a complex problem.
  • How do you manage stress?
  • Describe a situation where you didn't have adequate information or resources to proceed. What did you do?
  • Paint me a picture of your ideal day at work.
  • How do you set goals and hold yourself accountable?
  • Describe how you work on a team.

What the Interviewer Is Listening For

Often, the interviewer uses behavioral interview questions to evaluate not only your response, but how you keep your composure when given a challenging question. They want to see that you remain calm, focused and direct when asked a question, and don't ramble, get defensive or go off topic in your response.

The interviewer is also interested in whether you disparage others, support and celebrate your colleagues, and hold yourself personally accountable for your actions, particularly as they relate to the results achieved.

How to Respond to Behavioral Interview Questions

For many of you -- especially if you are applying for your first or second job after leaving the military -- your responses to these types of interview questions will draw solely upon your experience during your military career. For this reason, it's helpful to remember the STAR technique when responding to interview questions:

S/T -- What was the Situation or Task?

Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. Be specific in describing what you did, who was there and what happened so the interviewer can understand the context.

A -- What action did you take?

Describe what you did -- the action you took --focusing on your own, individual actions.

R -- What were the results of your action?

What was the outcome? What was the impact on the team, organization or project? What did you learn?

Focusing on the what, how and impact of your actions gives you a framework to answer behavioral interview questions.

In considering your responses, remember to:

Plan Ahead.

If possible, review the most common behavioral interview questions for the company or industry you're applying to. Then prepare your answers, consider how you'll respond and practice with a friend. This helps you avoid that panicked feeling if you feel caught off guard.

Avoid Getting Graphic.

While the situation you might want to describe includes violence and graphic details, keep in mind your audience: Most hiring managers do not come from a military background. Keep your descriptions specific, but not to the point where they would upset the interviewer.

Stay Calm.

If you are asked a question you haven't anticipated, take a deep breath. Then get your thoughts centered and exhale. Next, look the interviewer in the eye before you respond. If you are not clear on the question, ask them to rephrase it or ask it again. Then breathe again.

Be Clear on the Job.

It doesn't help to focus your answers on examples of how you led large numbers of troops through battle with insurgents in foreign countries, if those skills aren't applicable to the job or company. Highlight the experiences you've had that relate to the skills the interviewer is looking for. For example, focus on your leadership skills or your finely tuned ability to adapt, improvise and overcome.

Focus on Value.

The interviewer is looking for examples of how you think and solve problems. They also need indications of how you will add value to the job, the team and the organization. Tie every response to your potential value in the job you're interviewing for.

More and more, behavioral interview questions are used to understand and assess the way the candidate thinks, reacts and behaves around others. Remember why the questions are being asked and have thoughtful responses prepared in advance to give yourself the best chance of a successful interview.

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