behavioral interview

Traditional versus Behavioral Interviews

Indeed recently published an article speaking to the fact that there are 20 common interview types.  No wonder job seekers are stressed when it comes to preparing for an interview!  My goal today is to show that while there may be various interview venues, there are really only two types of interviews. 

Simply put, regardless of the interview venue, all interviews will fall into one of two types: traditional or behavioral. 

Our View of the Traditional Interview

I refer to the traditional interview as the ‘how many years you’ve done it’ discussion. This interview type is the most commonly used and typically focuses on your basic experiences. Questions are usually broad to pinpoint your overall qualifications. 

Here are some sample traditional interview questions: 

  • Tell me a little about your current situation. 
  • Please walk me through your work history. 
  • How many years have you been an industry CRA? 
  • How many years have you monitored oncology studies? 
  • What oncology indications have you monitored? 

The traditional interview style is straightforward and will provide the hiring team with a general idea of your overall background. While traditional interviews can provide terrific insight into the candidate’s qualifications when done well, there are many drawbacks to solely using this approach.  

Said differently, it is our opinion that the number of years the job seeker performed a task doesn’t necessarily align with her ability to perform the task well. 

Which is where behavioral interviews provide significant value.  

What are Behavioral Interviews and Why Do Them?

While the traditional interview will provide a hiring manager with a general idea of your years of experience, the behavioral interview will provide a better idea of how well you performed the tasks in your role. This particular interviewing method is used to learn more about your past behavior in previous situations. The theory behind digging into those previous actions and reactions is that your former conduct is a strong predictor of your future performance.

In other words, instead of asking how many years of experience you have monitoring oncology projects, the questions may surround the complexities experienced with the specific indication, challenges you faced with enrollment and how you handled it, issues you dealt with at the site level and your solutions, etc. 

Another key goal of the behavioral interview is to get personal. Hiring managers want to get to know you. They want to better understand your style…especially when it comes to navigating difficult situations and tight timelines. 

How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview

Regardless of your tenure, this type of interview can be intimidating. If you research “behavioral interviewing” on the internet, you will find so many recommendations that it is easy to become overwhelmed. 

But it doesn’t have to be complicated. We have written an article on preparing for a behavioral interview, but before you start putting together answers for behavioral interview questions, consider this: there are only two simple rules you should keep in mind when preparing for this type of interview.

First Rule: Always use real examples

Behavioral interview questions are open-ended. These types of questions typically start with phrases like ‘Tell me about a time” or ‘What have you done”. The initial goal is for you to provide real-life situations that are likely to be similar to those you will encounter in your new role. 

When this style of question is asked, the interviewer wants specific details about the event, the project, the team, or the experience. She is also going to dig into what actions you took…meaning how you dealt with the situation. Lastly, she wants to hear the results of your action.

General answers are not what the hiring manager is looking for. Avoid using language such as “I would do…” as this only describes how you would behave…not how you have behaved in the past. Using the “I would do” terminology will leave the hiring manager believing you a) either haven’t experienced this type of situation and are therefore inexperienced or b) you aren’t sure your behavior was appropriate and therefore will not share it.

Here is an example

The question: “Tell me about a time when you had a team member who wasn’t carrying their fair share of the workload, and describe how you handled it”. 

This question demands you articulate details on how you handled a peer who was not working at the same level as your other team members. It is important you provide a real example, describing the situation in detail, so the interviewer can tell if your leadership style will be a good fit for her organization.

However, starting the answer with “I would” isn’t going to provide the interviewer with the detail she is looking for.  Examples may include: “I would take the individual aside and speak to them” or “I would raise the issue with our manager”.  When you provide a hypothetical example like this, you have not indicated how you would truly handle (or if you have truly handled) this type of situation.

Second Rule: Always keep it positive

By the nature of the behavioral interviewing beast, you should expect some of the questions to not necessarily yield positive examples of your work history.

Examples of these types of questions:

  • Tell me about a goal that you set and did not reach. What steps did you take? What obstacles did you encounter? How did it make you feel?
  • Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline.
  • Tell me about a time when you took a risk and failed.

Clearly, the answer to any of these questions will show where you made a mistake or failed in some way…so how do you keep it positive?

Be honest. 

Do not fluff this answer. Show how you took responsibility for the result. Speak to lessons learned and talk about what you have personally put into place to ensure you will never make the same mistake (or achieve the same result) again. 

When you handle these types of questions in this fashion, you are showing the hiring manager the following valuable message:

  • You are a professional who takes responsibility for his actions.
  • Self-assessment is a normal practice for you, whereby you are continually learning from previous errors or failures. 
  • Additionally, you strive to continually mature as an individual. 

What a great message to get across!

Next Steps in Nailing Your Behavioral Interview

Preparation is key for every type of interview. However, preparing for this type of interview will make you a stronger interviewer in every venue. We provide several sample behavioral interview questions in another article. 

I recommend you write out answers to those questions that resonate with you. Those situations will then be fresh in your mind and will enable you to feel more confident and prepared.  

This means you can then spend your interview time building a rapport with your future hiring manager. For information on how to prepare across all interview venues, check out our posts on interview tips. And good luck!