The Behavioral-Based Interview

Today, Behavioral-Based Interviewing (BBI) is the most commonly used campus interviewing technique. Corporate recruiters spend anywhere from half a day to two days learning to ask questions based on the BBI method. For you, acing the BBI is a matter of planning and understanding what recruiters are looking for.

Why BBI?

It’s simple. The best predictor of future behavior is recent past behavior. For example, you have a friend who is always late to class. What’s the likelihood that she’ll be late to class tomorrow?

That’s the principle of BBI. Interviewers want to get a picture of how you have behaved (recently) in a situation because it will help them determine how you’ll most likely behave in that same situation on the job.

What kinds of questions will be asked?

Questions will always be asked in the past tense. For example:

  • Tell me about a time that you…
  • Think back on a situation where you…
  • Play a little movie in your mind and remember a time when you…

How should I respond?

Let’s say that I asked you to tell me about a time when you were a part of a difficult team and what you did to get the team back on track. Corporate recruiters want your answers to include the following:

  • Situation: Explain the situation. Was it a class team? What was the project? What was difficult about the team?
  • Action: What did YOU do to pull the team together? What specific action did you take? Keep in mind that recruiters want to know what “you” did. Not, what “we” did or “they” did. Talk about your role in the situation.
  • Outcome: Discuss the outcome of the project or team. Did the team succeed? How did you know the team was successful?
  • Learning: Sometimes you’ll be asked to think back on an example when you weren’t successful (or when you failed at something). If the recruiter doesn’t ask you what you learned and how you modified your behavior, be sure that you add this information to your answer. Again, be specific about exactly what you learned and how you’ve incorporated this learning into your daily routine.

Whenever possible, use examples from your internship, class work, professional association, or other work/degree-related experiences. Before going to an interview, stop and think of some of your most important milestones: projects, grades, presentations, work experiences that make you most proud. Build your examples around these when answering questions. Always use your best examples and concisely tell the story to the recruiter.

Caution: Corporate recruiters spend hours being trained to ask legal questions. Keep your answers focused on recent job-related experiences, professional association experiences or classroom examples. Do your very best NOT to use personal or family examples, examples from religious organizations or nondegree related association examples. And, when deciding whether to use an example from something you did when you were in high school vs. college—use the most recent example.

How do I prepare?

To prepare, look at the job description (if one is available—if not, use the ad for the job as a basis) and think of the best example to demonstrate that you have each attribute. In addition, there are some standard attributes that many companies look for, such as the following:

  • Strong communicator
  • Adaptable/flexible
  • Able to work in teams
  • Self-directed/motivated
  • Demonstrates honesty and integrity
  • Goal-oriented
  • Strong follow-through

A corporate recruiter’s advice

Dana Pulliam, senior manager of university relations for Applied Biosystems, offers the following tips:

  • Make sure your response is clear and concise. Watch the interviewer’s body language. If they seem uninterested, wrap up your answer.
  • The worst thing you can do is make up an answer. If you can’t think of an answer, say so. Don’t try to bluff your way through because the interviewer will know it.
  • Before admitting to not having a response, stop and think about class projects, group projects, or even an activity that’s not school-related.
  • Use your career services center to look for sample questions and participate in mock interview classes.
  • If you have to use a personal example to answer a question, that’s okay. Just be sure that you don’t answer every question with a personal example.
  • The best students that I have interviewed have been those who are able to speak to everything on their resume.
By Sue Keever - Career and Internship Center and job-search advice for the new college graduate