When Those Tough Interview Questions Are Behavioral In Nature

Tag Goulet
Imagine you are being interviewed for a new job. Everything seems to be going well until the interviewer says: "Tell me about a time you had a conflict on the job."

What should you do?

* (A) Dish the dirt about a jerk you had trouble with on your last job. After all, honesty is the best policy.
* (B) Tell the interviewer you get along with everybody, so you haven't had any conflicts at work.
* (C) Say "if I had a conflict with someone I would sit down with that person to discuss how we could resolve it."
* (D) None of the above.

In most interview situations, the answer is D.

If you badmouth anyone during an interview (answer A), the employer may think you're a difficult person who will create conflict in their workplace. Answer B makes it sound like you are either answering dishonestly or don't have much experience working with people.?

Answer C may sound like a good way to respond. However, most employers don't want to hear what you would do in a hypothetical situation -- they want to hear how you have actually handled a real situation in the past.

The Interest in Conflict

The purpose in asking about a past conflict is not to see if you have ever had a conflict (the interviewer assumes you have). The goal is to see how well you resolve difficult situations and, if something did not work out in the past, what you learned from it.

Asking applicants about past experiences is known as behavioral interviewing. Behavioral interviewing involves asking about specific past behaviors in an attempt to determine how you would likely behave if you got the job.

Of course, people's behaviors can change over time and in different situations. However, past behavior is a much better measure of how someone is likely to behave in a similar situation in the future as opposed to what that person says they "would" do. In an ideal world, we would all handle conflict effectively. In the real world, some of us are better suited to jobs with minimal conflict.

Expect Behavioral Questions

To ensure you're a good fit for the job, many interviewers will ask behavioral questions relating to the particular position. So you may hear questions such as "Describe your most successful project so far. What did you do to make it a success?" or "Describe a project where something went wrong. How did you solve the problem?"

To prepare for behavioral questions, spend time before the interview thinking about your past experiences so you can answer questions by: (1) describing the situation, (2) explaining what you did and what the outcome was, then (3) finishing with the experience you acquired or what you learned if the situation didn't turn out the way you had planned.

Evaluate Your Answers

If you have the chance, do some role-playing with a friend to practice responding to tough interview questions. Ask your friend for feedback about how you answer. Do you get to the point or give too much information? Do you sound natural or do some of your responses sound rehearsed??

Most importantly, could any of your answers raise a red flag with the employer? For example, if you are asked to describe a conflict you experienced and respond with examples of three conflicts you were involved with, the interviewer may think you don't get along with anyone!?

Your purpose during the interview is to show that you will be an asset to the company. Being prepared can help you show that you are the ideal person for the job.

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What To Do when Your Annual Report Is Bad

Caroline Potter,

The annual review is the professional equivalent of the report card. And if you remember back to your school days, you'll probably recall anticipating its arrival with a mix of excitement and anxiety. Had you performed as well as you thought you did? Would tardiness or being too talkative affect your grades?

Workplace evaluations can evoke similar feelings. What if your worst fears become a reality in the way of a poor performance review? Read on for what one career coach believes you should do.

1. Remain calm.

Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach, says, "First and foremost, breathe and relax." You may feel blindsided, but stay calm and take in what your supervisor is telling you without getting defensive. Focus on what you're being told -- you can even take notes. But save your rebuttals for later.

However, if your supervisor is getting angry or being unprofessional, you can try to steer the review to facts and practical information. Crawford, the founder of HallieCrawford.com, advises workers, "Tell your boss, 'I appreciate your candor, but I'd like to get constructive feedback that will help me improve.'" She adds, "You want her to know that you understand there's a problem, but assure her that your focus is solution-oriented."

2. Act, don't react.

If you're feeling defenseless and caught off guard -- or (and especially) if you're feeling angry -- try to buy some time to react to your review and answer criticisms. Crawford, whose practice is based out of Atlanta, believes professionals should request the opportunity to mull things over. "Explain to your manager that you'd like to take a day or two to develop a plan of action to address these issues," says Crawford. "The fact that you're willing to come up with solutions will get your boss on your side, as will soliciting ideas from her as to what you should do in the immediate."

3. Remember that perspective is subjective.

You don't have to accept every criticism of your performance as fact. In fact, you can dispute some parts -- if you do it with kid gloves. Crawford, a specialist in career transition and helping workers find their ideal jobs, says, "You've got to keep things civil and polite, but you don't need to roll over. Acknowledge the valid points of your review, but you can dissent by saying, 'There are just a few things that I have a different perspective on; this is what actually happened.'" Doing so will allow you to direct the conversation back to your point of view rather than attacking the quality of your evaluation.

4. Get real.

So, you've gotten a poor review and you may or may not agree with it. You now need to decide if you want to stay at this job or move on. If you love your job, it's worth working on things, even if you disagree with your evaluation, believes Crawford. "But," she adds, "most people have a gut sense that a job isn't a fit yet they've ignored that instinct." If that's the case, she believes in moving on to another opportunity.

She reminds workers, though, "Don't decide whether to stay or go from a place of fear. You need to come from a place of power and confidence in yourself. If you're afraid, you won't be able to make the best decision for your career."

5. Learn from your mistakes.

When you land at your next job, you may feel extreme anxiety about your first evaluation. You can prevent this -- and getting another negative review -- by opening the lines of communication with your manager from day one.

Crawford, whose book "Flying Solo: Career Transition Tips for Singles" comes out in June 2008, says, "You don't ever want an evaluation to be a big surprise! But you can ensure against that by asking for feedback often and checking in with your boss and coworkers." Find out how often you'll get an official evaluation but also solicit informal reviews after big projects. She adds, "People who communicate openly from day one on a job set the stage to receive feedback naturally. So be that person in the first place."

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