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Home  > Article

Know any good stories? About you? Interviews might be the place to use them

By Amy MacMillan

We all like to tell stories about ourselves. Imagine being able to share some of your best stories in a job interview. You might be able to do just that in a "behavior-based" interview.

The nice thing about this kind of interview is that you are talking about your experiences.

We all like to tell stories about ourselves. We'll talk about the fish that "got away," or the time we hit the game-winning home run, or when we reached the top of Mt. Everest without the assistance of extra oxygen! Imagine being able to share some of your best stories in a job interview. You might be able to do just that in a "behavior-based" interview.

You'll know you're in a behavior-based interview when asked a question like: "Did you ever have difficulty working with a coworker? How did you handle the situation?" Employers ask specific questions about real-life situations you've faced in the past to assess how you might react to future situations. So before you brag about the time you told off your loudmouth, overachieving officemate, think about the question that the interviewer is really asking: Are you a respectful coworker? Can you handle sticky situations tactfully?

Every anecdote counts
First-time job seekers shouldn't be intimidated by the behavior-based interview, says Jim Wentworth, an account consultant at Behavioral Technology, a human resources training and consulting firm based in Memphis, Tenn. "The nice thing about this kind of interview is that you are talking about your experiences. The college students just have to think back to some experiences. They can talk about being on the ballfield or in the debate club. It's not just work experience it's dealing with life experiences." Just don't forget that you're in a job interview, not spinning yarns to your cronies. Don't rattle off a "glory days" story if it doesn't relate to what the interviewer asks.

Robin, 25, a technical consultant at a software company, says she's undergone several behavior-based interviews (and lived to tell about them!) During a recent job interview, Robin was asked how she relieves stress. "I told them that sometimes I play the piano, or go take a walk to blow off some steam. They like to hear how your whole thought process comes together."

In addition to detailed anecdotes, she advises drawing on technical insight when interviewing at Internet or software companies. "Give some examples of technical programs you've used. Draw on special projects, because it won't always be about school or yourself."

Steve Brawitsch, senior manager of technical support at Hyperion, Inc., a business solutions software provider in Stamford, Conn., relies on behavior-based interview questions when he's hiring. One of his favorite questions is, "If you were a member of a team, and one person isn't pulling his or her weight, what would you do?" He also asks candidates to give specific examples of how they've resolved client-based problems in the past.

"You get to hear how the person thinks," Brawitsch says. For example, in response to the question about client-based problems, "We want to hear that the customer comes first and the manager comes second." Take a minute to think about the information that the interviewer is fishing for, then craft an appropriate response.

Who's doing it?
Behavioral interviewing is based on the theory that if the candidate has done it once, he or she can do it again. "It increases the batting average," says Roger Sommer, chair of the national employment committee for the Society for Human Resource Management. "Rather than 'tell me about yourself,' or 'what do you want to do in five years?' this technique is focused on particular job characteristics."

Although behavioral-interviewing has been around for years, more companies particularly in the high tech fields are starting to use it. "Human-resource sophisticated companies will use this," Sommer says. "They understand the cost of turnover. Turnover is a very key issue right now."

So practice telling your tales about that fish or the Mt. Everest climb if you think you can suavely work them into a job interview. If you've never encountered a situation asked about in an interview, simply say you've never faced that issue before. Brawitsch also warns that most behavior-based interviewers are adept at seeing through a trumped-up story.

Chances are, you won't even know you're in a behavior-based interview until you're firmly planted in the chair across from the interviewer. "So, go into each interview with an open mind," Robin advises. "Be comfortable and relaxed and the more practice you get, the better you will become."

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