Behavior-based interviews have been common for more than a decade. However, if you aren't prepared for them, they can be largely a waste of time for both the manager and the job hunter. The people on both sides of the manager's desk have to prepare for job interviews. Let's look at the behavior-based interview from the perspective of both the hiring manager and the job hunter.

The Manager

The manager needs to be prepared with at least several behavior-based questions that relate to common but difficult situations that can occur in the job for which the candidate is interviewing. When the candidate is an experienced scientist or engineer, the lab manager can ask questions quite closely related to the job opening and punctuate the main question with follow-up questions requiring the candidate to add details. The answers should come out of the candidate's job experience, preferably recent experience.

Graduating students or post-docs will need to come up with examples or case histories that occurred during his/her education and research. Because of their inexperience in the industrial laboratory workplace, the questioner has to be more supportive and specific often defining the kind of situation under discussion.

The questions usually aren't highly technical in nature but deal with how the candidate handled a difficult interpersonal disagreement, how he/she chose among alternative options in the course of pursuing a project, or how the candidate achieved challenging goals. The inexperienced candidate should be given leeway to describe situations arising during coursework and extracurricular activities as well as in the laboratory. The experienced candidate needs to focus on research, tech service, plant or marketing situations in presenting answers to behavior-based questions.

In addition, the interviewer may ask behavior-based questions about situations that may occur during performance of the job. These should be more specific and the interviewer more demanding in the rigor of the responses when the job hunter has experienced. For example, the interviewer could present a short summary of a real or typical situation that might occur during the course of the job and ask the candidate, "What would you do in this situation?" This type of question can present a lot of options for follow-up questions requiring candidates to expand upon answers and dealing with the situation resulting from the decision. The questioner should be tolerant of what may seem like naïve answers from graduating students and post-docs since they may have little available experience to help them in answering these sorts of questions.

It is easy for job hunters, particularly inexperienced ones, to feel stressed by the nature of some of the questions. Placing excessive stress on candidates during employment interviews can lead them to have an unfavorable view of the employer and be more likely to decline a job offer.

To avoid overly stressing job candidates, managers should maintain a pleasant demeanor, relaxed voice tone and encourage the candidate by expressing interest in the answers through voice tone, body language and follow-up questions.

The Candidate

Job candidates can prepare for behavioral interview by thinking about situations in which:

  1. He/she had to resolve a personal conflict in the laboratory
  2. Choose among more than one approach to solving a research problem
  3. Be creative in designing a test procedure or piece of apparatus
  4. Choose among several different analysis options to answerer a question
  5. Dealt with a safety issue in the lab

To prepare for behavior-based questions, job candidates should read about the employer and study the employer's website. Of course candidates should read the written job description. Candidates also can ask their host questions about job responsibilities before the onsite interviews begin.